Ten neo-pros to watch this season.
Isaac Del Toro is picked because he won the Tour de l’Avenir and this alone makes him an obvious rider to watch given so many previous winners have gone on to great things. Winning is impressive and Del Toro won it convincingly, this was no chance outcome – although as we’ll touch on in a minute the pre-race pick crashed out – as he took the points and mountains jersey along the way… as well as the white jersey because the U-25 race even has a category for 19-20 year olds, notable to win this race so young when he was up against more seasoned riders, some had a grand tour in their legs.
If that’s not enough Del Toro did so much more in 2023 too to make him even an more obvious pick, among the best in the molto mountainous Giro della Valle d’Aosta and he beat plenty of established pros climbers in the Sibiu Tour’s summit finish and the TT stage so the late season scramble to sign him was a surprise given someone should have got him before he started l’Avenir. There are have been few Mexican pros but he’s no novelty, he’s been to the mountain bike and cyclo-cross worlds so he’s technically gifted too and has been based in Italy for some time with the AR Monex team. If anything he’s highly polished already.
Staying at UAE brings us to António Morgado, the Poulidor of Portugal. Sorry, that’s harsh and premature but he’s had plenty of second finishes. He was second in the junior worlds in 2022 to Emil Herzog, then second in the U23 Worlds last year to Axel Laurence, an established pro so very much “glass half full” second places; we could call him the Ed Sheeran of Portugal as he’s had plenty of top-10s too. The moustache is almost a trade mark. He’s punchy, with a good chance of landing a first place in the next year or two but UAE means competition just to start a race but also the chance to work with João Almeida, they’re different riders with Almeida the climber-stage racer but Morgado’s range could extend into Almeida’s field, look to see in a race like the Tour of Poland.
The Yates twins, the Halland Johannessen twins… and now Per Strand Hagenes and Johannes Staune-Mittet. Of course they are not twins, nor related but they’re both Norwegian talents who came from cross-country skiing to graduate from Jumbo-Visma’s Conti team – where the each took a pro win already. Their careers will now branch in different ways, Per Strand Hagenes looks destined for the classics and showed his class winning a stage of the 4 Days of Dunkerque last year, a pro race ahead of Romain Grégoire and plenty of established pros on the hilly Mont Cassel circuit, the Ronde van Vlaanderen beckons and he can learn his trade alongside the likes of Van Aert, Van Baarle and Laporte.
Staune-Mittet by contrast is going up in the world, he’s a climber and a GC contender for the future who won the Baby Giro last year, including the Stelvio summit finish as well as a stage of the Czech Tour. A Ronde de l’Isard winner in 2022, he was second in the Tour de l’Avenir that year too and returned last year as an obvious contender only to crash out, still just 21 we’ll see how he fares in stage racing this year. Both are promising, some say Jørgen Nordhagen could be even better, he’s been signed to Visma’s development team.
Some teams can’t hire all their best development riders and Archie Ryan has been riding for Jumbo-Visma but signed with EF Education. Injury might be part of this, the Irishman had a chronic knee issue and was out for months several times, “I need to improve my knees! That’s my Achilles heel” he told Stickybottle.com and along the way the Dutch team didn’t give him a contract. So he’d signed for the American team instead. A climber, he’s had some big results on the long climbs and should continue to be handy in the mountains, look to see him in races like the Tour of the Alps and Romandie. Last year Groupama-FDJ recruited seven riders from their Conti team and this was remarkable, so we ought to note that EF have topped that, taking on seven neo-pros with Darren Rafferty, Markel Beloki, Lukas Nerurkar, Jack Rootkin-Gray, Yuhi Todome and Jardi Van der Lee, albeit from several teams rather than the EF Conti development team.
All the best juniors get pro contracts these days, right? Actually of the top-10 in the Worlds junior TT race, only Andrew “AJ” August has turned pro this year, he’s joining Ineos. All the others have development pathways, they’ve been beating off agents and development teams and feeder squads. August will join fellow American and cyclo-crosser Magnus Sheffield but they’re different, 17kg between them for starters with August more in the Pidcock weight bracket than Sheffield’s Van Aert build. August impressed all year in the US and Europe, taking the Ain Bugey Valromey Tour, a sort of Tour de l’Avenir for juniors as it’s a stage race with mountains with some famous winners. Still, he’s only just 18 and so while he’s one to watch, onlookers especially Americans should be patient and track Sheffield more closely. And there’s also the observation that Ineos doesn’t have a development team so they’ve taken him direct but they could equally hire him and place him elsewhere but must believe he’s ready, to start at least and Carlos Rodriguez is a rider to emulate, turning pro out of the junior ranks and now set to knock on door of the Tour de France podium truck.
William Junior Lecerf has a great name. The junior tag is notable while le cerf is French for “the stag”, a male deer, and a “cerf volant” is French for a kite. Given his talents L’Equipe are bound to use “Lecerf Volant” as a headline one day. Lotto had him on their development team but he switched to become a cub with Quickstep. Whatever the name he’s got a promising future. He’s no Flandrien, at 54kg he be blown sideways like a kite in a crosswind but he’s punchy too. Think a Flemish version of Esteban Chaves perhaps, a comparison evoked because Lecerf won the U23 Lombardia last season and he was handy in the Tour de Rwanda last year, with two days in yellow. Punchy, a good climber? He’ll have to specialise, the climber who can win small sprints in the U23s… can be a water carrier in the pros. Now this doesn’t point to a future in service, although it’s a solid career, just a general note that among all the best U23 riders we can see range but niches like climbing or uphill sprinting are crowded in the pro ranks and most specialise.
Move over Yves Lampaert, here comes Luke Lamperti. Soudal-Quickstep won the race to sign Lamperti, helped because the American is part of US brand Specialized’s plans. He’s recently turned 21 and was winning pro races last year, including three stages in the Tour of Japan where the Mount Fuji “summit” finish meant he couldn’t win the overall as well; British readers might remember him being in the mix in Tour of Britain sprint finishes. Results-wise everything points to the Californian being a sprinter of the future… so when Lampaert moves over it’s to let Lamperti launch. On a squad that’s seen Fabio Jakobsen and Ethan Vernon leave, he could opportunities quickly if Tim Merlier is racing or resting elsewhere.
Alexy Faure Prost could be a coup for Intermarché although if he keeps getting better the hard part will be keeping him. Only 19, he’s not just turned pro early, he’s turned pro earlier than planned as he was slated to move up in 2025 but seems in a hurry. A climber by results, he’s also proved an aggressive rider and while he’s had great wins – he won the French U23 championships as a teenager, making his move with 90km to go – he’s also been in select company when he lost, losing on the Grand Colombier to Cian Uijtebroeks and Romain Grégoire, or the Stelvio to Johannes Staune-Mittet in the Baby Giro last year.
Did you know that Bora-hansgrohe has a rider who used to be a champion on skis? Sure, which one. There’s Primoz Roglič of course, also Anton Palzer. Now there’s Emil Herzog who is a former German XC skiing champion. He told Tour magazine that he became frustrated by a lack of snow in his native Bavaria and so started riding his road and mountain bike more and more… and became junior World Champion in 2022, outsprinting the aforementioned Morgado and was a runner-up in the TT behind Josh Tarling. His first year with the U23s last year wasn’t as astonishing so we’ll see how he copes with another big step up. Herzog is a slight hard rider to label, perhaps his skiing has given him a more muscular body which means his weight is a little greater so he’s not yet a stage race champion in the making but he’s no sprinter either, instead think of a brawny Tom Pidcock, a comparision helped because he’s been part of Germany’s MTB squad at the Worlds too. A fan of winter sports he told Tour he doesn’t bother with indoor training as would rather be out on the bike, even if that means sloshing through sleet. It’s too much to say it’s a test for the team but the exit of Cian Uitdebroeks shows the perils of recruiting young.
That’s your ten. The trend to recruit young continues but these riders are not necessarily more talented, they’re just more precocious. Before citing any more names, a note to say 2024 has relatively few neo-pro signings. Many squads have made plenty of lateral hires from other squads without taking on newcomers this year. It’s not because of a lack of talent, and recruitment is changing and riders being placed onto development teams first. As such joining a World Tour team is often a step rather than a jump these days.
Jayco have done well to sign Danish sprinter and classics contender Anders Foldager, Ineos have his multi-talented compatriot Theodor Storm. Uno-X’s Johannes Kulset is a handy climber. Lars Boven joins Alpecin-Deceuninck… while his dad Jan, an ex-pro himself, is a coach at Visma-LAB, maybe it’s better to make his own start but he’s been a rider who has got results in the amateur classics on tough days. Look out for Roel van Sintmaartensdijk at Intermarché, if only because he’s as tall as his name is long, you can’t miss him at 1m97cm. Riley Sheehan’s made a name for himself already thanks to winning Paris-Tours. If Lecerf’s name is mentioned, meet Alberto Bruttomesso, sort of Mr “Bad Messenger” which sounds like a character from a Calvino story but joins Bahrain along side Finlay Pickering, a British climber who is quick in a time trial too. DSM Firmenich-PostNL have Frank van den Broek (no relation). If that’s a name to live up to, think of Eddy Le Huitouze, the Breton joins Groupama-FDJ rider and has on the radar for some time as a double Vélo d’Or winner – others have him on theirs for longer as he won his first road race aged 7 – as a strong rouleur and more who was named after Merckx thanks to a mad-keen cycling father.
- Neo-pro? technically “a new professional who joins a UCI WorldTeam or UCI ProTeam for the first time no later than during his twenty-fifth year” and is on their first or second year of their initial contract. So a second year pro who is 26 counts under the formal definition. But for this post it’s just first year pros