Anyone who tries to forecast which young sports person has what it takes to last years at the top – winning titles, succeeding – will know that talent and application by themselves ain’t enough. You need luck, too, especially in pro cycling. Don’t crash and face career-hampering injuries; don’t get screwed over by the wrong team at the wrong time; don’t get sick; don’t burn-out; don’t consult the wrong doctor; don’t get pushed into the cobbled Classics if you’re a Euskaltel climbing domestique …
We can’t promise these guys will definitely be cover stars in the years to come but, if things go well, they’re the most likely candidates. With the season getting going, Pez picks a baker’s dozen of riders stepping up to the World Tour. Here are 13 to watch in ’13.
Warren Barguil, Argos-Shimano
If you’re the hottest French climbing and stage-race prospect since … well, Thibaut Pinot, the smartest move you can make when you turn pro is to sign for a foreign team. Moving a little way out of the ferocious arc-light glare of French expectation, Warren Barguil will debut as a full time professional for Argos-Shimano in 2013. Last year, he traded the French national team’s colours for a sweep of jerseys at the Tour de l’ Avenir, winning a stage over the Col du Telegraphe, en-route to the overall, points and mountains classifications. On the final stage of that big win in the Tour of the Future he led over the Col de la Forclaz, the Col des Aravis and the Col de la Croix Fry, and took second on Le Grand Bornand.
This grimpeur has shown class from the get-go, winning the French junior title in 2009. He turned 21 just after completing a stagiare ride with Argos-Shimano who know they’ve got a gem on their hands. Depending on which races he rides, he might not set the Pro Tour on fire just yet. But if the road goes up, he’ll have his chance.
Barguil on that Tour de l’Avenir, in French
Fabio Aru, Astana
The Italians, too, love a good junior. We’ve had Moreno Moser’s arrival, making the tifosi swoon the way his uncle Francesco did. Another new hero could be Fabio Aru, who spent four years racking up results with the powerful Palazzago amateur squadra. Mid-way through last season, he got the call-up from Astana – maybe his fellow Sicilian Vincenzo Nibali put in a good word for him. Turning 23 in mid-summer, Aru will get the chance to put his climbing to the test helping Nibali, but the gamble will be which races to put him into. Is a grand tour too much, too early?
Aru’s twice won the super-prestigious Giro della Valle d’Aosta, and was runner-up to another of our 2013 picks (of whom more later) in the Baby Giro. With his pro contract tucked away safely he took second to Rory Sutherland on the 100-mile Boulder stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, so the engine is there. It’s been a long time since an Italian climber really set the pulses going. Over to you, Fabio.
Aru in race-winning form
Joe Dombrowski, Sky
Our own Ed Hood has been keeping a close watch on Joe’s career, profiling him just after he bested Fabio Aru in the Baby Giro – or Girobio – last summer.
Racing to the stage and overall win at the Girobio on the Gavia.
The Virginia native first made waves in Europe in the 2011 Giro della Valle d’Aosta with a stage win, 2nd overall, and the best young rider’s jersey, He backed that up at the tough Ronde de l’Isard – winning the mountains title and taking third overall. Bontrager-Livestrong threw him in with the big boys in 2012 at the Tour of the Gila (3rd overall); the Tour of California where he finished fourth on Mount Baldy; the Tour of Utah (4th overall); and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (10th overall). It’s as a climber that he excels, with a stage win on Monte Terminillo and then a sensational three-minute deficit turnaround ride to a stage win on the Gavia which secured the overall at the Girobio. The kid has it all … Sky should be a good team to get it out of him.
That Gavia stage!
Bob Jungels, Radioshack-Leopard
The Luxembourg talent has the same sort of difficulty as any rising star in France or Belgium … he’s been tagged as the next Schleck since he could get his leg over the top tube. Already world junior TT champion in 2009, last year was a step up to the Leopard-Trek continental team which he handled with aplomb. In fact, his list of results was just ridiculous: overall victory and a TT stage at Flиche du Sud; overall and points titles at Le Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux; victory in the Paris-Roubaix espoirs, a stage at the Giro della Valle d’Aosta; 9th overall with the pros at the Tour of Luxembourg. And he was still a teenager!
In 2013, he’ll be a fully paid-up pro with Radioshack-Leopard but is likely to be held out of the Grand Tours and Classics. If he’s handled carefully and directed wisely, the possibilities in the races he does target are almost limitless.
Jungels at Le Triptyque, 2012
Jay McCarthy, Team Saxo-Tinkoff
Bjarne Riis has no shortage of critics, for various and divisive reasons. But even his fiercest opponents would have to admit the steely-eyed Dane knows a good rider when he sees one. He moved to snap up Aussie talent Jay McCarthy, who motored to prominence at the 2012 Tour de l’Avenir with a storming prologue victory.
He also took stages at the Tour de Bretagne and Toscana Terra di Ciclismo and was second at the tough Gran Premio Capodarco. Just twenty, McCarthy won’t be burnt out too fast this year, but it’ll be worth sitting up when he gets a chance in a short TT.
Mattia Cattaneo, Lampre
Lampre gave a home to one of Italy’s most promising youngsters of recent times, Diego Ulissi, and now they hand a chance to Mattia Cattaneo. Twice third in the Tour de l’Avenir, he preceded Joe Dombrowski in winning the Girobio with the Bottoli amateur squadra. In September, he took the Ruota d’Oro, a race which the pros rode back in the day with the likes of Saronni, Moser, Visentini and Knudsen winning.
Cattaneo has been on the radar for a couple of seasons, and turning pro with another young Italian, Luca Wackermann, might help him settle in the top ranks.
Evan Huffman, Astana
Off to the Astana pro team, it’s Evan Huffman … leaping a chasm from the Californian Giant amateur squad. Another strong kid against the clock, he won the US U-23 TT championship and a stage in the Tour of the Gila in 2012.
Huffman’s also not afraid to work hard, contributing to Ian Boswell’s top-five ride in the Tour de l’Avenir. If you can roll on the front and bang out a big effort against the clock, there will always be a team willing to try you. He’ll be kicking off his Astana career in the Giro del Friulli.
Argiro Alonso Ospina, Movistar
Maybe a slightly left-field choice, but as the Movistar team have picked up his fellow Colombian Nairo Quintana last year, there’s a fair chance this kid’s got something, too. He clocked a mountain-packed stage win in the notoriously tough Clasico RCN last year soloing home in the hills ahead of eventual race winner Oscar Sevilla, as well as a stage in the Vuelta al Tolima. Making the jump from the Aguardiente Antioqueсo squad to the World Tour at just 21, Ospina could be the heir to Lucho Herrera and Fabio Parra.
Jonas Ahlstrand, Argos-Shimano
Argos-Shimano might not necessarily be modelling themselves on the old HTC/Columbia/HighRoad outfit, but the parallels are there. A laudable, overtly ethic-focussed approach, strong PR, men’s and women’s squads and a major investment in youth and sprint talent. With Degenkolb and Kittel already establishing solid profiles, another emerging fast man is Sweden’s Jonas Ahlstrand. Cutting his teeth with the CykelCity.se squad back home, he gave Alessandro Petacchi and Edvald Boasson Hagen bloody noses when he took full advantage of the Sky lead-out to win stage one of the 2012 Tour of Norway.
Jonas recounting to his new Argos teammates how he came to taste the ground down under at the recent TDU.
He also won a stage and the overall of the 2010 Univest Grand Prix; and went top ten at the U-23 Ronde van Vlaanderen and Cote du Picardie last year, so he’s worth keeping an eye on when Argos-Shimano let him loose in Belgium and Holland.
Ahlstrand takes his Tour of Norway victory
Sebastian Lander, BMC
Lander took the Danish national road title last summer and looks like he can do a bit of everything: as well as TTs and rolling roads, he’s good on punchy climbs and on the track he’s won the Copenhagen Six Days a couple of times and a junior world title.
Lander winning the Danish title against much bigger names in 2012.
Already living in Tuscany, it seems like he’s got the pro life style dialled in. Worth keeping an eye on the next time BMC have to ride a TTT?
Moreno Hofland, Blanco Cycling Team
Hofland, 21, graduated from the Rabobank U-23 feeder team … hope he didn’t get too much of a fright when the Rabo executives decided they’d had enough last autumn.
He’s taken stages of the Ronde van de Toekomst (that’s the Tour de l’Avenir, if you live in the Netherlands) in the last two years: the first winning in a small group, the second in a bunch drag race. There are a few wily sprinters to pick up tips from on the Blanco squad, so Hofland is in a good school for the new season.
Hofland wins at the 2012 Tour de l’ Avenir
Our last two picks aren’t necessarily the hottest young guns in the peloton, or even neo pros, but there’s something of the fairytale about the way they’ve made it to the World Tour;
Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, Sky
If we’d done this feature back in 2005, JTL would have been on our list. Illness got in the way when the Englishman moved to France to try and climb the ranks, and it looked like all his athletic promise would be wasted. After time out in further education, JTL restarted racing, joined a team which folded mid-year, then got knocked out of racing by a stray horse (yes, really) before rediscovering his form with the Endura squad. After tearing the peloton a new one at the Tour of the Med with two stages and the overall, and then a stage and the overall at the Tour du Haut Var, the door to the Pro Tour suddenly swung open. This season JTL pulls on the formidable all-black colors of Sky.
He won’t be a surprise packet any more … his talents are known. But he’ll have the best support his new team team can offer him, and after some of the misfortunes that nearly put him out of the sport, we think he deserves that.
JTL on his road back to the top
Dirk Bellemakers, Lotto-Belisol
Who hasn’t secretly dreamed of one day getting that magical ‘phone call that goes like this?: “Oh, hey, you’ve been training and racing and working your ass off for years. Well, here’s your golden ticket.” Dirk Bellemakers has been floating around the Belgian pro scene with Landbouwkrediet, most often sighted in long breakaways. He was more a student than a bike racer until 2011, but at the age of 28 he was metaphorically running to the World Tour station as the train was pulling out.
Training in the Ardennes with his Tour de France stage-winning buddy Jelle Vanendert was probably as close as he’d get to the luxury buses and the fan packed sign-ins. Until, in November, the call came. Gianni Meersman had followed a better offer out the door and Lotto-Belisol needed one more rider … Dirk, you’re in! Look out for him on Vanendert’s shoulder in Liege, Flиche Wallone and Amstel Gold.
Good luck to our picks for the season ahead. Agree? Disagree? Let us know …!