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In December, we picked 12 talents that we expected to shine in 2015. Now it is time to draw the balance: did they live up to expectations?

Photo: Sirotti

DAVIDE FORMOLO

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

EDOARDO ZARDINI

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

ESTEBAN CHAVES

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

LOUIS VERVAEKE

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MIGUEL ANGEL LOPEZ

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

SILVAN DILLIER

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

STEFAN KÜNG

RIDER PROFILE
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TIESJ BENOOT

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS
03.11.2015 @ 16:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

In December, CyclingQuotes picked 12 young talents that we were keen to follow in 2015 and whom we expected to show their great potential at the highest level. Most of them fully lived up to our expectations and some of them exceeded them – by far. Only a few of them had poor seasons and failed to build on the promise that they showed earlier in their careers. Below we take a look at our 12 riders to make an evaluation of their performances in what was a great year for young talents

 

Every year lots of new riders join the professional peloton from the neo-pro ranks. Some of them make an impact on the racing right from the beginning while others take a few years to get accustomed to the racing before they start to shine.

 

In 2015, a lot of exciting talent joined the pro ranks and the field was loaded with neo-pros that will make big things in the future. In addition to the newcomers, there were several young riders who took a massive during the new season.

 

In December, CyclingQuotes selected 12 riders that were destined for big things in 2015. Some of them were neo-pros while others already had one or more years under their belt. Now it is time to look back and find out whether we had a lucky hand last winter.


 

 

 

 

DAVIDE FORMOLO


 

What we wrote in December:

When asked by Cyclingnews to select the biggest talent of the many riders that had joined his team from the former Cannondale team, Cannondale-Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters didn’t hesitate to point to Davide Formolo. The American definitely has all the right reasons to highlight the young Italian. Other riders may have achieved better results than the lanky climber but by many standards, he was probably the best neo-pro in 2014.

 

Already in the early Italian one-day races, he caught lots of attention by his exceptional climbing but those races were too easy to suit a pure climber. Unfortunately, he was set back by a bout of chickenpox which hampered his spring season but when he was back at full strength, he was deeply impressive. He kicked it off with a fourth place in the Tour of Turkey and finished seventh in his first WorldTour race, the Tour de Suisse.

 

However, it was his performance at the Italian national championships that attracted most attention. Vincenzo Nibali who went on to dominate the Tour de France just one week later, was able to drop all his rivals bar one. Formolo clung to the wheel of the Astana star and was only beaten in an exciting sprint.

 

Formolo failed to hit his best condition in the second part of the year but he was rewarded for his excellent performances by getting selected for the Italian world championships team. Even though he didn’t get to ride in the end, it speaks volumes about the confidence that national coach Davide Cassani has in this exciting talent.

 

Next year Formolo should get lots of room to excel at Cannondale-Garmin. The team is known for its commitment to young riders and there is little doubt that he will be given h is own opportunities. Formolo is set for a grand tour debut in the Giro or the Vuelta and it would be no surprise to see him line up alongside Ryder Hesjedal at the Italian race. Despite his status as a pure climber, he time trials decently as he proved in the Tour de Suisse and there seems to be no limit to the potential of this future grand tour star.

 

Did he live up to expectations?

It’s a rare occurrence that a grand tour debutant wins a stage in his first three-week race – especially when he is just a second-year pro and he takes the victory in a very hard stage that is ridden at a brutal pace. However, that’s what Formolo did when he made his long-awaited grand tour appearance in the Giro d’Italia. On the hilly fourth stage, he made it into a big break that escaped early in the stage and included the likes of Roman Kreuziger, Esteban Chaves and Giovanni Visconti. In the peloton, Astana blew the race to pieces and ended the GC hopes for several contenders but Formolo managed to distance his companions and keep the favourites at bay to take an impressive solo win that gave hope that the Italian would do a great Giro.

 

Unfortunately, that was the highlight of what was a rather disappointing season for Formolo. Most talents would immediately have signed for a maiden grand tour stage win and Formolo would probably have done so too. However, it is no coincidence that the Italian topped our list of talents to watch. The promise he had shown in the first half of 2014 made us believe that he could go on to challenge for the top positions in the WorldTour stage races as he had indicated with his seventh place at his Tour de Suisse debut, and maybe even go for a top 10 in the Giro. However, Formolo was never able to reach the lofty heights he showed in his debut season.

 

Formolo got the year off to a slow start and we always feared that his below-par showing in the second half of 2014 was an indication of things to come. Unfortunately, it turned out to be true. After illness had set him back in Tirreno-Adriatico and Criterium International, he was far off the pace in both the Basque Country and the Ardennes classics. That dampened the lofty Italian expectations for his Giro debut after he had been hailed as the nest big Italian grand tour rider after Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru but briefly looked like his former self when he took that magical stage win in La Spezia. From there, he disappeared into anonymity and ended the race in 31st.

 

When he returned to racing in the Tour de Pologne, Formolo looked like he had benefited from his first grand tour as he was clearly one of the best climbers in the WorldTour race. However, as it was mainly decided in the final time trial where he rode very poorly, he ended the race in 9th. The season finished badly for the Italian who had plenty of chances to ride for himself in both the USA Pro Challenge and the Tour of Alberta but he was unable to follow the best on the climbs in both races.

 

The outcome is meagre for a rider who created so much hope in his first season as a professional. Was it all just a one-hit wonder in the spring of 2014 or does Formolo really have what it takes to become the next Italian grand tour king? He has certainly proved that the potential is there and after all he has just turned 23. There is no doubt that he is still dear to Jonathan Vaughters’ heart so he will be nurtured at Cannondale and get plenty of room to test himself in 2016. With Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin leaving the team, grand tour and stage race leadership will fall onto the shoulders of Andrew Talansky, Pierre Rolland and Rigoberto Uran. There should be ample opportunity for Formolo to lead the relatively young American team while also gathering more grand tour experience at Uran’s side in the 2016 Giro. 2015 was a disappointment but it is still too early to write off the rider that took his team’s biggest win in just his second year as a professional.

 

 

DYLAN TEUNS


 

What we wrote in December:

Most stagiaries have a hard time coping with the higher level of the bigger teams but occasionally there are a few riders who manage to achieve great results during their apprenticeship. One of those is Dylan Teuns who rode for the BMC Racing Team in the second half of the 2014 season.

 

Teuns climbed solidly in the Tour of Utah, his first race with the WorldTour team, to finish 18th overall but it was his performances when he returned from a brief spell – and a stage win – back at U23 level at the Tour de l’Avenir that really caught the attention of lots of cycling observers. The young Belgian got the chance to lead one of cycling’s biggest teams in the Tour of Britain where he distanced riders like Bradley Wiggins and Leopold König on the climbs and went into the final time trial with a podium spot within reach. A poor performance in the race against the clock saw him drop to 10th but when he finished 6th in the GP Wallonie despite working for Greg Van Avermaet, he underlined that he is extremely gifted in hilly terrain.

 

In 2015, Teuns will be riding his first professional season as a BMC rider and his performances in the autumn suggest that we have lots of reasons to have great expectations. At the World Championships, he told CyclingQuotes that he aims to focus on the Ardennes classics and he hopes to learn a lot from Philipe Gilbert and Van Avermaet in his first year with the team.

 

There is a chance that Teuns will be selected for some of the biggest classics already in his first year but in those events he will of course be riding in support of his captains. However, with the loss of big stars like Cadel Evans, Thor Hushovd and Samuel Sanchez, there seems to be more opportunities for the young riders in the 2015 BMC team. Teuns will be keen to grab them with both hands and it would be no surprise to see him take a maiden pro win already in his first year. In any case, he will build the foundations for a career that could see him become one of the leading contenders for hilly classics and shorter stage races without too much time trialling.

 

Did he live up to expectations?

Whether it was the weight of expectation or just a matter of never finding is best form is hard to say but Dylan Teuns didn’t completely build on the lofty heights he reached when he rode as a BMC stagiaire at the end of the 2014 season. Back then, he was able to follow the best on the climbs in a major race like the Tour of Britain, animated the finale of Paris-Tours and impressed in the Grand Prix de Wallonie. In 2015 he was unable to achieve the same kind of results and he was overshadowed by the other standout 2014 stagiaire Tiesj Benoot.

 

However, one cannot be overly critical when it comes to a neo-pro that has just one of the biggest teams in the world and of course Teuns was often set to play a domestique role for the stars in the races that suited him the best. In April and May, he actually delivered great performances in high-level races even though they went largely unnoticed. After a third place in the Volta Limburg Classic, he was selected for his favourite races in the Ardennes where he was set to ride in support of Philippe Gilbert but suddenly got an unexpected personal opportunity in Fleche Wallonne when the former winner crashed out of the race. Teuns proved his potential by riding to a fine 13th place on the Mur de Huy and backed it up with a solid 31st place in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. One week later he was an impressive fourth in the Tour of Belgium despite working for overall winner Greg Van Avermaet and losing a solid amount of time in the prologue.

 

In the second half of the season, Teuns was set to get more personal opportunities but things never really worked out for the talented Belgian. He was not at his best in the Tours of Austria and Poland and was unfortunate to again be pushed into a domestique role for Ben Hermans and Silvan Dillier in the Arctic Race of Norway as a fifth place in the queen stage was only good enough to be the third best BMC rider. Again it was the Tour of Britain that looked like his happy hunting ground as he was sitting in fifth place overall with just two innocuous sprint stages to go. However, a bad crash on an airfield in the penultimate stage ended his race prematurely and left him with nothing to show for his great form. Furthermore, it hampered the final part of his season where he never returned to his best level.

 

Based on his performances in 2014, we had hoped for slightly more from Teuns but admittedly the circumstances often worked against him. His debut in the Ardennes was definitely promising and his fourth place in his national tour despite working as a domestique underlines that he has the skills to turn into one of best Belgian riders in the hilly classics and shorter stage races (without too much time trialling). Bad luck prevented him from improving on last year’s Tour of Britain result and even though he was maybe not as strong in the second part of the season as he was 12 months ago, Teuns is definitely on track for a very promising career.

 

 

CALEB EWAN



 

What we wrote in December:

Ever since he won two stages and finished second overall at the 2012 Mitchelton Bay Cycling classics – beating some of the best sprinters in the world at just 17 years of age – Caleb Ewan has been seen as one of the biggest sprinting talents in the world. By dominating the criterium series for a few more years and going on to shine in European U23 races, Ewan has proved that his results were no fluke and it came as no surprise that Orica-GreenEDGE were quick to sign one of the most exciting Australian riders at a pretty young age.

 

Ewan already rode for the team in last year’s RideLondon Classic before he made his WorldTour debut with the team at the Tour of Beijing. In the Chinese race and the Tour Down Under which he rode with the national team, he showed that he can already mix it up with the WorldTour sprinters, finishing second in the opening stage in Beijing and third in the Down Under Classic.

 

Ewan already has the speed to win races at the highest level and there is no reason to believe that he won’t take a number of victories already in his debut season. Orica-GreenEDGE know that it is important to keep his confidence high and so have put together a race schedule that will allow him to do lots of smaller races where he has a real chance to win. The strategy is underlined by the fact that he is not set to do the Tour Down Under but will make a low-key UCI debut with the team at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race and the Herald Sun Tour before he heads to the sprinters’ paradise at the Tour de Langkawi. Furthermore, the team has clearly shown that they are ready to back him fully and he should be the designated sprinter for almost all races on his schedule.

 

Ewan is mostly known as a sprinter but at the two most recent editions of the U23 World Championships and the RideLondon Classic, he proved that he is also able to overcome pretty tough climbing. In September, he told CyclingQuotes that he aims at becoming a pure bunch sprinter but his potential is bigger than that. Ewan has the skills to become the dominant sprinter of his generation and may go on to play a role in some of the classics too.

 

Did he live up to expectations?

Ten months ago we claimed that Caleb Ewan already has the speed to mix it up with the WorldTour sprinters and to become the dominant sprinter of his generation. Those who watched the talented youngster easily pass John Degenkolb and hold off Peter Sagan in the tough uphill sprint on stage 5 of the Vuelta a Espana will certainly approve that assessment. Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel are the latest sprinters to have shown this kind of promise in their first taste of a three-week race (if one forgets about Cavendish’s ill-fated 2007 Tour) and it is no surprise that Orica-GreenEDGE now seem even more confident that they can build the sprinting part of their team around the fast Australian.

 

In every aspect, Ewan’s season went just like his team leaders had planned. The idea was to send the youngster to a number of smaller races to gain confidence and that’s what they did with great success. Ewan had limited racing in Europe and instead he clocked up lots of victories in sprint-friendly races like the Herald Sun Tour, Tour de Langkawi and the Tour de Korea. He got his first European win in the relatively small Vuelta a la Rioja and got the chance to test himself against some of the best sprinters in the world at the Tour of Turkey and the Tour of Norway.

 

The team probably only made one mistake by lining him up for his first European WorldTour race at the Volta a Catalunya which is known as one of the toughest one-week races. The Spanish event turned out to be a bit too much for the young Australian who abandoned on stage 3 but things went much better at his second attempt at the easier Tour de Pologne. He got close to a stage win on two occasions despite crashing spectacularly in stage 2 and even proved that he can handle some climbs in the tough fourth stage. That set him up nicely for his grand tour debut where he proved real class by winning the only bunch sprint he contested. At the moment, he has a hit rate of 100% in grand tour sprints!

 

However, the Spanish race also proved that there is still some way to go for Ewan. Most of the stages were too tough for the Australian who was one of the few sprinters to be left behind in stage 3. Ewan still has a lot of work to do before he can contest the sprints in the harder races but his performances at the U23 level prove that he has the skills to be more than a rider for the completely flat stages. It is important to remember that the 21-year-old is far younger than most of the neo-pros and so it is no surprise that he still needs to work on his endurance and resistance in the longer races. The speed is certainly already there and with a team that is partly built around him, Ewan will definitely achieve lots of success in 2016 as Orica-GreenEDGE slowly grooms him into the future top sprinter.

 

 

SILVAN DILLIER



 

What we wrote in December:

It is rare for a rider to win a race during his time as a stagiaire but sometimes the trend is broken. Dillier managed to do in late 2013 when he took a surprise win in BMC colours on stage 2 of the Tour of Alberta. It was no surprise to see the American team sign the Swiss talent who had already won the Tour de Normandie earlier in the year, for the 2014 season and he has had an amazing first year at the pro level.

 

Dillier rode strongly right from the beginning of the year and played a key support role for his captains in the early cobbled races. It speaks volumes of his talent that he was selected for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix after just three months of professional racing which is no mean feat in a team stacked with classics talent like BMC.

 

His performances allowed him to get more personal freedom and he got close to a first win in June at the GP Kanton Aargau where he finished second behind Simon Geschke. He went on to finish third overall in the Tour de Wallonie, was 9th in the Vattenfall Cyclassics and capped an amazing season by being part of the winning team at the TTT Worlds in Ponferrada.

 

Dillier is a very good time triallist with a fast sprint and he climbs pretty well in classics terrain. The Swiss has the potential to become one of the best riders for the cobbled classics and it would be a good idea to keep an eye on him in the first big races in Belgium and Northern France. It is still too early for him to feature in the finales of the cobbled monuments but no one should be surprised to see him play a key role in some of the smaller pave races while also playing a key support role for Van Avermaet in the biggest events. Races like the Three Days of de Panne and the Tour of Belgium are perfectly suited to his characteristics and while his team is unlikely to line up in the former, he could be a strong contender in the latter.

 

Did he live up to expectations?

Looking at his results, one may get the impression that Silvan Dillier’s progress has stalled. However, it would be a huge mistake to write off the Swiss talent who continued the slow process of developing himself into a top rider for the classics. There were no standout results in the first half of the year but as we wrote 10 months ago, that was never to be expected. Dillier did most of the biggest classics and in a team that is led by the extremely consistent Greg Van Avermaet that leaves very little room for personal ambitions. Later he made his grand tour debut in the Giro and it was no surprise that he left the Italian race empty-handed. He worked for his leaders Damiano Caruso and Philippe Gilbert and as he is never expected to be a rider for the three-week races, it was all about gaining experience and strength for future races.

 

The improvement was evident in June when he both claimed his first Swiss time trial title and climbed impressively in the Tour de Suisse and it set him up for a great second part of the year. His improved climbing was evident in the Arctic Race of Norway where he climbed with the likes of teammate Ben Hermans, Rein Taaramae and Ilnur Zakarin, and took over leadership from Hermans when bad luck struck in the final stage. Dillier managed to stay with Taaramae and Zakarin and easily won the sprint to claim his first road race win since turning professional and end the race in second overall. He ended the year ona high by claiming his second TTT Word Championships title, a pretty impressive performance for a second-year pro.

 

While the personal results are not outstanding, Dillier has shown the mental attitude that creates a champion. The Swiss has been a constant attacker in the classics and even though he is still to land a big win, that kind of approach will ultimately pay off. To succeed in the biggest races, you need resistance and that’s what you get by spending time in what can look like fruitless breakaways. Niki Terpstra and Philippe Gilbert are prime examples of classics titans who have matured by riding aggressively in the early part of their career and Dillier is ready to follow in his footsteps.

 

With Van Avermaet knocking on the door for a big classics win, there is still no room for Dillier to ride for himself in the biggest races and he may have to spend another year working for his leaders. However, he is gradually building the strength that will allow him to shine when the ever-consistent Belgian starts to fade. That’s the path he seems to follow as he slowly moves away from sprinting and hasn’t excelled in time trials. 2016 is likely to be another year of gathering experience and building strength by riding the classics and another grand tour – and then another Worlds title could be waiting in Qatar after a stint on the board with the Swiss team pursuit squad at the Rio Olympics. 

 

 

JOHAN ESTEBAN CHAVES

 




What we wrote in December:

As he already has a stage win in the Tour de Suisse on his palmares, one may claim that Johan Esteban Chaves has already had his big breakthrough. However, the potential of this young Colombian climber is unlimited and he is destined for greatness in 2015.

 

When he hasn’t had better results at this point in his career, it is mostly due to his horrific crash in the 2013 Trofeo Laigueglia that saw him miss the rest of that season and use most of 2014 to get back into racing. However, with the win in Switzerland and a stage win in the Tour of California, he proved that he is already one of the best climbers in the world and with a year of racing and a first grand tour under his belt, we can expect him to make huge progress in 2015.

 

Chaves made his grand tour debut in the Vuelta a Espana and in the first part of the race, he proved that he is already able to match the grand tour stars on the climbs. He faded in the second half and clearly lacks a bit of consistency but his top level means that he should be one of the leading contenders in mountaintop finishes in the new season. He ended his season by finishing on the podium in the Tour of Beijing, his first top 3 result in a WorldTour race.

 

By giving him the leadership role in the Vuelta, Orica-GreenEDGE have already proved that they have big plans with their young Colombian who is the key rider in their plans to become a GC team for the grand tours. His race schedule is still unclear but 2015 could see him return to Vuelta or make his Giro debut. It may still be too early to target the Tour but he could be climbing well enough to finish in the top 5 of one of the two minor grand tours. In addition to shining in WorldTour stage races without too much time trialling, he only needs a bit more consistency to become the Fabio Aru of 2015.

 

Did he live up to expectations?

“It may still be too early to target the Tour but he could be climbing well enough to finish in the top 5 of one of the two minor grand tours. In addition to shining in WorldTour stage races without too much time trialling, he only needs a bit more consistency to become the Fabio Aru of 2015.” Our words from December probably turned out to be truer than we had expected. In 2014, Aru won two stages and finished fifth in the Vuelta and this year it was Chaves who turned out to be one of the two big grand tour revelations by mimicking that effort.

 

To be honest, we didn’t see it coming at the start of the race. In fact, we were slightly losing a bit of hope in Chaves after a disappointing spring season where he failed to build on the progress he had shown in 2014. With a first grand tour in his legs, we expected him to come out flying in 2015 but that was definitely not the case. In fact, he was far off the pace in the Volta a Catalunya, the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the Ardennes classics. However, the big disappointment was probably his performance in the Giro. He was never set to ride for GC in the Italian race but he was surprisingly anonymous after missing out on a fantastic opportunity to wear pink after Orica-GreenEDGE’s win in the opening team time trial. Just like in 2014, he was expected to benefit from his post-grand tour form in the Tour de Suisse but unlike in Beijing he was far off the pace in the Swiss race.

 

Chaves completely disappeared from the racing season and with a disappointing spring season, it was no surprise that he flew under the radar when he lined up at the Vuelta, his first race after a two-month break. In fact, he didn’t even make it onto our 15-rider list of favourites which may seem as a bit of a surprise based our pre-season prediction. However, the Spanish race turned out to be a massive breakthrough for Chaves who won the first road stage of the race to take the red jersey, rode himself back into the lead by winning stage 6 and spent several days in the lead before he ended the race in fifth.

 

It was no big surprise that Chaves was able to follow the best riders on the climbs – as we wrote in December he already did so in 2014. What really proves that he has emerged as a leading grand tour contender is his consistency. This time there was no signs of fatigue at any point in the race and even though he had less good days and was less strong in the final week than in the first half of the race, there was never any sign of a breakdown. Furthermore, he showed great maturity, refusing to respond to attacks and going into the red and so minimizing his losses on days when he felt less good.

 

However, the most encouraging sign for Chaves is probably the time trial in Burgos. The Colombian has been known as a disastrous time triallist and last year he lost 5.45 to stage winner Tony Martin in the Vuelta TT. This year he exceeded bot his own and the team’s expectations massively by finishing 20th, limiting his losses to a specialist like world champion Kiryienka to just 1.12 on a completely flat course that didn’t do him any favours. On that day, his team realized that he was in with a shot at a top 5 finish and he delivered on his promises in the final mountain stages to achieve the best grand tour result in the history of the Australian squad by riding into Madrid in fifth.

 

Just like in 2014, he came of the Vuelta in amazing condition. He was probably the strongest rider in Il Lombardia and it was only cramps that prevented him from finishing on the podium after Nibali had attacked on a descent. He finally made use of his great form to win the inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour in impressive fashion to end a breakthrough year with a first-ever professional stage race victory.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE are building their future team around sprinters Michael Matthews and Caleb Ewan and stage race riders Chaves and Adam and Simon Yates. It’s a huge pressure for the young Colombian to carry such a big responsibility for the entire team but he is clearly able to handle it. In 2016, he is set to again do the Giro-Vuelta double and this time the plan is to go for GC in both races. On paper, the big amount of time trialling in Italy should make the Giro less suited to his skills but based on his solid ride in the Vuelta, he should be able to limit his losses in the first two TTs and as a pure climber, he is likely to be one of the winners in the mountain TT to Alpe di Siusi. Last year Fabio Aru was second in the Giro and won the Vuelta after having been fifth in the previous edition of the Spanish race. It’s probably still a bit too early for Chaves to go for the win but 2016 could very well be the year when he first steps onto a grand tour podium.

 

 

ADAM YATES



 

What we wrote in December:

Chaves is not the only Orica-GreenEDGE talent that is destined for big things in 2015. 2014 was already an amazing year for the Yates brothers and it was probably only the beginning for the talented British twins. During their youth careers, Simon was regarded as the most talented of the pair and Adam even had to follow a different career path as he was not part of the British talent program. At the pro level, however, Adam has taken the position in the spotlight and even though Simon’s less stellar results were partly due to a broken collarbone, Adam may turn out to be the star.

 

It all started with a solid showing in the Tour de San Luis but it was his stage win and overall victory in the Tour of Turkey that really marked him out as a rider for the future. He rode solidly to a top 10 in the Tour of California before he finished among the ten best in the Criterium du Dauphiné, arguably the hardest week-long stage race on the WorldTour.

 

In the Clasica San Sebastian, he proved that he can already mix it up with the best in the hilly classics too when he made the key selection with Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, Bauke Mollema and Mikel Nieve, leaving many of the Tour de France stars behind him. A bad crash denied him the chance to turn the performance into a great result and unfortunately he never found his best form for the rest of the season.

 

There is so much for to come from Yates though who has the skills to shine in one-week stage races and one-day classics. It remains to be seen whether he can turn into a grand tour contender but his punchy climbing style makes him perfectly suited to the hilly classics and races like Paris-Nice. Riding under the tutelage of Simon Gerrans, he will have the perfect conditions to grow into an Ardennes contender and he should get lots of chances to lead the team at major races already in 2015.

 

Did he live up to expectations?

In December, we claimed that Adam Yates had the potential to become an Ardennes contender already in 2015 but honestly we didn’t expect him to win one of the few hilly WorldTour one-day races already in his second year on the pro scene. Nonetheless, that’s what he did when he rode to a memorable solo win in the Clasica San Sebastian and he was even agonizingly close to a repeat in the GP Montreal whose brutal conditions had many riders describing it as the hardest race they had ever done.

 

In a strange turnaround, it is Adam who has done well in the one-day races while his brother Simon has been the most consistent in stage races. When they turned pro, Adam was tipped to be more of a pure climber while Simon’s punchy skills made him more of a classics rider. However, the roles have been reversed in 2015.

 

Adam clearly had the best debut of the twins in 2014 but in the early part of the year, it was Simon taking the headlines. Adam had got the year off to a great start with a top 10 in the star-studded Tirreno-Adriatico but a crash in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco destroyed his spring season. While Simon showed impressive consistency with top 10 finishes in Pais Vasco, Romandie and the Dauphiné, Adam was nursing his injury and it briefly looked like Simon would be the most successful of the pair.

 

It looked like more of the same when they lined up at the Tour de France as Simon shone in the early part of the race but as Adam rode himself into form, the tides changed. Adam was 7th in the Mur de Bretagne stage but it was his 7th place in the first big mountaintop finish in the Pyrenees – the stage where Froome laid the foundations for his win – that showed how much potential Adam has. The rest of the race was a bit of a disappointment but he bounced back in the Alpe d’Huez stage where he made a big gamble by staying with the biggest names for most of the final climb. In the end, he blew up but it proved that it won’t take much time for him to be able to follow the best in the biggest races.

 

Both Adam and Simon are set to follow a very similar schedule in 2015, with the brothers focusing on WorldTour stage races and the Ardennes classics in the first part of the year. Both of them have proved that they can finish in the top 10 in those races so the obvious next step is to target the podium. While Simon has shown progress in the TTs, Adam has not had the chance to prove a substantial improvement in what looks like his weakest point. TTs play a massive role in most WorldTour stage races so there’s definitely work to do for him if he wants to make it onto the podium but if he can improve in that area, there is no reason that he can’t finish in the top 3 in a major race in 2016.

 

While there are still question marks about his abilities in the time trials, Adam has proved that he can already target victories in the classics. Next year he is set to give the Ardennes a first real shot and if he can handle the longer distances in races like Liege and Amstel, there is no reason that he can’t be a potential winner already next year. At the same time, he is set to ride for GC for the first time in the Tour de France. It’s a bit more of a question mark whether he can recover well enough to handle three consecutive weeks and get through a stressful first week which is definitely not his strongest point. We will be a lot wiser about his grand tour potential in 12 months time but one thing is certain: Yates will be a major player in one-week stage races and hilly classics in 2016.

 

 

NICOLA RUFFONI



 

 

What we wrote in December:

In his first year at the pro level, Nicola Ruffoni may not have gained an awful lot of attention but that is set to change. He already caught our attention when he finished third on a stage at the Tour of Oman and his performances earned him selection for the Giro d’Italia. He struggled a bit with the positioning aspect and had a hard time in the Italian grand tour but towards the end of the year he proved that he has the speed to become one of the best sprinters in the world.

 

At the Tour du Poitou-Charentes, he beat Mark Cavendish to take his first prove win but it was at the Tour of Britain that he really showed what he was capable of. In the big sprint stages in Liverpool and London, he went up against Marcel Kittel and Cavendish and after having been narrowly beaten by Kittel in the former – where he again beat Cavendish – he was agonizingly close to a win in the British capital when he finished a close third behind the two sprinting giants.

 

Ruffoni still has a lot to learn when it comes to positioning and as he won’t be supported by a big lead-out train at Bardiani, he may be performing pretty inconsistently. However, when he gets everything right, there is a very good reason to watch out as he has the speed to challenge even the best sprinters in the world. In Britain, he even proved that he climbs pretty well too and so he has the skills to become much more than a pure sprinter. It may be a good idea for the big sprinters to keep an eye on this young Italian in the 2015 Giro d’Italia.

 

Did he live up to expectations?

Of all the riders on our list, Nicola Ruffoni was probably the biggest disappointment. Two consecutive third places in sprint stages at the Tour of Turkey were the highlights of a very bad second year at the pro level. At no point did he show the signs that had allowed him to mix it up with the best sprinters in the world in 2014.

 

It’s hard to say what went wrong for Ruffoni. As the lead sprinter at Bardiani which has a pretty good racing program, he was not lacking opportunities. As we wrote in December, he still has a lot to learn when it comes to positioning and Bardiani will never be a team that dominates the lead-outs in the biggest races. Very often Ruffoni was out of position but it can’t hide the fact that he didn’t show the same kind of impressive speed that he did in 2014.

 

To make things even worse, the second half of the year was even worse. He finished the Tour of Denmark with a number of top 10 places but the rest of his season was marked by DNFs. Two fifth places in Denmark were the highlights but a rider like Ruffoni should be able to do much better in the Danish race which didn’t have an impressive sprint line-up. It just underlined the fact that his progress has stalled.

 

It is still too early to write Ruffoni off and he will get another chance as a key rider at Bardiani in 2016. However, the Italian team is constantly bringing new young riders up through the ranks and he can already feel himself under pressure. He has proved that he has the speed to be up there with the best but if he doesn’t come up with the goods, he may find himself having to drop out of the pro scene in the near future.

 

 

EDOARDO ZARDINI



 

What we wrote in December:

Bardiani has a mission of developing young talents and Ruffoni is not the only future star in the Italian team. With Francesco Manuel Bongiorno and Edoardo Zardini, the team has a pair of strong climbers on its roster too. While the former may have gained most of the attention in the early part of their careers, it was the latter who caught the attention in 2014.

 

Zardini showed his class in the Giro del Trentino when he won a big mountain stage. Having attacked very early on the final climb, he proved to be impossible to catch for the in-form Giro contenders and he took an impressive solo victory that allowed him to spend a day in the leader’s jersey. After a slightly disappointing Giro, he was back in the spotlight at the Tour of Britain where he won the queen stage by distancing Nicolas Roche and Michal Kwiatkowski on the climb of The Tumble, just weeks before the latter went on to win the World Championships.

 

Those performances and a great showing in the Italian one-day races earned him a spot on Italian Worlds roster and even though he never got to ride, the selection was another testament to his great talent. At his best, Zardini is already able to match the best climbers in world but he clearly lacks the consistency that will allow him to turn into a true stage race specialist. 2015 will reveal whether he can add that extra dimension to his riding or if he will have to settle for a role as an excellent stage hunter in the mountains. In any case, he is set to deliver another few extraordinary showing in 2015 and the Giro d’Italia would be no bad scene to do so.

 

Did he live up to expectations?

With two riders on our 12-rider list, Bardiani was heavily represented. Unfortunately, those two riders both ended up as two of the biggest disappointments. Nicola Ruffoni was not the only rider to see his progress come to an abrupt halt as Edoardo Zardini also had a very bad year. In December, we asked for consistency from Zardini and in fact that’s what we got, albeit in a disappointing manner. Zardini was never able to build on the progress he showed in 2014 and a short flash of form in the Giro del Trentino was the highlight of his year.

 

Last winter Zardini had made it clear that he wanted to hit the ground running to consistently achieve results throughout the year. However, that approach failed completely as he was far off the pace in February and March. Things were looking better when he returned from his usual altitude training camp in April and like last year the Giro del Trentino was a happy hunting ground for him. His sixth place in the first mountain stage was the best result of the year and he ended the race in 10th overall, giving hopes that he would shine in the Giro.

 

He never achieved the desired results in the Italian grand tour. He tried to ride aggressively and showed himself on a number of occasions but was never even close to a stage win or staying with the best in the mountains. A 19th place in the Tour de Slovenie – a race that he should be aiming to win – ended the first part of his year and the autumn season was far from the jubilant run of success that saw him getting selected for the Worlds in 2014. He definitely showed signs of progress in the final races, with a 22nd place in Lombardy and 9th place in Emilia being solid results, but it was still a far cry from his stage win in the queen stage of last year’s Tour of Britain.

 

It is hard to explain Zardini’s loss of form. Of course he has never been a consistent performer and it was always going to be doubtful whether he would be able to repeatedly deliver good results. However, more could be expected from a climbing talent like Zardini who definitely has the potential to shine in mountainous races. Zardini will get a chance to make amends as he will again be one of the leaders of Bardiani in 2016 but as it is the case for his teammate Ruffoni, time could soon be running out for the talented climber. Bardiani is a team for young riders and they hope to see riders graduate to the WorldTour. Zardini has WorldTour potential but he needs to show it in 2016 if he wants to live up to his promises as one of the most exciting Italian climbers.

 

 

JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE




What we wrote in December:

Based on his performances in his final year at the U23 level, expectations for Julian Alaphilippe were big in his first year at the pro level. However, the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider had a pretty slow start and apart from a few solid sprint results in the Volta a Catalunya, he didn’t achieve a lot in the first part of the year.

 

However, in the second half of the year, he finally proved the full extent of his potential. After a great performance in the RideLondon Classic, he went on to win a stage in the Tour de l’Ain and finished fourth overall in the mountainous French race. Just a few weeks later, he got close to a big WorldTour win when he made the 7-rider selection in the final of the GP Plouay and took a very impressive fifth place.

 

Alaphilippe is fast and excels in hilly terrain which makes him the perfect classics contender. Etixx-QuickStep is loaded with strong riders for the cobbled one-day races but is less star-studded when it comes to the Ardennes. Of course Michal Kwiatkowski is the clear leader for the team in the hilly races but if he can find the legs he had in August, Alaphilippe could be a prominent figure in those events too. His development in 2014 was impressive and if the trend continues in 2015, the future classics star will be one to watch in the coming season.

 

Did he live up to expectations?

“Etixx-QuickStep is loaded with strong riders for the cobbled one-day races but is less star-studded when it comes to the Ardennes. Of course Michal Kwiatkowski is the clear leader for the team in the hilly races but if he can find the legs he had in August, Alaphilippe could be a prominent figure in those events too.” When we wrote those words in December, we were hoping for the Frenchman to maybe make it into the top 10 in one of the Ardennes classics but we never expected him to be a winning contender in the biggest races in just his second year as a pro. After all, his debut season had been solid but without the kind of spectacular performances that made it realistic for him to target the win in the most important classics.

 

Hence, it came as a big surprise for both him and his team when he finished second in both Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and he could even have made it three podiums in a row if he had not worked for Kwiatkowski in the Amstel Gold Race where he finished seventh behind his winning teammate. As the world champion failed to hit the kind of form that had made him the revelation of the 2014 season, Alaphilippe suddenly got the chance to ride for himself and he found it hard to believe that we was the best of the rest behind the unstoppable Alejandro Valverde in both Fleche and Liege.

 

Nothing really suggested that Alaphilippe was on track for such a ride in the Ardennes. In fact, the first part of the season was pretty anonymous. He did a sprint in the Volta a Catalunya and was left frustrated in stage 6 of the Volta a Catalunya where he was clearly the strongest in the breakaway that decided stage 6 but came away with second place. His performance in the warm-up at Brabantse Pijl was far from outstanding but apparently it had all been a successful build-up for his Ardennes campaign.

 

Alaphilippe showed his versatile skills by sprinting to two consecutive podium finishes in stages of the Tour de Romandie but it was his performance in California that was really remarkable. Known as a rider for the classics, he suddenly shone in a mountaintop finish when he distanced a climber like Sergio Henao to take a big win on the queen stage to the top of Mount Baldy after his third place in the short, technical time trial. He came up short in the exciting battle for bonus second in the final stage and so had to settle for second behind Peter Sagan but the American race showed new aspects of his huge talent.

 

After his great success, the team decided to postpone his grand tour debut and go for the win in the hilly autumn classics but unfortunately a bout of mononucleosis destroyed the second part of his season. He still managed to take 8th in San Sebastian and 10th in the Eneco Tour but he had certainly hoped for more. However, it was a relief for him to find the reason for his travails and with a few months to rest and recover, he should be ready to build on his progress in 2016.

 

Obviously, the Ardennes classics will again be the big goal for Alaphilippe who will now team up with Daniel Martin to form a frightening duo in the hilly races. He is also penciled in for his grand tour debut at the Tour de France where he will be looking to gather experience. However, there is no reason that he can’t win a stage already in his first appearance in his home race and the hilly finale of stage 2 must already have caught his attention. When you can finish second in two of the biggest classics on the calendar, no race suited to your characteristics is beyond your reach so the sky is clearly the limit for Alaphilippe in 2016.

 

 

TIESJ BENOOT



What we wrote in December:

Belgium has always been loaded with good riders for the classics and the next big one-day rider from the country could be making his debut in 2015. Tiesj Benoot got the chance to ride as a stagiaire with Lotto Belisol in the second half of the year and the talented Belgian did a lot to prove his potential.

 

After a strong start to the season that included a third place in the hard Ronde de l’Isard, he showed that he is ready to challenge the elite riders. He finished third in the queen stage of the Tour of Denmark and finished the race in 10th after having lost too much time in the time trial. He went on to take 6th in Binche-Chimay-Binche but the real evidence of his talent was given in Paris-Tours where he made the key selection in the tough finale of the French classic. Just a few weeks earlier, he had been close to a maiden rainbow jersey when he finished fourth at the U23 race in Ponferrada.

 

Those performances underline his skills in classics terrain and already in his first year, he is set to get a taste of some of the biggest one-day race. He will mainly be taking in the experience while providing support for riders like Jürgen Roelandts, Jelle Vanendert, Tony Gallopin and Tim Wellens but in some of the smaller races, he may take his own chance as part of a Lotto Soudal team that usually leaves a lot of room for their young riders. As he is also pretty fast in a sprint, he has the skills to achieve notable results in his debut season.

 

Did he live up to expectations?

It’s common knowledge that experience is the key to any kind of success in the cobbled classics. While young riders can often excel in stage races and other one-day races at a young age, it usually takes a few years for a rider to be able to mix it up with the best in the cobbled monuments.

 

That makes it even more remarkable that Tiesj Benoot finished fifth in his first Tour of Flanders as a 21-year-old neo-pro. The Lotto Soudal youngster has had the most impressive cobbled classics debut since a certain Tom Boonen finished third in the 2002 Paris-Roubaix and our prediction that Benoot is the next big Belgian classics rider looks to be truer than we had ever imagined when we praised the youngster in December.

 

However, it would be a failure to write Benoot’s neo-pro season down to just that remarkable fifth place in Oudenaarde. In fact, the Lotto Soudal rider has underlined his status as one of the most versatile riders in the peloton and he can do almost everything on a bike. In January and February, he was climbing with the best in Mallorca and Algarve and then made use of his great sprint to take top 4 results in Le Samyn and Handzame Classic. His cobbled classics campaign was obviously a great success as he added a sixth place in Dwars door Vlaanderen to his Ronde performance and only untimely mechanicals in Paris-Roubaix slightly tainted his remarkable debut.

 

After the classics campaign, Benoot again turned on his climbing legs. He was an impressive second behind Greg Van Avermaet in the Tour of Belgium, proving that he can climb with the best in the Ardennes, and the went on to surprise himself in the Dauphiné. Despite being way too big to be a real climber, he mixed it up with the best on the very difficult sixth stage of the race and ended the mountainous event in a fine 26th overall.

 

Benoot continued his great performances in the second part of the year. Again he showed his climbing skills with a 19th place in San Sebastian and an 8th place in the Eneco Tour but he best performance probably came when he rode to fifth in the GP Montreal whose brutal conditions made many describe it as the hardest race they had ever done. He was obviously in great condition for the Worlds and felt that he would have been in contention for the win if a mechanical on the final lap had not ruined his race. A fourth place in Paris-Tours capped off an impressive debut season.

 

The high mountains will never be Benoot’s terrain and his time trialling is an obvious weakness but apart from that he can do almost everything. It will be a difficult task for Lotto Soudal to guide him in the right direction to benefit maximally from his huge talent but at the moment he is likely to focus on the cobbled classics. Jürgen Roelandts remains the leader for those races but there is little doubt that Benoot will already be given a free role in 2016. He may not have won a pro race yet but already next year the best neo-pro of 2015 could already find himself on the podium of one of the cobbled monuments.

 

 

MIGUEL ANGEL LOPEZ




What we wrote in December:

Everyone knows what an impact Colombia has had on cycling in the last few years and there seems to be no end to the host of talents that arrive in Europe from the South American country. 2014 marked the breakthrough of another great climbing talent as Miguel Angel Lopez took an impressive overall victory in the Tour de l’Avenir.

 

The last two Colombians to have won the French race are Nairo Quintana and Johan Esteban Chaves and they have both gone on to become major players on the international scene. There is no reason to suggest that it will be anything different with Lopez who has already earned a contract with Astana.

 

Lopez has barely done any racing in Europe and he will probably need some time to adjust to the higher level and the strains of elite racing. Furthermore, he is part of an Astana team that is stacked with stage racing talent and for the Colombian youngster, there won’t be many opportunities to chase personal success. For him, it will be mainly about gaining experience while working for his captains but he could prove to be a very valuable team member on the climbs for some of the biggest riders in the world. Furthermore, he will be ready to grab his own chances whenever they occur and a first one could come already at the Tour de Langkawi in March. 2015 may not be the year when he adds hosts of great results to his palmares but it could be the year when he shows the world that a new great Colombian climber has been born.

 

Did he live up to expectations?

Miguel Angel Lopez had definitely hoped for a much better debut season on the pro scene. Two health issues meant that the talented Colombian only had 34 race days in his first year on the WorldTour and several DNFs marked the season. However, Lopez still managed to reach peak condition twice and on both occasions he proved that there is so much more to come from the Colombian super talent.

 

After an 8th place at his national championships, the injuries meant that he had to skip his planned debut in the Tour de Langkawi. Instead, he was thrown right into one of the hardest races on the WorldTour calendar in the Volta a Catalunya and it was no surprise that he was unable to make it to the finish, with knee problems still hampering his progress. However, he was clearly on the right track and he used the Tour of Turkey to ride himself back into form. After a poor performance in the first summit finish, he showed the first signs of his talent with a second place in the uphill finish in Selcuk.

 

Lopez didn’t do any racing in May but returned with a bang at the Tour de Suisse in June. He was expected to work for Jakob Fuglsang who was one of the favourites for the race but the Colombian turned out to be stronger than his leader. While the Dane drifted backwards on the queen stage, Lopez rode strongly to a fourth place finish and it was only his travails in the two time trials that prevented him from finishing higher than seventh.

 

The Tour de Suisse was followed by another long break from racing and he didn’t seem to be in great form when he returned at the Clasica San Sebastian. However, that race only set him up for a marvelous performance in the Vuelta a Burgos. After his team had won the team time trial, he worked tirelessly on the front for teammates Michele Scarponi and Luis Leon Sanchez in the punchy finale on stage 4. When Daniel Moreno launched what seemed to be the race-winning attack, his leaders were unable to follow and so Lopez had to kick into action. Despite having done a considerable amount of work, he managed to come around Moreno to take his first pro win and ride himself into the overall lead.

 

Unfortunately, 21-year-old Lopez was unable to back up that performance in the queen stage and while his teammate Rein Taaramae took the overall win, he slipped to fourth. That was how it all ended for Lopez as he only did four one-day races at the end of the year, with a 44th place in Milan-Turin being his best result.

 

The limited amount of racing means that Lopez has flown under the radar and he has failed to get the same kind of attention as fellow neo-pros Tiesj Benoot and Caleb Ewan. However, the potential is clearly enormous for a rider that was seventh in the first WorldTour stage race he finished and that managed to beat the likes of Moreno in a tough summit finish in Burgos. It is almost scary to think about what Lopez can do if he finally frees himself from his many injuries and manages to get a solid block of racing in his legs. At Astana, there’s not much room for a climber to ride for himself but Lopez has proved that he is ready to grab his chances as soon as his leaders start to fade. 2016 is likely to be the year when the world realizes that the next big Colombian climber has been born.

 

 

LOUIS VERVAEKE


 

What we wrote in December

One rider that beat Lopez on a big mountain stage in the Tour de l’Avenir was Louis Vervaeke. The Belgian climber won the stage to La Toussuire to confirm his status as a leading U23 rider after he had won some of the hardest espoir races Ronde de l’Isard and Tour des Pays de Savoie earlier in the race.

 

Being a climber, Vervaeke is not the typical Belgian rider but he may be the potential grand tour winner that Belgium has been searching for for decades. He already joined Lotto Belisol on July 1 and even though he failed to make much of an impact, he showed signs of his class at the WorldTour level when he was a key protagonist in the GP Montreal.

 

Lotto Soudal is not known as a GC team and this means that there should be lots of opportunities for Vervaeke to take his own chances in some of the one-week stage races. 2014 showed that he still needs time to adjust to the higher level but there seems to be no limit to his potential. It would be a surprise if he doesn’t turn out to be a leading contender in a few stage races in 2015 and in a few hard WorldTour races, we may also get the chance to see whether Belgium really has a new big climber in the making.

 

Did he live up to expectations?

2015 turned out to be an annus horribilis for Louis Vervaeke. Whenever he started to build some kind of form, he had a bad crash that forced him to start all over again. It all started on February 18 when he crashed out of the Vuelta a Andalucia and then he was brought down in the big crash at the Volta a Catalunya that took Tejay van Garderen out of GC contention.

 

The many crashes meant that Vervaeke was far from his best condition in Pais Vasco and the Ardennes but at least he gained important experience in the biggest classics. More bad luck struck in his grand tour debut at the Giro. He clearly suffered in the Italian race and it all came to a premature end when illness ended his race in stage 16.

 

After a solid training block during the summer, Vervaeke targeted the GC at the Tour de Wallonie but unbelievably he crashed out of that race too. Hence, the final part of his season was limited to seven one-day races and he never reached his best form, with a 19th place in the GP de Wallonie being the highlight.

 

With that amount of bad luck, 2015 is a write-off for Vervaeke and it is impossible to draw any conclusions based on his performances in his first full season. However, Lotto Soudal still have full confidence in him and hope to have the next big Belgian stage racer in their ranks. The team is not stacked with stage racing talent and even though they hope to have a bigger impact in one-week races with the signing of Rafael Valls, there should be plenty of room for Vervaeke to show his talents. Hopefully, 2016 will be an injury-free year and then we will finally get the chance to assess the full extent of his potential.


 

 

OUR JOKERS

In addition to our 12 main riders, we mentioned a few jokers that could all do great things in 2015. We had expectations for Pierre-Roger Latour, Magnus Cort Nielsen, Merhawi Kudus, Carlos Barbero, Mike Teunissen, Gianfranco Zilioli, Stefan Küng, Ruben Zepuntke and U23 world champion Sven-Erik Bystrøm and they had mixed experiences.

 

The stand-out performer was definitely Pierre-Roger Latour who has firmly established himself as the next big French climber. Already in 2013, he was 13th in the Giro dell’Emilia while riding as a stagiaire and last year he was near the top in almost all the hardest U23 races. Nonetheless, his first season at the pro level has been better than expected. A seventh place in Etoile de Besseges marked a promising debut but a difficult time followed until he was finally ready to prove his talent in the Route du Sud. In the French race in the Pyrenees, he stayed with Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana almost all the way to the top of the Port de Bales and ended the race in third overall behind the two grand tour stars.

 

That set him up for a marvelous summer that saw him finish 7th in the Tour of Austria and fifth in the Vuelta a Burgos. He ended the string of stage race successes with a third place in the Tour de l’Ain where he even won the final stage despite having gone into the events with the plan to ride in support of his teammates. Known for his climbing skills, it was a great sign for his future that he did a surprisingly good time trial in the Tour du Poitou-Charentes. Ag2r have long been known as the leading French team when it comes to stage racing and already have Romain Bardet and Alexis Vuillermoz on their roster. Based on his great debut season, Latour is ready to join the rather long list of promising French stage race riders.

 

Stefan Küng is another rider from our list who can be very pleased with his debut. The Swiss time triallist first showed his talents on the track and then hit the road with a bang when he finished second behind Bradley Wiggins in the Driedaagse De Panne time trial which set him up for an overall fourth place. Just two days later, he proved that he can also do well in moderately hilly terrain when he rode to a fantastic solo win in the Volta Limburg Classic but it was his performance in the Tour de Romandie that really caught the attention. On a miserable day in his home country, he held off the peloton with another great solo ride to take his first win in the first WorldTour race he had ever done.

 

Unfortunately, his progress was put on halt when he suffered a bad crash halfway through the Giro and he missed most of the autumn season. However, he still managed to get back in time to be part of the winning BMC team at the TTT Worlds, thus emulating the performance of his compatriot Dillier as a neo-pro. Finally, he returned to the boards to post the sixth fastest time ever in the individual pursuit at the European Championships. In his first year, he has had mixed experiences in the TTs which have generally been his strong point but the second place in De Panne proves that the potential is huge. Furthermore, he is eager to get a first taste of the biggest cobbled classics. Fabian Cancellara may retire at the end of 2016 but Switzerland already has another very similar rider ready to take over.

 

The final rider on our joker list to do really well was Carlos Barbero. After a few years at the continental level, he finally got his chance as a professional with Caja Rural and he contributed significantly to the excellent year of the Spanish team. An excellent uphill sprinter, Barbero started to show his potential in April when he was in the top 3 on no less than 6 occasions, with second places in stages of the Tour of Turkey and the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon proving that the first pro win was imminent. It finally arrived in the final stage of the Vuelta a Madrid and set him up for a very successful trip to the other side of the Atlantic where he won The Philly Cycling Classic and won two stages in the Tour de Beauce.

 

After a second place behind Alejandro Valverde at his national championships, it was the Vuelta a Burgos that proved where Barbero really has potential. In the Vuelta a Burgos, he beat Daniel Moreno in a tough uphill sprint and it is in the hard finales that he really excels. He had hoped to carry that momentum in the Vuelta but his grand tour debut ended as a big disappointment. However, that can’t erase the fact that Barbero has proved his skills in the tough sprints and he is likely to be the Spanish sprinter for the hard races after the likes of Jose Joaquin Rojas, Juan Jose Lobato and Francisco Ventoso.

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