After last season’s punt at picking some riders to watch for signs of greatness produced decidedly mixed results, here’s Pez’s 2014 short-list. There are talents from the traditional Euro hotbeds of the sport, and a few from farther afield. All are making their full-season debuts in World Tour teams. Who has made our cut from the reams of young hopefuls? Read on …!
David Villella (Cannondale Pro Cycling Team)
The Italian Classics chalice used to be an overflowing source of perpetual pride. In recent years, it’s more resembled a discarded can of watered-down beer that’s been crushed under a redneck’s heel.
Might Bergamo-based David Villella be one of the new guys to restore the glory? At just 22 years old, the baby-faced ace took out the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia in October after two stages and the overall in the Giro della Valle d’Aosta Mont Blanc riding with the Colpack squad.
But it was the other results he took after signing on as a trainee for Cannondale that had the tifosi in a fluster – third at the Coppa Sabatini, and then third just two days later in the Giro dell’ Emilia, both times behind Diego Ulissi, another Italian hope who is only just beginning to realise his potential. The signs are promising, and he has plenty of one-day talent to learn from at Cannondale in 2014.
And as an addendum, what is it with Cannondale and 22-year old Italian talents called David? Sign them all up and hope one works out? Villella scored the headline results, fair enough, but David Formolo had a tremendously strong 2013 season with multiple top tens and finished the Giro della Valle d’Aosta Mont Blanc just a half-minute behind Villella, then took sixth overall at the Tour de l’Avenir. Worth keeping a weather eye on.
Silvan Dillier (BMC Racing Team)
An easy choice, Dillier’s already made his mark as a stagiare with BMC: a stage win in the Tour of Alberta was a stand-out result after a very solid early season in 2013.
There aren’t too many riders who go straight in as a trainee and pull out a win in such circumstances: get in a break after a lightning-fast start, and then ratchet up the pace to get a five-minute lead before Cannondale start chasing for Peter Sagan. Dillier worked calmly with Serghei Tvetcov before seeing off his fellow escapee in the two-up sprint. Strength, a calm head, race savvy and a quick finish – all the attributes to go far.
The Swiss earlier took the Tour de Normandie and the Flèche Ardennaise, and backed those rides up with sixth at the Swiss nationals before his big breakthrough. (Ed: For more on Silvan read our December interview with him here)
Rick Zabel (BMC Racing Team)
Hopefully, the younger Zabel will choose the correct set of sporting tyre tracks in which to follow. His father’s results don’t shine with the lustre they once had after the revelations of recent years but the new Zabel should definitely get the benefit of the doubt.
The young Rick stood on the Tour de France podium as a green-haired little kid alongside his father. Who knows? He might do it again for real in the future: he’s got the same finishing prowess and one-day flair as his old man had.
Rick’s only just turned 20, and even after some stellar years with the Rabobank Development Team (two wins and over 20 top tens last season), 2014 will be a learning experience. Stick him in a small group going to the line and he has the skills to deliver – let’s see how he goes.
Matej Mohoric (Cannondale Pro Cycling Team)
The meteoric rise of Matej Mohoric was a thing of unimpeded youthful brilliance. Last fall, at a precocious 18 years of age, the Slovenian delivered a scintillating performance to nab the under-23 worlds in Florence – ahead of many of the others we’ve picked out.
A pair of fourths at the Slovenian nationals and a top twenty overall at the ridiculously hard Tour of Qinghai Lake suggest greater depths than being ‘just’ a one-day rider. The challenge for Cannondale will be to rein him in – they have a potential superstar on their hands, so lets hope he’s managed properly, and that we see him shine brightly, but sparingly, in 2014.
Dayer Quintana (Movistar)
It’s never easy being the sibling of an established star – maybe Dayer should go and get some tips from Juraj Sagan, for example?
Movistar is the obvious choice for the talented younger brother of Tour de France King of the Mountains Nairo. The elder brother had a firm hand in guiding Dayer, persuading him that it was better to just jump to Europe and learn continental racing.
In April 2013, Dayer managed to get a ride in Pamplona, Spain, with the amateur Lizarte squad (who developed over 30 pro riders, including Andrey Amador for Movistar) after a career-stunting spell in the police force back home in Boyaca. At a tiny 5’5” and about 130 pounds he’s got ‘climber’ stamped all over him.
He took the Trofeo Santiago in a tight finish and generally reminded everyone of his brother when the roads steepened in the Tour of Navarre and Memorial Valenciaga.
Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar)
The young German’s move from the home comforts of the Thüringer Energie squad to the World Tour with Movistar is a brave and laudable step. Not just stepping up your level of cycling but learning a new language, a new culture and a new way of life having only just turned 21.
Sütterlin’s 2013 was terrific, highlighted by the prologue ITT and a sprint stage at the prestigious Giro della Valle d’Aosta Mont Blanc; third overall at the Tour de Bretagne, and second behind Adriano Malori in the Bayern Rundfahrt’s ITT.
Robust, fast in the sprint and good against the clock – might that be enough to carve out a niche in a squad that’s not exactly hauling in the sprint victories?
Julian Alaphilippe (OPQS)
If you can step from the Etixx-iHNed development squad to a pro contract with Omega Pharma-QuickStep, you’ve obviously got something. But the hardest part is reinforcing the initial promise.
The young Frenchman scored 25 top tens this season, and won hilly stages in the Thüringen-Rundfahrt and the Tour de l’Avenir at Plateau des Glières, as well as a stage in the Tour de Bretagne. Add in a French Under-23 title and you can see why he’s been able to fight his way out of one of the most competitive environments in pro cycling to reach the big time. OPQS is packed with stars, so he’ll have to make sure he knuckles down to make a success of his opportunity, starting with the Tour Down Under.
Adam and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE)
This summertime tug-of-love provided ample opportunities for polemics, controversy-stirring and nationalistic tub-thumping in the UK. One the one hand, you could say that when the Yates twins opted to sign for Orica-GreenEDGE, they were looking for the chance to develop away from the expectation and glare of publicity that currently surrounds UK cycling.
Simon in action at the 2013 Thueringen Rundfahrt
Or, if you’re particularly and rabidly patriotic, they outrageously snubbed the hand that fed them by saying ‘No’ to Sky and the British Cycling system … how very dare they, etc., etc. But that’s despite the fact that Sky were only really keen on signing one of them.
Regardless, they’ve got talent to burn. Simon took two Tour de l’Avenir stages, one at the Tour of Britain, and a track World Championship.
Adam was second overall in the Tour de l’Avenir, and showed plenty to suggest that he could be the Brit that succeeds in the Ardennes Classics. Interesting times await!
Michael Valgren (Team Tinkoff-Saxo)
If you check back over recent years, Danish cycling has been littered with casualties – young promise (as yet) unfulfilled, and riders lost to the sport. Is it the pressure to perform? Is the jump to the big leagues too great? Or, as was suggested to me recently, are the riders too coddled at home in the Danish cycling environment … to the point that they can’t handle it when they’re left to their own devices?
Bjarne Riis (yes, him) is on record as saying that the next three years will be all about nurturing the terrifically talented Michael Valgren. When a World Tour team hands you a three-year deal at age 21, you’ve got it. Valgren has won the last two editions of the Under-23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and this year also took out the prestigious Flèche de Sud overall and a neat stage in the Tour de l’Avenir, over the Col du Frène and swooping down into Albertville.
If a rider is worth that investment of time and effort, he’s someone we should keep on the radar.
Riccardo Zoidl (Trek Factory Racing Team)
Zoidl’s shot at the big time has taken a while to materialise after seven years paying his dues on domestic Austrian teams. Riding for Team Gourmetfein-Simplon, 2013 was the year when Zoidl stepped up – his results, especially at home, netted him the UCI Europe Tour title for 2013. I bet not many people knew that!
The stand-out score was navigating his way through a series of consistent mountain stage placings in his home tour to take leadership in the penultimate stage’s ITT – the first Austrian to win the Österreich-Rundfahrt since 2008.
He also took the national title to show off one-day prowess, but the stage racing skills and strengths are what we should keep our eyes on: Zoidl won the Tour de Bretagne – Trophée des Granitiers and the Circuit des Ardennes, and snared 4th in Giro della Regione Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and 5th in Settimana Coppi e Bartali as the foundations to a fantastic season.
Keep an eye also on Lawson Craddock and Chad Haga from the USA who’re stepping up to Giant-Shimano. There’s also Sebastien Henao and Nathan Earle at Sky; Jasper Stuyven, the very talented Belgian at Trek; and both Dylan Van Baarle and Lasse Norman Hansen at Garmin-Sharp.
The American squad also picks Janier Acevedo, well-known on the domestic scene for mountain stage wins at Palm Springs in the Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge in Beaver Creek. It’s really heartening to see a guy who’s just turned 28 join our crop of young guns.
Of course, there’s no way of knowing who’ll stand out, who’ll exceed expectations or who (unfortunately) will not fulfil their promise. In twelve months time, hopefully we can look back with a smile and say: “Yep, we were right all along.”