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How Did The Neo-Pros To Watch For 2023 Do?

Ten neo-pros were picked at the start of the year as new names to watch. Once upon a time you’d have to look for a seventh place in a small race or spot them making the breakaway in a race over 200km as clues to their future but these days teams are happy to back young riders for the win on the right day so newcomers can jump on the podium in their first year. Plenty did just that…

Groupama-FDJ’s decision to sign seven riders from its development team led the way with Romain Grégoire and Lenny Martinez the two top picks among them. To paraphrase Marc Madiot, he’s got the leaders to replace Thibaut Pinot but they’re on their way rather than the finished item. Still Romain Grégoire had such a good season that if the 20 year old can repeat it in 2024 then he’s on track. He won two stage races with the Four Days of Dunkerque and the Tour du Limousin, at the former he said he was struggling to sleep as he was so nervous about being able to deliver the win; by the latter he seemed much more relaxed. Eighth in the Strade Bianche was solid, likewise second in the La Laguna Negra stage of the Vuelta where he was in the company of many experienced veterans.

Lenny Martinez made headlines thanks to winning atop Mont Ventoux, showing patience to time his sprint to overhaul Michael Woods but he made a big splash by leading the Vuelta a España for two days. He’s an exciting rider but very much a pure climber, although he says he’s working hard on his time trial bike and enjoys this side too.

Groupama-FDJ’s pipeline was gushing so much that they couldn’t sign everyone. So Jensen Plowright went to Alpecin-Deceuninck but there’s less to write home about, no stunning debut but it’ll be interesting to see if he can apply lessons learned going into next year.

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Gleb Syritsa was an unusual pick, an outsider rather than a talent tip. He’d made it to the World Tour from the amateur ranks, even if he was part of the Russian programme rather than some random club cyclist. Still, help or not it was a big leap. Despite his hulking size had been handy in uphill finishes too. A stage win in the Tour of Langkawi last year was repeated again this year but that was the only win but he was in the mix at other times and probably learned plenty, including alas via rough crash in the Four Days of Dunkerque, a race which is becoming the new Three Days of De Panne as the crash-fest of the calendar. It’ll be interesting to see where he fits into Astana’s sprint plans and his size makes him a handy wheel to sit on.

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Jan Christen was a neo-pro, only just as he turned pro in August. Teams see rising talents and get the fear of missing out. One way to secure their services is to give them a pro contract and weeks after he turned 19 he joined UAE. Still we should be measuring his results as a teenager and a win in the U23 Giro and a strong ride in the Tour de l’Avenir shows he can match the best in his category. The challenge is to keep this up.

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Thibaut Nys is not just the son-of-Sven. He’s running a twin road and cyclo-cross program. He had a great summer, taking a stage win in the Tour of Norway in May, an uphill sprint to the line and similar in the GP Kantons Aargau. These uphill wins scream classics contender for the coming years, he can float up the bergs and win sprints but it’ll be interesting to see how he fits into this slot, for example team mate Mads Pedersen is the example to follow but also the boss to work for; compatriot Arnaud De Lie is another leader in this niche but likely to be an arch rival too. Do this and he’ll really make a name for himself.

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Glance at the results and Ivan Romeo didn’t have a sizzling season. But this is too reductive. He was often visible on the attack and did plenty of work for Movistar too and only turned 20 mid-season. He took a stage of the Tour de l’Avenir in the Alpine foothills and while we can question those who have turned pro and then drop back down to ride U23 races, there’s no doubting the win as he barged clear and held off the field with Jan Christen finishing second.

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Josh Tarling was billed as Ganna 2.0, he’s taller and heavier than the Italian. He had an exceptional season. To the point where you wonder if Ganna could be surplus to requirements at Ineos, although this depends on how Tarling can do outside of time trials, is he going to be Paris-Roubaix contender who can also shred the field in a grand tour? Plenty of questions but only because we’re asking what comes next as he’s comprehensively settled questions about his time trial performances, skip the Tour of Norway prologue up Mount Fløyen and he finished no worse than third in any time trial this year and aged 19, opted not to ride the U23 event at the Euro championships but rode and won the senior title instead. There’s talent but also aided by work and research at Ineos, he’s had access to resources few get. Look to him in more time trials and the spring classics too.

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Oscar Onley didn’t grab the headlines this year but he and his team can be satisfied with the season. Without a breakthrough performance – still a Vuelta stage win thanks to the team time trial and the rain – he rode a heavier World Tour calendar and was up with the best in the Tour de Pologne. The Vuelta win was great but he crashed out the next day on the Montjuic circuit on a day which should have suited him and he missed the chance to bank a grand tour in the legs. He came back quickly though and attacked in Lombardia among other things. Upstaged in a way by team mate Max Poole – one of the revelations of 2023 – he’ll be able to pass on tips to Poole about building on initial success and handling World Tour racing. Onley’s best result was second overall in the Alpes Isère Tour where he dropped down to ride for DSM’s development team and confirmed what he can do.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • BC Thursday, 23 November 2023, 1:53 pm

    Josh Tarling is the one bright light for INEOS if he can transfer his engine to the classics on the road. This season will tell if he has that potential.
    His younger brother is also showing promise!

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 24 November 2023, 7:32 pm

      Even just to keep on winning in TTs is big. I wonder how much he’s brute force and raw power vs how much Ineos have worked with him, ie using Dan Bigham and others to help him find gains so there’s less to come next year but as you say, it’s on the road that’s interesting too. It’s all different, a few years ago it took a long time to get to the top in time trials, eg Tony Martin had a serve an apprenticeship.

  • rob md Thursday, 23 November 2023, 3:28 pm

    Thanks for the review – the photo of Remco shows how short he is compared to Ganna & Tarling. An interesting comparison for TT-ing.
    Was so glad for Lenny Martinez – who must be one of the lightest riders in the peloton. Can he be the next Pinot? He’ll probably always struggle like Bardet with TT-ing, but a stage win at the Tour and he could be France’s next darling.
    On the other end of the size scale is Gleb “The man for moving a piano” Syritsa. A learning year for him, but I think he could still be a good lead out man.
    UAE snapping up every bright promising teenager though is getting to grate a bit. With Pogacar still ruling the roost, and likely to for a few years yet, guys might start thinking of how they can race too the big races.

    • RV Thursday, 23 November 2023, 8:52 pm

      I think the question with UAE is whether their model is sustainable in sporting terms. Financially, they could keep buying every Tour de l’Avenir winner, junior champion, U23 champion etc. every single season. For that to work, though, those riders need to keep progressing every year. UAE needs to show they can actually cut raw diamonds into finished stones. If not, there will be an endless churn of young riders who don’t end up staying at the team (and who might have had more successful careers if they had chosen a different team). In the long run, that leads to riders questioning whether UAE is really the best destination.

      • CA Friday, 24 November 2023, 9:06 am

        Also, can UAE’s management build a team rather than just pluck a bunch of rising stars with big fees and let them sink or swim (and then leave). One key of the Sky/Ineos teams was the ability to convince riders like Kwiatkowski to do monster riders for the team. Getting a little off topic, but Kwiat has had some MONSTER team rides over the years – 2016 Rio Olympics, multiple TdF’s, etc.

        This argument also applies to Tarling and Gleb – can they learn to put in hours and hours of riding to protect their teammates, and then ride for themselves when the race suits.

        The picture of Remco is pretty funny… at first glance, “look, that kid got come up for a photo-op…”

        • rob md Friday, 24 November 2023, 10:37 am

          Kwiatkowski is one of those unsung heroes – he could have won a lot more races if he was not doing the donkey work at Sky/Ineos.

        • The Inner Ring Friday, 24 November 2023, 7:35 pm

          Having a big budget can convince riders to do those rides, you can become a millionaire without having as much pressure to perform, do media etc. But it’s something for wealthy teams to dedicate resources on, UAE still has questions over hiring and management as they’ve hired so many promising and star names but have fewer helpers but again they can afford to pay the likes of Adam Yates to help out; he’s in his 30s now so might accept this but it’s all the congestion among other riders that will be interesting to see. Who gets to ride where and what their role is.

          • rob md Saturday, 25 November 2023, 6:45 am

            Pogacar himself went out and said that it’s better with two leaders as “with one leader all the pressure is on that guy,” Also Uran and Sastre have gone out very recently and said about the changing culture and age of the team leaders. Good for TV but not always the smartest way to compete.

          • Larry T Monday, 27 November 2023, 4:32 pm

            One hopes its not another “Can’t beat ’em? Buy ’em!” exercise. Can they put together a Giro team to help Ayuso or Almeida (or even Yates?) win while still having a good enough squad for Pogacar come July? I have a real love/hate for UAE despite so much of the thing being Italian. Polti’s returning to pro cycling…is there anyone else in Italy who might bankroll a competitive WT team? Per favore?? Nessuno?

    • Andrew Friday, 24 November 2023, 8:29 pm

      He also seems to have an unusually large head. Aero advantage when tucked?

  • brent Thursday, 23 November 2023, 10:22 pm

    After a full year on a world tour team Thibaut Nys seems to have massively improved even on the cross circuit where previously he was not a real top contender. He is a year older and that’s important but its such a step up that it points to a better training plus a full high level road season really adds strength to the legs. The big question is will he be a great like WVA, MVdP or will he be solid more like stybar and boom. In any case i imagine trek are glad of the long contract.
    If he improves again he may be a real classics contender this year.
    Maybe ineos could use Tarling as the domestique this year and let Ganna really prepare for the classics. Next year is an olympics year though and i suspect Tarling’s main goal will be the TT medal assuming the course suits.

    • Tovarishch Friday, 24 November 2023, 10:28 am

      Tarling vs Ganna is going to be really interesting at the Olympics. Josh is currently in Geneva collecting UCI track points, indicating that he will be on the track against one of his team mates, Ganna or Viviani and the TT. Perhaps this is what Ineos are building for in 2024 – top of the cycling medals table.

      • rob md Friday, 24 November 2023, 10:39 am

        Ineos might well win more Olympic medals then Tour stages next year!

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 24 November 2023, 7:36 pm

      We’ll see for Nys in cross, don’t forget the big names have yet to come out.

      • brent Friday, 24 November 2023, 10:06 pm

        I expect that he won’t be competitive if the big 2 are on a good day.
        But compared to last year Nys has come along in leaps and bounds.

        • Tovarishch Monday, 27 November 2023, 10:22 am

          He started the season well with his victory in Waterloo but since then he really hasn’t done very much. He’s still young, which probably means he lacks a bit of the power of those around him. I don’t expect that much from him this year.

          • EmVeeEm Tuesday, 28 November 2023, 7:46 pm

            Seems to me that T. Nys kept his road firm and really targeted Waterloo for his Waterloo-based sponsor. His form has maybe now finally dropped off. Anecdotally, he seems much taller than last year. Like, maybe he went through a major growth spurt in the past 12 months. These young guys’ physiology can change radically over the course of months when they are hired as pros when they are still teens.

  • Sigi Friday, 24 November 2023, 3:16 pm

    They’d make a good team if you could put them together.

    I know Jan Christen a little. He is so good but I question how much margin for improvement he has got because he has all the skills already from many years cycling and being a champion at junior level from the mountain bike to the track. Sometimes you want to find the hidden talent and see it bloom.

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 24 November 2023, 7:40 pm

      Several riders have multi-disciplinary backgrounds and are all the better for it, it gives skills and allows juniors to find what they like the most, even if the road can be very attractive as a career path. But it’ll be interesting to see Christen alongside Morgado and Del Toro (who has raced MTB at high level as well) to the point where Ayuso almost looks like a senior.

  • Richard Sunday, 26 November 2023, 2:49 am

    I just re-watched Paris Roubaix (before GCN+ disappears and I lose the ability to do this easily) and noticed that it was Tarling that took out Rowe and himself coming off a cobbled section sitting right at the front. If he can develop the skills, I have very high hopes for him and Sheffield in the Classics.

  • RV Monday, 27 November 2023, 5:26 pm

    This post makes me wonder; is there an archive anywhere that has data on which teams promote the most riders from their development team (or a affiliated team if they don’t have their own dev team)? Instinctively, I’d say it must be FDJ, because that’s always been their model. Lotto also spring to mind as a team that uses their dev team well. I did find this article on PCS that talks about which teams turned riders into pros:
    https://www.procyclingstats.com/article/teams-that-delivered-the-most-professional-riders
    …but there’s no cross-sectional data showing which teams those riders rode for. There’s also no information on which team was a development team affiliated with which other team etc. Someone, somewhere must have done a PHD thesis on this!

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 28 November 2023, 9:10 am

      It’s hard to keep track of as it’s new, development teams are a relatively new thing. But Groupama-FDJ taking seven last year must be unprecedented, whether hiring from the development team or for an established team hiring seven neo-pros.

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