Ten neo-pros to watch this season from hulking sprinters to towering time triallists, as well as promising classics contenders and stage racers. This year’s list has a coincidental family angle with two famous sons and a brother as well.
We have to begin with Groupama-FDJ as the team has signed seven neo-pros, all of them from its own Continental development team. This alone is remarkable for the in-house shopping and the way it internalises the recruitment process. But also because one quarter of the team changes. In a normal situation this could prove disruptive but since all the riders were together under the same umbrella it could be easier to manage, we’ll see. Marc Madiot has said he will send many of the new signings together to the Vuelta in August. Let’s pick two riders among them.
Romain Grégoire (19 years old) has been racing on a bike since the age of six and long had a keen interest in horse riding too but first made a name for himself in cyclo-cross. Last year he was fresh out of the junior ranks, he got stage wins in the U23 Giro and Tour de l’Avenir, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège too as well as the European championships (pictured). He’s a versatile rider whose limits are in the high mountains so while French fans have high hopes for him in the coming years, he’s not the next Bernard Hinault. The “everything but mountains” idea invites thoughts of Alaphilippe but Grégoire’s not quite got that jack-in-box explosivité.
Lenny Martinez (19), also pictured, is the latest from the Martinez family. His grandfather Mariano was born Spanish but became a French citizen and won the mountains competition in the 1978 Tour de France. Lenny’s father Miguel won gold in the mountain bike race at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 among other wins and tried the road but it wasn’t for him although he’s kept riding and racing. You can imagine the DNA and the cultural inheritance here and there is a “like father, like son” aspect here with Lenny as a pure climber who weighs 52kg. At a team training camp he hit 6.7w/kg for a 20 minute effort and it was in May’s Mercan’Tour Classic that he put this to work, shredding the group on the Col de la Couillole and leaving many big names gasping for air.
Jensen Plowright (22) is Groupama-FDJ’s eighth rider to turn pro, only he’s leaving the development squad to join Alpecin-Deceuninck, a good signing for them and besides, the French team has several sprinters already. A pure sprinter – and a possible gift to headline writers – it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in on a squad already full of fastmen, and they’ve signed fellow Australian Kaden Groves, but if he gets a chance he should be part of promising generation of Aussie sprinters with Blake Quick joining Jayco and Sam Welsford in his second year at DSM.
Staying with sprinters, Gleb Syritsa (22) began 2022 on the Spanish national circuit, racing for a club in Barcelona where he took sprint win after sprint win before attracting the Astana team and being invited to race for them as stagiaire where he quickly got results including a stage win the Tour de Langkawi. An impressive rise through the ranks from club amateur to pro wins in months? Hold your horses, it’s not quite the story of a diamond discovered by surprise. First he’d been part of the Russian track cycling programme and taken world titles as a junior. Then the Russian Lokosphinx team roster was absorbed by the Catalan club as a means to allow the riders to keep racing in Europe rather than being subject to restrictions or conscripted. He’s a hulking sprinter whose bulk and 85kg looks like a lot to haul over the hills but he’s actually far from being the first sprinter to get dropped when the road rises… that’s him in the picture racing for second in the Arctic Race of Norway’s uphill sprint.
UAE have signed Swiss wunderkind Jan Christen (18) on a long term contract until 2027, only he’ll turn pro with them later this year and will spend the first part of the year continuing an educational apprenticeship in a hospital and racing on the road with the Hagens Berman Axeon Continental development team. He’s won titles on the track, in cyclo-cross, mountain bike and the road from national to European to World Championships. When asked by Blick, a Swiss magazine, what he’d like to win, he replied “everything. The Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, the Worlds” but then again, who wouldn’t? While media training might be part of his pro curriculum in the years to come and could muffle such bold claims, Christen’s talents suggest he’s got a shot of winning across multiple terrains.
Thibau Nys (20) is the reigning U23 European road race champ and beat Filippo Baroncini, the 2021 U23-World Champ and Juan Ayuso (both neo-pro picks for 2022). For many though Thibau is the son of Sven, the cyclo-specialist who ranks among the very best. Nys junior’s been a long term project for Trek who brought him up via their Lions cyclo-cross team and now he’s joined Trek-Segafredo as he’s keen to improve on the road. As a Belgian ‘crosser at heart, he’s obviously keen on Paris-Roubaix and the Ronde and will keep up the winter sport although of late a back issue’s been holding him back. Look to him in the classics and he’s got a handy sprint after a lumpy day in those short French and Belgian stage races.
Movistar have seen Spanish talents like Carlos Rodriguez and Juan Ayuso turn pro outside of Spain and this pains the management. So they couldn’t let Ivan Romeo (19) go after he won the Spanish junior road race and time trial titles in 2021. He’s a very different rider though, tall and heavy and if some articles online from Spain try to suggest he could be the next Miguel Indurain, well Romeo’s already excited to race on the cobbles and add more weight to the team’s performances in the spring classics rather than the summer stage races. A new Imanol Erviti would do nicely but there’s room for more as Romeo’s really into the time trials.
Leo Hayter (21) is an Ineos signing and the Londoner ought to be a familiar name because of his brother, and now team mate, Ethan. Comparisons are inevitable, especially as Ethan’s making a name for himself fast as the track cyclist who can perform in time trials, win hilly sprints and take one week stage races as long as they’re not Alpine. Leo is lighter and more of a promising stage racer in the making and so he left the British system and its track focus; he briefly left the sport a couple of years back too. He won the U23 Giro last year and convincingly so and has been British U23 time trial champion, that’s him above with bronze in the Wollongong Worlds and if he can TT that well and climb so well, then you can see why he’s a promising stage racer for Ineos. Getting a look in for GC isn’t obvious but as a Brit on a British team he should get time and space.
Joshua Tarling (18) also joins Ineos, and straight out of the junior ranks. He was unbeaten in international time trials in 2022, including the junior Worlds title in Australia. He should should be easy to spot as he is 1.94m tall and weighs a reported 88kg which means he’s even bigger than his new team mate Filippo Ganna. A big engine, a human windshield, watch for him in the time trials and helping team mates in the classics and some of his ambitions remain on the track and the Paris Olympics.
After an Englishman, a Welshman, now a Scot from Kelso in Oscar Onley (20) who turns pro with Team DSM having been on their development team (it’s striking how many pros Great Britain is turning out these days). After trying several sports including running, he got into cycling in his teens and started to rise up the ranks, including a stint with Ag2r’s junior team. 2022 was a breakthrough year. A crash at the start of the Giro della Vallee d’Aosta hurt but he recovered to win the final stage and then some solid results from them on. But things got spectacular riding with the World Tour team in the autumn and the Cro Race because in two small summit finishes he was narrowly beaten by Jonas Vingegaard, and after the pair had distanced the rest. This performance saw DSM bring forward his signing, presumably in part because he showed what he could do but also to ensure he didn’t go elsewhere. He’s now signed until 2027 and we’ll see how he fares, the battle against Vingegaard easily invites extrapolation to grand tours but that’s a long sweep to make.
Technically a rider aged under 25 on their first two year contract in the World Tour or Pro Conti level. But it’d be too easy to pick among riders with a pro season already as prospects to watch so all the riders cited above are first year pros.
Finally if you have any local tips please share in comments below, picking ten means leaving many others out, for example citing Hayter meant leaving out fellow Londoner Thomas Gloag who’s joining Jumbo-Visma…