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Neo-Pros To Watch For 2024

Isaac Del Toro

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 heelhe 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.

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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.

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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

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  • 150 Watts Friday, 12 January 2024, 12:18 pm

    I see Del Toro is in the TDU so I will be able see how he shapes up very shortly.

    • Kennard Lämna Friday, 12 January 2024, 2:39 pm

      Morgado and Staune-Mittet too.

      • Frank Interview Friday, 12 January 2024, 2:59 pm

        And Archie Ryan

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 12 January 2024, 4:07 pm

      The TDU isn’t one of those races that has be “learned”, it’s got regular roads and set piece moments on certain climbs… but they’re short so it’s hard to read much, five places out of position can spoil things etc.

    • AndyW Saturday, 13 January 2024, 11:51 pm

      Ha, already a podium for him! Only the Crit, but still impressive.

    • Kennard Lämna Wednesday, 17 January 2024, 11:38 am

      He shapes up pretty well as it turns out!

  • Kennard Lämna Friday, 12 January 2024, 2:40 pm

    Wee typo in the Lecerf post – assume he is 54kg, not km.

  • Rafal Friday, 12 January 2024, 5:09 pm

    I guess a l’Avenir champion will always draw attention but I am a bit uncertain as to the chances del Toro will get on UAE. With the GC talent they have (Pog, Almeida, Ayuso, Yates, McNulty, Vine, Sivakov) where can he possibly get his chances to lead a race? Morgado might actually have a better year since he should ride the one day races which have a degree of chaos and chance that the more tightly structured stage races, with clear leaders and domestiques do not. Plus, there’s just way more of those one day races. Same concern for Johannes Staune-Mittet.

    In general, unless its a generational talent like a Pog or a Remco, I think the best neopros in terms of results will be the ones that will be riding the one day races or will be GC riders on smaller teams. Guys like Luke Lamperti and Per Strand Hagenes will have opportunities. Especially if they do the .1 and .Pro races. Other names I like are Francesco Busatto, Axel Laurance (technically a neopro? Even if not, will be first time on the main team and not the dev team), Lars Boven, Riley Sheehan, Alec Segaert, Vito Braet.

    Is INEOS any good at developing riders? Doesn’t appear to be so. They haven’t really set the world on fire with Pidcock, who should be in that generational category in terms of results, and most of their young riders like Sheffield or Turner have regressed (including Pidcock) so how does that bode for August? You can say Tarling but they had no part in developing him. They gave him a great TT set up and off he went. August is apparently a really good TT rider so maybe he will be spared the “development” that INEOS does to their riders. But for how long?

    • Rafal Friday, 12 January 2024, 5:10 pm

      Sorry, that one sentence should read:

      “Morgado might actually have a better year since he should ride the one day races which have a degree of chaos and chance that the more tightly structured stage races, with clear leaders and domestiques, do not.

    • Brunnchen Saturday, 13 January 2024, 12:35 am

      WTF? Pidcock is the current World & Olympic XCO Champion……What planet are you on?
      Typical roadie ignorance….it beggars belief.

      • Davesta Saturday, 13 January 2024, 10:40 am

        Not to mention winning 2x XCO & 1 CX world cups. And a solo win at Strade Bianche, and podiums at Liege & Amstel…he may not have the hit rate of Pogacar or MvdP, but he’s hardly regressed!

        As for Ben Turner, let’s not forget he broke his arm at Omloop so missed all of the races in which he shined in 2022…

        • hoh Sunday, 14 January 2024, 11:46 pm

          I guess it is a testimony to Pidcock’s caliber that a convincing solo win at Strada Bianchi was considered an “under performance”.

          He was unlucky with concussion (some other illness/injury derailed his 2022 spring campaign) last year and that certainly negatively impacted his Arden and Northern Classic performance. On the other hand, even when he is not at his best, his presence in a classic race opens opportunities for someone like of kwiatkowski. That is no small feat.

          His stated aim of going for GC is certainly worrying. But whether this focus is constraining him really depends on how much if affects his classic campaign. If he kept on having a big impact in classics but doesn’t win as much stages in the Tour, then I wouldn’t call that a constraint at all.

      • Larry T Saturday, 13 January 2024, 1:21 pm

        “What advice did the former Tour de France winner Wiggins have for his promising young signing – someone who he says ‘already has it’? ‘Don’t go to Team Sky in the future, go somewhere else. They will ruin you.”
        But what does he know vs the wizards who post here? “Typical roadie ignorance” right?

      • Rafal Saturday, 13 January 2024, 3:25 pm

        This is a road cycling website. Perhaps you didn’t know. Aren’t there any MTB websites you can go to and vent your frustration that nobody really cares that much about MTB?

        On the ROAD Pidcock has not achieved what he was hyped to achieve. He can do all the XCO he wants but that’s irrelevant to this website and this discussion

        • AKU Sunday, 14 January 2024, 8:42 am

          There is no need for such response. It’s poor in both tone and content.

          Pidcock’s road performance is clearly impacted by HIS decision to keep focusing on mtb. Results would probably better on road if he dropped xc alltogether. Now, as a someone who enjoys cycling, whether it’s road, cx, xc, track or singlespeeds in kartodrom, I am happy that he (and to lesser extent MVDP) keep riding xc and cx. I hope that this trend of multidiscipline riders continues and grows I only see it as a positive for our sport

          • J-Man's Dad Sunday, 14 January 2024, 3:15 pm

            +1. Multi discipline stars make all the aspects of cycling better for me as a participant & fan. Just because this is a road focused blog doesn’t mean we slam the other disciplines

        • The Inner Ring Sunday, 14 January 2024, 3:27 pm

          This is *my* road cycling website… and while I don’t cover cyclo-cross, MTB etc, I’ve done my share and think it’s an excellent route into road cycling, to the point where Del Toro gets two photos above because he’s won Avenir and raced off road at a high level too. Similar with track racing, it doesn’t make me day dream here but it’s great for learning, skills, technique etc.

          Pidock’s lucky to chose his calendar, it’s only those at the very top who can say they want time out from the World Tour to do other things. It might even provide more longevity for his road career. But he’s one of the riders to watch in 2023 almost because of this, he’s an exciting rider who can do plenty but will he end up on some kind of assembly line to be formatted into a grand tour rider at the expense of all the fun things?

        • Davesta Monday, 15 January 2024, 2:18 pm

          The irony of this article containing a photo of Isaac Del Toro racing a mtb, is my favourite thing about this comment !

    • Greg Monday, 15 January 2024, 11:07 am

      “I am a bit uncertain as to the chances del Toro will get on UAE. With the GC talent they have (Pog, Almeida, Ayuso, Yates, McNulty, Vine, Sivakov) where can he possibly get his chances to lead a race?”

      Why should a just signed neo-pro get a chnace to lead a race in his first year and why? EAre expectations so high nowaday that you have to win a pro race right in your first season if you just turned 20?
      Many riders will be broken by such expectations in the future. Not every musician turned out bad cause they didn’t do what Mozart did as a kid. Give people time to develop and don’t compare everyone to a wunderkind like Pogi.

  • Othersteve Friday, 12 January 2024, 6:29 pm

    Being a shameless nationalist, who is the US kid that Del Toro is piping at the line in the first
    photo at the Tour de l’Avenir?

    Nice to see Mexico well represented it’s been a while.

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 12 January 2024, 6:30 pm

      Matthew Riccitello, but already a pro with the Israel team since the start of last year (and he rode the Giro).

      • RV Sunday, 14 January 2024, 3:30 am

        The thing that stood out so much on that stage wasn’t just that Del Toro was stronger than Riccitello, but that he was a lot more tactically astute. He hasn’t had a huge amount of race experience, so this seems to be intuitive on his part. He really reminds me of Pogacar in that respect. Time will tell, but Del Toro really looks like the real deal

        • hoh Monday, 15 January 2024, 12:38 pm

          Not sure Pogacar and “tactically astute” should appear in the same sentence without sandwiching a “not”. No disrespect, he is one of the greatest of this generation. However, if he is even remotely “tactically astute”, he would at least have one more TDF and a Flander to his name.

          • gabriele Tuesday, 16 January 2024, 9:58 am

            Sometimes someone else, be it an individual athlete or a team manager, is just astuter than you…

            Pogačar hasn’t reached the tactical peaks of van der Poel (another athlete whom people had criticised for not being shrewd enough, something which then looked more and more laughable as examples of the opposite being true were accumulating), but he showed many times he perfectly knows how and when he has to act in order to get the best of his skills against his opponents’, as it happened very early in his career at the Vuelta, then at the Tirrenoes, but also in last year’s Lombardia, at Ronde itself, in the Cauterets TDF stage (even more so if we consider how actually stronger his rival was) etc. Of course, he also made his mistakes, but I’m not sure that the results would have changed dramatically – and some of those mistakes (not all of them) are such only with hindsight.

  • thierry Friday, 12 January 2024, 6:32 pm

    Bonjour, sur la photo c’est Francesco Busatto et non Alexy Faure -Prost

  • Andrew Friday, 12 January 2024, 10:09 pm

    Any thoughts on Bart Lemmen who is newly pro but does not meet the age limit? He’s 28 and apparently was in the military.

    • The Inner Ring Sunday, 14 January 2024, 3:29 pm

      A bit like Elmar Reinders, riders can have a route into the World Tour this way too. It seems more possible for those who have a “long” power curve, who can turn the power on for hours because this makes them valuable helpers but they struggle to win races whether amateur or pro because their peak power for crucial moments might not be so good, so they can be overlooked.

      • Andrew Sunday, 14 January 2024, 5:05 pm

        Thanks for the insight.

  • Save Friday, 12 January 2024, 11:52 pm

    With all (I hope, due) respect to the riders listed, it looks like a rather thin field that will mostly fly below the radar (this year at lest). I do wonder if there’s a two-year cycle at work here that will make 2025 a great year for new professionals breaking through. (ducks for cover!)

    • Larry T Saturday, 13 January 2024, 9:42 am

      Is anyone claiming any of these guys are gonna win a big race in 2024? My take is they’re neo-pros to watch as in to see how they develop as they go wheel-to-wheel with the pro peloton full time.
      I’d forgotten about the Mexican kid. I remember Raul Alcala from back-in-the-day – my first trip to Europe was 1988 and our group was in the same hotel in France. I remember seeing someone hang cycling laundry out-the-window and then Alcala’s head pop-out to see what was going on below.

  • Joe Saturday, 13 January 2024, 1:17 pm

    Emil Herzog apparently suffered from an undetected myocarditis at Hagens Berman in his 2023 season. Hence only 22 race days and a presumably early return to BOH. He is said to be alright now and cleared to race again… Let’s see…

    • The Inner Ring Sunday, 14 January 2024, 3:32 pm

      Thanks, I think I enjoyed the Tour interview linked to I didn’t look for all that more after. For any German speakers I’d recommend the interview, it’s a nice read.

    • wakkawakka Monday, 15 January 2024, 11:07 am

      Even before last season started Axel Merckx was pouring water on the fire, telling us not to put too much pressure on Herzog as he’s supposedly much more advanced than others his in nutrition, aero, training, etc so in theory doesn’t have as much room for improvement as some of his teammates like Shmidt, Morgado or Rafferty

  • The Other Craig Sunday, 14 January 2024, 3:23 am

    So excited to see so many North Americans on the lists of pros and neo-pros to watch. Might see Americans and Canadians on the podium, and maybe even a Mexican! Can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.

  • Richard Sunday, 14 January 2024, 10:12 pm

    I suspect Mr del Toro will be getting a visit from the UCI handlebar police (“Inspector Mick”) at the TDU – look at those levers in the photo above…. assuming he can overcome that difficulty, he looked strong in the criterium. I look forward to seeing if he can live with Yates etc up Willunga late this week.

  • Martijn Tuesday, 16 January 2024, 10:25 pm

    The Netherlands has 22-year old Jardi van der Lee who went right from amateur club Willebrord Wil Vooruit (‘Willebrord Wants to Go Forward’) to EF, because of his results and power values in the e-racing circuit. So there’s hope he might be the next Jay Vine.

  • RayG Wednesday, 17 January 2024, 10:43 am

    Nice to have your first choice justified so quickly.

  • KevinK Wednesday, 17 January 2024, 11:58 am

    Really impressive win for Del Toro! Seems like I heard about him somewhere as a young rider to watch, though I can’t remember where. 😉