Riders To Watch For 2023

Ten riders to watch this year. Some are suggestions of rising talent to keep an eye on, others will be familiar names but with their own challenges.

The hard part is picking ten riders among a vast cast of characters and the multiple plot lines tha help make the sport so compelling. Still, let’s get a move on…

In a relatively quiet transfer market, Richard Carapaz was probably the biggest move, switching from Ineos to EF Education. It’s notable as a grand tour contender leaves the triumvirate of UAE, Ineos and Jumbo-Visma. Second in the Giro, he came back for the Vuelta and when the GC bid fell apart in the opening days he still won three stages. Carapaz’s problem, if we can call it as such, is that he can likely finish on the podium of a grand tour but the top step is elusive. It’s probably why Ineos let him go, for them a podium might be satisfying, yet tinged with disappointment for the old days; at EF it’s a huge result. The top stop isn’t beyond him either because he’s tenacious to hang with the best and while others mark each other he can slip away, it’s practically his modus operandi. Not for him a regular attack on the steepest ramp of a summit finish, instead he’ll sneak off on a false flat. Changing teams can mean integrating into a new environment but he’s done Movistar and Ineos and will find two Ecuadorians and more Spanish-speakers. His season’s likely to revolve around the Tour but his team will be grateful if he can take points in other summer stage races long the way. Team mates Neilson Powless and Andrea Piccolo are also interesting to follow this year.

Carlos Rodriguez is on the rise at Ineos and finished seventh in the Vuelta last year, a result that could have been higher were it not for a crash that left him raw and sore. Still 21 – until February – he’s starting his fourth season as a pro. Last year saw him take his first two wins, the Spanish national championship and a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country. Put this together and we already have the picture of someone with precious endurance and the ability to win. So what comes next? Continued progress in stage races including in time trials as he’s on course to become the complete package. There’s talk of a move to Movistar but if he’s that good, would Ineos let him go? Watch for the burgeoning rivalry with UAE’s Juan Ayuso, both have plenty in common as they’re wise and eloquent already but we’ll see if sections of Spanish media try to build them up as opposing characters. Likewise Thymen Arensman joins Ineos and could take on leadership roles soon.

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Danish cycling is on the up and Matthias Skjelmose is a pick for a rising talent in hilly races. The Trek-Segafredo rider might not be a familiar name, even to readers of a dedicated cycling blog, but in six stages races last year he finished no lower than fifth overall. A nice stat but let’s note the range, second in the mountainous Tour de l’Ain one week, third in his home Tour of Denmark the next week thanks to second place in the TT stage. So the 22 year old can climb and TT and we saw it all in the Tour of Luxembourg, floating on the climbs and flying in the time trial on his way to the overall win. Repeating these results would be decent but we’ll see if he can translate more podiums into wins and how he can do on slightly harder stage races.

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Quinten Hermans finished second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year, a result you can’t fluke and got a string of other results including second to Marco Haller in the Bemer Classics race in Germany, and ahead of Wout van Aert. He has been popping up here and there in hilly races and showing a handy sprint from a small group. Long a dedicated cyclo-cross racer, there’s more to the world than the quagmire of Belgian municipal parks and he can bring range to Alpecin-Fenix which is a team very much suited to flatter races as Hermans can place on shorter climbs. Maybe the Flèche Wallonne is too much but look for a wall here or there.

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Many of the top teams aren’t just packed with top talent, they’re congested as riders can find it hard to get opportunities for themselves sometimes. Some who work for a leader could perhaps themselves lead another team. For Eddie Dunbar just working for a leader was proving hard, he wanted to ride the Giro last year but didn’t make the selection. Now the Irish rider’s signed with Jayco-Al Ula in order to do what his new management call a “grandie” and get his chances at a win along the way. We’ve seen him at the front end in races but taking on leadership and then delivering results isn’t the next step, it can be a leap. Also his new team doesn’t race on every front all the time, the kind of races Dunbar could thrive in, like hilly one day races in Italy or medium mountain stage races in France or Spain aren’t always on the team’s schedule.

Mark Cavendish is after that Tour de France stage record. Yet what if he doesn’t get it, does his career end with a flop, a bum note? Not really, his palmarès is so extensive that most will have him down as the greatest ever sprinter, as said before here the only races he hasn’t won are Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Tours and they’ve changed with more climbs and off road sections. Still the narrative this year will be all around the binary question of whether he can surpass Eddy Merckx’s tally of Tour stage wins or not. Achieve the record and it’ll be a remarkable story, even more so because – as of today at least – he’s still starting the season without a team and building a lead out and developing their split second reflexes take time. In many ways the only thing that counts is one Tour stage win but expect every result between now and July to be analysed for clues. Beyond all this there’s all the question of what comes next, his love for the sport and attention to detail suggests there’s a team manager in the making.

Julian Alaphilippe as the double world champion back in his normal jersey. His contract runs to the end of 2024 but for a star any deal on a renewal or transfer is likely to be shaped or even done in the coming 12 months. The best way to increase your value is to become a grand tour contender and a spell in yellow would be ideal too, certainly the latter option’s on the cards for the Tour de France Basque beginning. Patrick Lefevere raided his piggybank to retain Alaphilippe in 2019 but he went public with criticism recently, the Belgian manager is a trained accountant and openly moved the Frenchman on his ledger to the liability column, even if Alaphilippe’s troubles have been down to accidents and injury but it’s likely Evenepoel is both the focus of Lefevere attention and budget and race programme. We’ll see how much he can shape his future, he’s 30 now and the trademark jack-in-the-box explosivity might be harder to find. Still, as the photo above shows at his best he can beat Van der Poel, Van Aert and Pogačar combined.

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Arnaud De Lie had a great start to his pro career, all those wins and placings meant Lotto-Soudal were close to staying in the World Tour until late in the season; without him they’d be floundering. Sometimes it was the manner of his wins, the unrefined brute force in an uphill finish was like early Peter Sagan. Yet he’s kept his feet on the ground, literally as he still helps out on the family farm. He gave a vintage interview to L’Equipe the other day that could have been by Poulidor or Pinot, saying he saw no point in moving to Monaco, and if he ever felt like a change of scenery all he needed was the village fête or to drop by the nearby Libramont fair… an agricultural trade show. But already there are voices saying he needs to focus on cycling, that time spent shovelling manure is recovery time forsaken. He’s also the Walloon heir to Philippe Gilbert and can learn lessons from him about how to manage this label. In short can he build on last year’s success and show in the World Tour races?

Biniam Girmay because the Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert team can look like a bunch of happy-go-lucky raiders looking for long shot results but in Girmay they’ve got someone they can bank on. He’s capable of making the selection in the cobbled classics and then winning from the sprint, he suggested this in the E3 last year and confirmed with the win in Gent-Wevelgem days later; plus he smoked Mathieu van der Poel in the Giro. He’s got the range to win sprints and get over short climbs. The team can probably still try some breakaway efforts, there’s no harm in having Taco van der Hoorn up the road but how much can they play these wild moves when they have Girmay is something to look out for. He’s up for riding the Tour de France but this year’s route doesn’t have many of what we’d have called a “Sagan stage” a few years ago, one of those uphill finishes where the heavyset sprinters might struggle but the Worlds just after might suit. Yes being Eritrean is interesting but it’s still something for us all to fathom, as cycling fans we admire the scenery, the fans fervour for the sport and the emerging talents but we should be aware it’s a secretive, totalitarian regime as well.

The final pick is Thibaut Pinot who’s just announced he’ll retire at the end of the year after 14 seasons as a pro, all at FDJ. He’s had his highs and lows, it’s this blend that has made following him so compelling over the years and there’s every chance that this continues this year, there might well be a setback, sometimes that’s been a precondition for an ensuing highlight. He’s down to ride the Giro but given all the time trials a win on GC looks tough but a high finish and a prestigious mountain stage win is possible. As we saw the Tour last summer he was making the breakaways but converting this into a win is a big ask. Still if he can select his days in May it could pay off leaving him with energy to spare come July too and he can leave the sport “by the big door” as they say in French.

As ever to pick ten is to leave out hundreds of other stories. Mathieu van der Poel brings excitement but can he also keep up the consistent results? Can Wout van Aert finally win the Ronde or Roubaix? Is Primož Roglič over his injuries? After crashes and illness, can Kasper Asgreen turn things around and is Quickstep still the Wolfpack on the pavé? Tom Pidcock’s been the third man of cyclo-cross this winter, pointing out he’s much lighter than his beefier rivals but does this give him range in road races, he’s still a blank canvas when it comes to the road who can strike from Sanremo to Liège. One huge question is whether Egan Bernal can recover? During the pandemic lockdowns Eurosport showed Tour de France highlights and one that was worth watching again and again was Lilian Calmejane 2017 stage win but that’s a long time ago, can he find winning ways at Intermarché? Can Marc Hirschi discover the form of old? Fred Wright is due a breakthrough win. Samuele Battistella is just one to watch but there’s one Astana rider above already, the Iron Man of Castelfranco Veneto won the U23 World Championships in 2019 and has been getting consistent results in time trials and on hilly courses. Peter Sagan says he’s over his Covid complications, will results follow? When can the likes of Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart find their opportunities? Is Fabio Jakobsen going to rule the sprint roost? How much can Tim Merlier win as Quickstep’s second sprinter? Will Fernando Gaviria find winning ways with Movistar or is he on the slide? Even if Guillaume Martin remains artistically erratic, can he find winning ways?

38 thoughts on “Riders To Watch For 2023”

  1. I am looking forward to some ‘sprint royale’ battles, with Jasper Philipsen, Fabio Jakobsen, Olav Kooij, and I pobably forget a few we’re bound to see some sprints that may remind us of Greipel-Cav and others

    • Likewise, but one problem this year is the lack of sprint opportunities in the grand tours including the Tour where they all tend to come together, they have it relatively tough this year but this will only heighten the importance.

  2. The big question that I have is what will Adam Yates do with UAE? Never outside the top 10 when he finished last year, I hope he doesn’t get used as a super domestic.

    • A big question, in part because while those of us who browse cycling blogs might be keen to see what Pidcock, Plapp, Sheffield and others can do, if Jim Ratcliffe is dining on his mega yacht one summer’s evening and someone asks him how the cycling team is doing, he surely wants to say “they’ve got the yellow jersey, actually”, the big trophies matter (we can see some of this with the football in Nice where the manager’s just been sacked for a lack of results).

      • Yeah, boasting about a podium spot at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on your mega yacht, does not impress your fellow “Masters of the Universe” (even though it could be a big thing for the rider). Ineos management have had a shake up too (with even Ratcliffe’s son Sam brought in as Head of Communications) I saw, so Sir Jim’s got to decide what he wants with his €50 million – probably Remco by the sounds of it!

        • The news that Ineos (Sir Jim) is in the running to buy Man. Utd. soccer club (a snip at £5 billion) might not bode well if Ineos remain the third best cycling team.

  3. My sprinting one to watch is Kooij. His progression last year was terrifyingly steady. At UAE Tour he started the year placing 8th, then 4th and then 2nd in the sprints and just continued this trajectory, rounding out the year by smoking the majority of ‘whos who’ in bunch sprinting (Phillipsne, Bennet, Jakobsen, Groenewegen) in a drag race at Munsterland. He took 16 podiums in 46 race days (meaning he was top 3 around 1/3 of days he pinned on a number) and won 10 of those 16, plus two overalls at Sarthe and ZLM. 2022 was his neo-pro year after a few months as a trainee in 2021.

    Watching him over the year, he’s grown in confidence in hectic finishes, despite having little in the way of dedicated train, on a team that is fully pivoting to GC (+ WvA). I wonder where his future lies – at 21 he’s young to be besting Green Jersey winners in sprints, and will surely want more dedicated support for a tilt at a GT next year. He’s got a bit of grit to get over small climbs, and as we saw ion Sarthe, goes well in terrible weather and classics style racing conditions.

      • I see Démare is down for the Tour so with Gaudu as GC man as well, it makes sense to have Pinot at the Giro stage hunting. (less pressure as well, I suppose) Would like to add my regrets that Pinot is retiring but thanks to him for some memorable moments.

  4. – Does Jay Vine’s national time trial title mark the start of his breakthrough year as a GC contender? Will UAE give him the opportunities for that?
    – Does Mark Padun start the season in shape and will he be able to show his potential in more races?
    – Can Olav Kooij and Arnaud DeLie join the sprinting elite?
    – Can Jumbo-Visma do for Wilco Kelderman what they did for Vingegaard and turn a rider whose weak spot is in the mental aspect into someone who wins or will Kelderman extend his gigantic lead in the “top 10 spots with no win” classification?
    – Were Jonathan Milan’s impressive uphill sprints in last year’s Cro Tour a fluke or did we see the birth of a new classics contender?
    – Will Ganna finally get some results in a classic?
    – Will UAE get their tactics in order in races without Pogacar or will Ayuso and Almeida continue their Hinault and Lemond cosplay?
    – Will we see Nairo Quitana and Domenico Pozzovivo race in 2023?

    • Some great picks. I think Keldermann will be an ideal lieutenant as he’s very steady and reliable normally but this can mean he’s there when others fall away, if Roglič has another misfortune.

      Ganna’s interesting as he’s been beaten several times in time trials, he looked invincible before much like Cancellara used to seem but now is more erratic. Can he get his win rate back, and yes Paris-Roubaix awaits.

      • I think he had a couple of hot date towards the end of the seasons, when he definitely hit two big big targets. And it’s not just about how hard it is to reach multiple peaks of form, it’s also about arriving fresh enough into Autumn, which normally means not having reached very top peaks before. Note that normally you have riders who perform relatively better or worse in late season, but most if not all contenders find themselves in that kind of condition (late season wear off), or sort of, and after all winning is about… competition. But if you need to break records, it’s not about being *relatively* good or better, it’s about absolute performance.
        We’ll know more next year, indeed.

        • The mental and physical toll may have worn him down a bit too I thought. He had a string of wins at the star of the year (Bessèges, Provence, Adriatico, Dauphiné), second at UAE. Then came The Tour and Hour Record shortly after, specifically which must have been quite the distraction. Paid off with his incredible result though.

          • +1. With the Hour and the Tour, it seems to me last season’s priorities were clear. It’ll be interesting to see if Dave Brailsford has allowed him sufficient preparation for the classics. He really wants to lift that cobblestone in April.

  5. Speaking of “familiar names but with their own challenges”, I’d add Caleb Ewan, and staying upright/not running into people. Was he trying too hard last year to keep Lotto up? (Then again, he definitely has previous…) I see Lotto Dstny didn’t get the invite for either TDU or GORR.

    Speaking of TDU (but somewhat OT here), I don’t see ADQ on the start list although they’re a WWT squad. Actually, quite a number of WWT squads aren’t lining up there. How does that work? (I wasn’t going to mention it but since Eritrea got brought up … I’d like to see ADQ do really well this year, well enough that it makes big news and that UAE start to talk them up at home. If sportswashing is inevitable, maybe it can be a 2-way street, or at least the camel’s nose. Or maybe I’m being totally unfair to Emiratis, who might like to see that as well. Full props to them for supporting women’s racing.)

    • Are you sure a number of WT are doing the race. The race website was 19 teams including a scratch team of locals plus Israel. So missing one WT team and not including soudal.
      Procyclingstats has 20 teams including all the WT teams i think.

        • WWT is closer to being a women’s equivalent of ProSeries races and ProTeams than an equivalent of the actual WorldTour. They don’t have mandatory participation in any races like the WorldTour does for the ‘core’ races on the WT schedule prior to the 2017 expansion with new optional races.

          Women’s WorldTeams have minimum salaries, but they are aligned to ProTeam salaries rather than WorldTeam salaries.
          Like ProSeries races, WWT races can have Continental teams and multiple national teams.

          On the men’s side, Lotto and Total did get invited to the races in Australia but chose not to use those invites … at least not officially. Lotto has sent Caleb Ewan and Jarrad Drizners to ride as part of the Australian National Team, hopefully scoring them some UCI ranking points without the effort of sending a whole team of riders and staff.

  6. Alright! Here we go gents! I know it isn’t the start of the big European racing season… but cyclingnews’ live coverage of the Women’s TDU is on and it’s a saturday night in Canada (in winter, so I’m working on year-ends… but very happy to have live coverage of the season’s early races).

    Thanks for a great set of previews Inrng – looking forward to another great season. And, it looks like Cyclingnews dropped the paywall, finally. Hope their ad-revenue will jump back up. I’ll support their sponsors as much as I can.

    • Nevermind… cyclingnews still has the paywall.

      Silly funding model for a niche site… $8/month. I know this is not a popular opinion, but I don’t think it is worth it.

      • Given the type of ads that are run on CyclingNews, there is no way I would ever visit it outside of a private window.

        So I wouldn’t know if there is a paywall or not, until they shift to a proper hard paywall that actually locks you out.

  7. Surely Chris Froome is a rider to watch now he says he’s feee of injury/illness? He’s definitely going to target a Tour stage win. And maybe, just maybe, he’s got one in him.

    • Many of Froome’s interviews in recent years seem to be about him declaring he’s turned a corner and is feeling confident. The cynic in me makes me wonder if it’s as much directed at team management given he’s got a great contract and any sign of a chronic injury might be grounds for a review. But we’ll see, it would be a big story if he can get a mountain stage somewhere as a swansong.

  8. I have once again been reminded not to read inrng while sipping coffee:
    “there’s more to the world than the quagmire of Belgian municipal parks”
    Emergency keyboard cleaning.
    Isn’t there an e too many in Neilson Poweless?

  9. One more aspect: Riders from smaller countries fighting for Olympic rankings. This means that riders will fight more for the minor placings that still give UCI points. This could lead to more crashes and have an effect on riders aiming for different goals. For countries like Latvia (Skujiņš, Liepiņš – Trek, Neilands – Israel) this will mean 1 or 2 riders in the Olympic road race.

    It already happened – Emīls Liepiņš, a relatively unknown sprinter, crashed himself in TDU prologue in the last corned while being in the virtual top 5.

  10. Hi everyone!

    No doubt there will be many interesting cases of “riders to watch” to follow this season and most of the interesting cases that were not referred by the author were referred by readers in the comments!
    Although for me the most interesting one to evaluate nobody mentioned (at least I didn’t read it, but it could have gone unnoticed) Tim Wellens on Emirates! A capable cyclist who was one of the leaders in a smaller team with a bit of an underdog role becomes part of one of the best teams with a high quality squad, goes from a Belgian team mentality to an Italian based team and while I have no doubt that money was the main incentive for Wellens to go to Emirates (and I don’t condemn him) how will it can work?

    Let’s not forget that Wellens has always been one of the few to speak openly about being anti-doping and now he will have as his bosses some with “better CVs” in this regards! Even now I continue to have difficulties in fitting this transfer of all the teams it was the one that least saw Wellens riding! But I hope he stays the same and that everything goes well for him! who knows if in a team so full of talent Wellens isn’t closer to winning in certain races.

  11. Look how relaxed Hindley looks in the top photo compared to Carapaz and Landa. Perhaps an indication of just how good his form really was. Great photo, says a lot about each rider.

  12. Looks good to see Cavendish donning his British Champion kit, regardless what team he’s on. Would have been pretty sad if the british champ jersey was retired without a squad, especially after his battle to win it last year.

    Proves he deserves a spot in the peloton, and I hope he delivers this year.

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