How Did The Riders To Watch Do?

Having picked ten riders to follow in the season for different reasons, it’s time to review how they got on.

Tadej Pogačar was the first pick because he’s become so central the sport that teams have been basing their racing programs around him – Ineos sent their best GC rider to the Giro – even recruitment decisions. And yet he got beaten in the biggest race of the season which opens up the sport. Pointing out in January that Tadej Pogačar would not have things so easy if whole teams took him on wasn’t exactly the gift of prophecy, instead it was more something to anticipate, because until this year he’d had things his way. Things continued this way, Pogačar’s solo Strade Bianche raid made cycling look easy and he was all over the Dwars door Vlaanderen and came close to winning the Tour of Flanders only to stuff up the sprint and give us a rare glimpse of frustration after the finish. Come the Tour and he was so strong at the start but came undone in the Alps when Jumbo-Visma dismantled the UAE team but raced on. Pogačar recovered and won Lombardia after a demonstration of force from the UAE team.

Another successful season for Mark Cavendish, ticking off wins in Oman and the UAE Tour, adding Milano-Torino to his palmarès. Then a stage in the Giro. The masterpiece though was the British championships where your blogger tuned into the coverage to see Cavendish in a breakaway and assumed the finish must be near, British races do seem to finish early after all. Only no, he was on the attack early, shaping the race all day until he got away with three others and they dangled in front of the chasers and he, of course, won the sprint although more like a last man standing contest than a speedfest. Everyone’s wondering what next, or rather where as he switches teams and his first option B&B/Paris is drying up. It’s interesting how much of Cavendish’s legacy is currently being tied to his quest to pip Merckx’s stage win tally but as ever time will round things out and the enormity of his sprinting career will stand out, Merckx record or not.

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Once labelled “the new Bernal”, Ivan Sosa was a signing to boost Movistar, could he find winning ways and, in turn help the team become a force in the mountains again? Yes, but with some reservations. He took two stage races and played his part in keeping Movistar in the World Tour, although his 572 points weren’t decisive. It was in World Tour events that he found the going harder. He’s a useful rider for the team in the mountains and if not transformational for the team, essential all the less.

Going into 2022 Caleb Ewan looked like the best sprinter in the world, capable of winning dragstrip finishes and getting over climbs too; he might lose some contests to Fabio Jakobsen but he could take Milan-Sanremo when the Poggio is a hurdle for others. Alas Ewan’s star’s waned and his dry spell didn’t help Lotto-Soudal’s quest for points, he got seven wins but surely wanted double that. Some early season wins looked good but he got Covid in Tirreno-Adriatico and was out for Sanremo. His crash at the Giro was similar to his Tour crash the previous year, overlapping his wheel in the finish and taking a tumble. He never got on terms in the Giro and quit, the Tour’s few sprint stages didn’t smile either as he soldiered on during July before landing a late win at the end of the year.

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Remco Evenepoel had a troubled 2021 with his Giro DNS but came good, albeit winning the Tour of Denmark and placing third in the Worlds TT: solid, not stellar. 2022 was the year the hype became reality, taking monuments, grand tours and the rainbow jersey… and also doing well with the media too, no easy task given he’s national property in Belgium. He won on his first outing but during this Vuelta Valenciana a gravel hiccup saw him lose overall race lead. From then on almost everything went his way. Taking Liège-Bastogne-Liège with a solo attack on La Redoute was a personal triumph in the race he longed to win, he San Sebastian solo, then of course the Worlds and Vuelta. He seems capable of winning everything although he had a summer lull, and the Alps of the Tour de Suisse seemed too much. Even then though you could see he’s worked on his weakpoints, he’s now a capable descender and arguably won the worlds with the way he took a small descent and a corner, carrying more speed than everyone else to get the gap. With the worst kept secret that he’ll target the Giro finally public it’ll be interesting to see if he can cope with the high Alps but his Vuelta win of course included the Sierra Nevada and a summit finish at 2,507m.

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Mark Padun had a sensational ride in the Dauphiné last year, to the point where some doubted the performance. Even Bahrain didn’t renew his contract and he made a late signing with EF Education for this year. The story goes that he’s got a big engine but has been troubled by eating disorders, crash dieting to reach race weight only for this catabolism to have deleterious effects. Plus as a Ukranian with family that left Donetsk he’s had plenty to worry about but he still won the TT stage of February’s new Gran Camino race.

David Gaudu had the big, stated goal of a top-5 in the Tour de France. Not easy for someone who’s wilted in the heat before, and had an implosion this year during the Critérium du Dauphiné’s final stage this year. He’s had flashes of brilliance, the challenge has been grinding out results. But come the Tour he coped with the cobbles (he started his pro career at 53kg but has bulked up, relatively, to 60kg). Sure enough he delivered at the Tour with fourth place overall, a tenacious ride but at the same time never bothering the maillot jaune, a “Moto 2 performance” as viewers would see him being distanced and limiting his losses, but he did well to do this, at times he looked beaten but plugged away. He had two wins in the season, a crafty win atop the Alto de Foia in the Algarve, and that stage win in the Dauphiné where he pipped Wout van Aert by the Puy Sancy. In short he’s increasingly reliable.

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Ethan Hayter had a great 2021, could he keep it up and parlay success in smaller races into wins in the World Tour in 2022? Yes. He got two stage wins in the Tour de Romandie, plus the Tour de Pologne overall, in an edition that didn’t venture far into the Tatry mountains for once. The Giro was on the cards but he did the Vuelta, only for Covid to make him a DNF and he finished 4th in the Worlds TT and 9th in the road race having just turned 24. He can do it all, except for the high mountains. Inevitably this means people will question if he can become a GC contender in the grand tours – and the sport’s salary incentives means he’s bound to ask too – but for now he gives Ineos a lot of options outside of the big stage races.

Alessandro Covi had a great start to the season with two wins in Spain and a podium in the UAE’s 1-2-3 in the Trofeo Laigueglia. The Puma of Taino then took his biggest win, can you remember it? It was Stage 20 in the Giro, the tappone that crossed the San Pellegrino and Pordoi passes before the Marmolada summit finish. That day the story was more about the battle between Jai Hindley, Richard Carapaz and Mikel Landa on the slopes of Malga Ciapela as Hindley finally cracked his rivals but Covi was ahead of it all having gone solo on the Pordoi and took the kind of stage win that suggests a lot more range than the “Ulissi 2.0” impression we might have got. In a crowded team stacked with talent Covi took his opportunities, helped this time by Almeida’s unfortunate Covid-exit from the Giro.

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Who was Total Energies’s best signing for 2022? You could argue Sandy Dujardin, the neo-pro came from the squad’s Vendee-U team and after a stage win in the Tour of Rwanda took a stack of top-10 places. Of course all eyes were on Peter Sagan who got many top-10s too, including in stages of the Tour de France, at the Worlds, plus he won a Tour de Suisse stage. But measured against expectations his move to Total Energies wasn’t a roaring success, he was often in the results but a bike length or two short of victory. It’s said his arrival perked the team up and the riders rate their new bikes, certainly the team had their best season in years. Sagan’s two previous seasons at Bora-Hansgrohe were lean too, plus Covid got him in the spring too. He’ll be one among many to watch again in 2023.

32 thoughts on “How Did The Riders To Watch Do?”

  1. I wonder if Pogačar’s team will force him to forgo some of the spring classics in order to save his energies for the TdF. Similarly, I wonder if he’ll change his riding style during the TdF, no longer using vital energy to win those early stages. It’d be a shame for the viewer, but both he and his team must wonder if his style of riding cost him the TdF victory, and surely that’s what UAE are paying him for primarily.

    Ewan needs to learn to stop riding into people and to keep sprinting at the end – for points – rather than sitting up once he knows he’s not going to win. His crashing into other people is becoming embarrassing, but nowhere near as much as Roglic’s because Roglic is continuing to blame the guy he rode into.

    • Pogacar’s in-race strategy will change… i can’t see his 2022 Tour issues being due to his schedule. He underestimated Vingegaard and overestimated his ability to cover every single move… it’s pretty clear who the strongest stage racer is, but we have finally learned he is human and has to monitor his efforts like the rest of the planet.

    • Pog isn’t going to change his basic approach — he’s pretty much said so. Tactically he’s about as “astute” (or thick, if you prefer) as Van der Poel — if you feel good, you let it rip. But maybe he’ll be a bit cagier in the details, I don’t see him throwing away Flanders like that again. A healthier team and smarter tactics on the Granon stage for him in the Tour this year would have helped a bit, but I don’t think it would have been nearly enough. He’s won before with a weak squad, and if the weather had been temperate I suspect it would have been Vingegaard struggling to stay on.

      The guy who really surprised me this year was Evenepoel. At the start of the season I thought what a waste, he’s throwing away stupendous talent getting caught up in distractions and pressure from the press. But then he got his head screwed on straight and delivered on his promise. Big time. Chapeau.

      • Pogacar will probably be given “free rein” on the one day races, but for the Tour, I can not imagine UAE will want to risk anything, so it could get interesting.

    • Your comment has me somewhat perplexed. What scenario can you possibly be imagining that attaches any degree of culpability to Wright? The best that I could come up with is you might argue that he could have swerved or braked, losing his own chance, when Roglic had his lapse of judgement. But that would be to argue counsel of perfection and even then the primary and main cause of the incident was Roglic’s own manoeuvre.

  2. Ewan started out being a bit timid (which,I would guess, is why BEX let him go) but then he started being a bit reckless. The crash in the Giro was a big shame as he put in such an effort to be in contention for the stage.
    There is still time for him to find the right measure of aggression and I hope he does

  3. Hard for Sagan now I feel. There’s better sprint/one dayers, climbers who can sprint and sprinters who can climb. Perhaps he’ll evolve, get aero and get up the road early

  4. Burst of reality over at B&B Hotels as they can’t continue in the absence of sponsors.
    Riders are now looking for places on teams that are full. This includes some who could have been hoping for inclusion in a future edition of this feature, such as Franck Bonnamour, Axel Laurance and Luca Mozzato

    This from

    There’s also a rare insight fron Vincent Lavenue of AG2R Citroen into the finances behind the teams in each race;-
    « Nos frais de compétition sont de 1,2 millions d’euros par an, auxquels vous devez rajouter 300 000 € de frais d’essence. Cela fait donc 1,5 millions d’euros pour se déplacer sur les courses, mais en retour, en frais de participation, on nous verse 750 000 €. Cela fait donc 750 000 en plus à ajouter pour courir. On paie pour aller sur les courses ! Autre chose : sur le Tour, ASO nous rembourse 24 personnes de frais alors que nous sommes plus de trente par équipes ! Cela nous coûte 50 000 € en plus. ASO nous donne au global 55 000 € en frais de participation, mais avec l’essence et tous les autres coûts, on dépasse largement cette somme. Vous en connaissez, vous, un secteur où ce sont les acteurs qui paient pour donner un spectacle ? »
    – Basically the costs for a team to be at the races are eye-wateringly high

    And, in short it also seems Mark Cavendish won’t be a rider to watch in 2023 unless he can find another berth.
    Also to mention that B&B had just taken delivery of BMC bikes, which presumably will be going back.

    • How has Cavendish to Israel still not yet happened? Would almost guarantee both parties the one thing they both want: a spot at the TdF. And Israel might just get something from spending big on an aging rider for once.

      • I wonder the same thing. It doesn’t seem like a money issue, so why not go for it? Is it a lack of a legitimate lead out? Can’t Cav bring one with him? I’m at a loss as to why Cav isn’t signed up yet. There aren’t many teams that wouldn’t benefit from his presence, although I understand that there are many additional factors to consider when we talk about such a major presence in the sport with a bit of baggage…

          • More like: they only now admitted that all their announcements were premature at best, probably intended to deceive people, and maybe even fraud at worst.

          • B&B Hotels hopes going up in smoke means Syvlan Adams might well get his wild card spot after all. Could save his blushes next time he meets the ASO or UCI.

  5. Cav’s supposed lead out man Sinkeldam is now at Alpecin-Deceuninck so I think we can now put an end to the grand ideas for B&B Hotels.
    As for the men to watch, Remco seems to be the only one who fulfilled all his goals. Was expecting more from Sosa but maybe next year he’ll improve.

  6. Very tough luck indeed for Cav. Lefevre is known for doing what he wants to do, and for not making decisions due to pressure or in a way that gives up control. However, I still think he should have made room for Cav. Jakobsen appears to be a slight cut-above Cav right now, but that can change as the season progresses, plus bringing Cav to the TdF one last time would give his sponsor some very good publicity (not that Jakobsen doesn’t). 2022 proved that Cav is not just on good sprinting form, but that he is racing really well right now and looking to make a difference.

    Really hope he can pull something together for 2023! If 2022 was his last there will be zero closure over an epic career. Either way, this will be a very interesting storyline heading into the season.

      • And if he isn’t, he won’t break the record ^__^
        Half joking, he might as well make it, but as many noted before me here, QS had a major role in Cav’s late success (which doesn’t take away anything from him: in fact, this late surge in his career makes me see him as the best pure sprinter ever, whereas to me it still was Cipo, hadn’t it been for this final stint by Cav).
        In relatively recent times QS clearly found some perfect technical mix in preparation and teamwork which, in a generational context of average to low general quality of the pure sprinters, allows them to make a huge difference. There’s already a significant series of athletes who became arguably the best sprinter of the world for a season or two while at QS, while their results once in other teams aren’t comparable – not even by far.
        Lefevere, also due to his not-infinite budget, has got a fixation on money while negotiating contracts, so if he knows that he can just pick somebody else and go on winning, all the rest (breaking the record, British national jersey) will end up being barely relevant. Perhaps he got a trauma with the supposed GC athletes he tried to hire in the past and who, in a very broad sense, “conned” him.
        I suspect that many other teams know all about this situation, and perhaps feel that they just don’t need to pay Cav what Cav is asking just in order to get the next Viviani or Bennett, as fashionable as the Brit jersey is. Small teams might feel content with media attention, but they won’t have enough money for a big contract, not even a performance/bonus-based one. OTOH, rich sponsors, which normally means luxury ones, famous ones ^__^, aren’t *that* interested in media attention, call them obtuse but they will only buy a triumph story, not any sort of bittersweet interesting finale which would instead work for a great movie or novel. Which is one of the reasons why cycling isn’t normally fit for those companies, while it’s great, say, for whomever needs to build up a name which people will start to recognise and feel familiar with.

        • I agree: there’s every chance that wherever he goes, Cavendish won’t win another TdF stage. He isn’t one of the top sprinters anymore, and as almost every other sprinter has shown, it’s being on that team that makes all the difference (unless you’re exceptional, as he once was).
          That’s why I think Israel is the perfect fit (ethics aside): they have money to spend, they want a place at the Tour, they have a habit of buying the somewhat aged rider, and Cavendish will get his chance.

          • But I see that Israel is apparently not going to happen. Strikes me that Cavendish should have lowered his price much sooner – does he really need more money? – and made sure that he got on a team. Even if he does that now, who’s left? Arkea seems the most likely, but maybe not more likely than no-one.

  7. don’t know what my view on all will add but thinking about cycling and INRNG so thought I’d contribute.

    Cav – gutted he wasn’t at Tour this year but without QS we wouldn’t have had 2021 so I guess it’s give and take. It’s up to him whether he wanted to keep cycling but should he miss out on the TDF record it’ll be hard to argue it was a missed celebration for an all time great not being able to say goodbye properly in 2021.

    Sosa – all a bit of shame, was so excited but seems to be going the way of Henao but a career as a cyclist is still bloody hard and his results are impressive even if second tier, so I’d be proud if I were him.

    Ewan – again gutting, his career has had so much bad luck, feels he’s had to fight hard to achieve the same as people with less talent and this season felt very unfair. At the same time tactically he is just poor so maybe you make your own luck.

    Remco – answered the question of whether he can last three weeks and now the question is whether he can climb with the best. I feel until we see him vs Pog & Vinny we won’t know where his career will go.

    Padun – shame, I wish he’d ridden the Tour last year when clearly in form so we could see what he could really do.

    Gaudu – it must be so tough mentally to finishNo5 at the TDF but know you likely not on the level to win, I can see his career going a similar way of Mollema.

    Hayter – excited to see what next from both Hayter brothers.

    Covi – I’m predisposed to question all upcoming Italian GC riders as being a bit flakey after Nibali, feels like it’s been rider after rider who’s just not up to it or consistent and as an Italian fan I’m only really interested in Covi if he can morph into a GC rider, which is a little harsh but at 24 I have a feeling we’d have seen more earlier if he was going to get to the top level?

    Sagan – unfortunately it’s over right? I don’t think he has Cav or Gilbert’s work ethic to fight back for a last hurrah. Harsh and unfounded likely but just a gut feeling.

    • Agreed on most, Italian cycling has it hard having just had one of the all time greatest “cyclists with no need for further specification” (that is, not “just” being a great among the greatest, say, “sprinters”, or “greatest cobble specialists”, “greatest côte riders”, “greatest GC men”), which is in itself a problem of sort for whomever comes after him, see the quest for the new Indurain and so on. Such a figure can inspire new riders, but Italian male cycling happens to be going through a long-term deep organisational and institutional crisis which won’t help. Technical know-how and grassroots kept things floating, but it ain’t last forever. Perhaps we’re already below the floatation line, actually.
      That said, most motivated/educated fans (which are proportionally quite relevant in Italy, perhaps more than in most other countries – barring only Belgium, I’d even say) won’t depend on any big GC figure, who OTOH would be surely needed to bring more of the always necessary mass generalist fans back into the sport. Italy – or Belgium! – kept going with solid fandom and a rooted base movement even for the long, long years when no international GT figure surfaced within the national sport.
      I’d even suspect that in Italy just as most fans preferred a, say, Bettini over any, say, Ivan Basso, and they’d rather go with an Italian Sagan instead of an Italian Froome. Probably Nibali himself in Italy was appreciated more or less as Sagan… or Contador…

      • Arthur Zimmerman won the first world championship in 1893 and the stories told about him suggest that the modern riders are doing nothing that he couldn’t do.
        People who make a sport are the exceptional ones in my view.

    • Re: Italian riders. Presumably they must hold an Italian racing license even if they race for non-Italian teams. Does that mean, then, that they cannot take advantage of hypoxic tents, ketones (if those are in fact an advantage) and other UCI non-illegal but FCI-illegal additives, etc? ISTR Ciccone(?) complaining in the Giro that he felt handicapped, unable to take advantage of certain training aids his teammates could use, but I don’t remember if I heard that right.

      • Oldani, I think. I’m not sure if it was also about ketones, which I believe are allowed in Italy (not 100% sure), but no doubt that hypoxic tents are forbidden in Italy, plus their use is forbidden whenever and wherever for Italian athletes.
        And, yes, it’s a significant handicap.
        Personal opinion: it’s not just about the advantages of tents/rooms for training… it’s also about being able to shift the blood values of your biopassport, be it through the tent or whatever else, than justifying it all to the system, irrespective of the actual results of the hypoxic tent or the training protocol.
        That’s why a common and “very Italian” objection on generalist media in Italy makes little sense: some people say that surely Italian cyclists “do it all the same”, because it’s so hard to catch you right while using tent. Without discussing if it’s really hard or not to catch an Italian cyclist using the hypoxic tent, truth is that you don’t need to do that! You just check the biopassport, and if there are changes which call for an explication, the Italian athlete simply won’t have the option to say “yes, I was doing altitude training in a cheap seaside hotel or simply at home in a tent”; he or she will need to prove that it was real altitude, on the Teide or whatever, which has quite more significant costs, and which binds you and your figures to very specific time windows which must be consistent with the data.
        What I really can’t understand is why the Italian federation decided to forbid altitude tents. That is, it’s a decision I obviously appreciate, but why did the federation take such a decision, given that I think that they don’t really care about athletes’ health? A mystery to me.

  8. I enjoy these “looking back” posts; it’s to our host’s credit that he both highlights riders to watch, and then follows up to see how things turned out. I don’t have anything worth adding about the most of the riders on this list, but regarding Cavendish I don’t find myself feeling bad for him (in much the same way I don’t feel bad for Ronaldo right now). Cavendish has had 16 years at the top level of road cycling, he went to 13 TdFs, he won a ton of races, and was frankly a churlish winner most of that time.

    Moreover, he got to keep riding even after two very weak years followed by two disastrously bad years. Doesn’t everyone remember when he was spoken about the way we speak about Froome now? Cavendish was extremely lucky that everything broke just right for him to have a storybook year in 2021. He managed to tie the Merckx record against all odds (and I still contend that if he hadn’t been greedy about getting the green jersey, his odds of taking the record solo would have been better). If that’s not a crowning glory to retire on, I don’t know what is.

    • Not to forget, he had an amazing ride at the British National Championships. I really hope he signs somewhere for at least one more year, not just to ride the Tour, but also so he can wear the national championship jersey. Even if he were to go to the Tour and not break the record, it would still be a story *everybody* would be following.

      • Yes, he had some good results in 2022; I’m not suggesting that he should have retired immediately at the end of 2021. Just that the laments that it’s a huge shame or injustice that he didn’t get another crack at breaking the record last year, and may not get another chance in 2023, are overblown.

        • I take your point that things did break his way in 2022. If Bennett didn’t have a problem with his knee, the story would have been completely different. At the same time, though, it takes raw talent and serious dedication to have a career like Cavendish. I get that he’s sometimes a bit of a prickly pear in terms of his public persona, but on the bike he’s often spectacular. Personally I would much rather watch Cav ride than someone like Ewan who is a lot more conventionally “likable” off the bike. I don’t think it’s an “injustice” if he doesn’t ride in 2023, but I do think it would feel like there’s unfinished business. He’s one of the absolute best bike riders of his generation, and he’s clearly still good enough to have earned a spot somewhere.

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