Neo-pros to watch for in 2015
Year after year, it becomes more and more difficult to have a list of the debutants that can make a name for themselves in their first season, the main reason being that many very talented riders have signed with a World Tour or Pro Continental team. After having 10 cyclists in 2013, and 20 in 2014, now I stopped after picking 25, but not without difficulties, skipping plenty of riders who maybe would have deserved to be here.
Simone Andreetta – many Italians will become professionals this year, but none can be considered a real gem. However, of all these, Andreetta stands out. An alumni of Zalf-Euromobil, he signed for Bardiani, which will give him the perfect environment to develop. In the past two years, Andreetta has won many important races in his country, including the famous Bassano-Monte Grappa, twice. Each time, he demonstrated not only that he climbs well, but that he also is very fast, a rare thing amongst climbers nowadays.
Carlos Barbero – with the dismantling of Euskadi, many riders had problems finding a team, but not Carlos Barbero, who signed for Caja Rural. Very strong in a sprint and on short climbs, the Spaniard will step into cycling’s pro scene with a solid record, including the Circuito de Getxo, a stage in the Volta ao Alentejo and a third place at the National Championships, where he won the bunch sprint, just ten seconds after Ion Izagirre and Alejandro Valverde have crossed the finish line. On paper, Barbero can’t miss getting at least one win in 2015.
Tiesj Benoot – an all-rounder with a big punch, very similar to Greg Van Avermaet, the new rider of Lotto-Soudal comes from an exceptional generation of Belgians, which provided some exciting talents lately. A 20-year-old, Benoot will make his debut in the World Tour after he scored some remarkable results last season, in the Tour of Flanders, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Flèche Ardennaise, World Championships, Ronde de l’Isard and Denmark Rundt, while also winning the Tour de Moselle in 2013, when he finished ahead of Julian Alaphilippe.
Sven Erik Bystrom – the Scandinavian has shown what he’s capable of in the past two seasons, racing in Norway, but also abroad, the climax being reached in Ponferrada, where he won the world title with a perfectly timed attack, that surprised the big favorites. In 2015, the Norwegian will race for Katusha, alongside his good friend, Alexander Kristoff. Very likely, he’ll discover the Classics and will also get some opportunities to make a name for himself, especially in the hilly races, which really suit him.
Hugh Carthy – after two seasons in the UK with Rapha Condor, the Englishman decided to change something, so he headed to Spain, where he’ll race for Caja Rural. Language should not be a problem, because Carthy studied it for a few years at school, which is one of the reasons that made Caja Rural transfer him. The other qualities that caught up the attention of the Spanish squad are his climbing and ITT abilities, which allowed him to be one of the UCI Asia Tour’s stars in 2014, with a GC win in the Tour de Korea and a 6th place in the Tour of Japan.
Clément Chevrier – after a two-year spell with Chambéry, AG2R’s feeder team, he went to the United States to race for Bissell Development. Both experiences have helped him develop, so now Chevrier’s palmares is stacked with solid results in the Tour des Pays de Savoie, Giro della Valle d’Aosta, Tour de l’Ain, Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Another thing worth mentioning is that the 22-year-old rider of IAM Cycling isn’t suited just to stage races, but also to Classics like Liège–Bastogne–Liège and Il Lombardia, which he is very fond of.
Magnus Cort – many expected the Danish to go to Tinkoff-Saxo, but he caught people by surprise, choosing Orica-GreenEdge instead. Winner of no less than 11 races in 2014, with many of his wins coming against experienced World Tour riders – in the Tour des Fjords or the Denmark Rundt – Cort is not only very fast in a sprint, but also very versatile, which allows him to fight for the general classification in some stage races. In the future, he is expected to be a protagonist in the Classics, as he has a sharp acceleration and enjoys a tougher race.
Caleb Ewan – he’s the subject of the most awaited debut of a neo-pro in a while, due to the fact that the 20-year-old Aussie has a fantastic potential in a sprint, on the flat, but also on a hilly course. So, the question is not whether he will get a win in 2015, but on how many occasions he will be the first to cross the finish line. Runner-up in Ponferrada, Ewan will race for Orica-GreenEdge, a team that couldn’t have missed getting its hands on a rider whose palmares includes Junior and U23 national titles, three stages in the Tour de l’Avenir, as well as other wins in important races, like the Thüringen-Rundfahrt and Tour Alsace.
Campbell Flakemore – his childhood dream was to play football in the Premier League, but eventually decided to focus on cycling and based on how things went so far, he couldn’t have taken a better decision. In 2014, Flakemore didn’t have a great start to the season, but came back in time for the last months of the year, when he won the prologue of the Tour de l’Avenir and the World Championships ITT title, two victories that sparked the interest of BMC, a team whose policy for 2015 was to bring many young cyclists. If he’ll continue his natural progression, good things will come in the next months.
Alexander Foliforov – it’s always difficult to say what will be the trajectory of a Russian rider, despite his U23 results, but one thing is certain: Foliforov does not lack the necessary talent to make a name for himself. In 2014, while riding for Itera-Katusha, he won two tough mountain stages in the Ronde de l’Isard (where he was 6th) and finished just off the podium in the Tour de l’Avenir, for only seven seconds. In contrast, he lacked consistency, something he’ll have to work on with RusVelo, his new team.
Eduard Grosu – last year, he was the best cyclist of Nippo-Vini Fantini, winning five races for the Continental team. Now, after Nippo got a Pro Continental license, the Romanian will have the opportunity to compete in World Tour races and he isn’t scarred of taking on the well-established sprinters of the peloton, after he showed in the Tour de Slovenie that he can be at the same level as Elia Viviani and Michael Matthews. In addition, Grosu isn’t good only on the flat, but also when the finish is on a short and punchy climb, as was the case with the last stage of the Carpathian Couriers Race.
Karel Hnik – coming from Etixx-Ihned, where he spent two seasons, the 23-year-old Czech riders stands out thanks to his strength and aggressive riding on the short, tough climbs, which can be found in the Classics and in many races stages. These qualities helped him take a stage of the Trofeu Joaquim Agostinho and the Tour Alsace, and thus receive a contract from CULT Energy, which will have a Pro Continental license in 2015. For many, Hnik is an unknown, and this might help him be one of the revelations of the season.
Sondre Holst Enger – Norway enjoys a fantastic generation at the moment, which includes the 21-year-old rider, who exploded in 2013, when he won the Coupe des nations Ville Saguenay and finished third in the Tour of Norway, ahead of many World Tour cyclists. Unfortunately for him, next season had many bumps, but the Scandinavian found what it took to win the National Championships and finish 5th in the Tour des Fjords. IAM Cycling gave him a chance and Holst Enger promises to be one of the neo-professionals to lighten up the season, thanks to his speed and fierce punch.
Alex Kirsch – he began as an ITT rider, but since then has worked on his sprint, so now he has become a more complete rider, which gives him much more chances of scoring a win. His consistency is remarkable, bringing him in 2014 17 top-10 placings, in a big range of races, from Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux to the Oberösterreichrundfahrt, and from the Tour of Flanders to the Tour de l’Avenir in. In 2015, Kirsch decided to race for CULT Energy and the choice seems to be a very good one, because there he will not be under that extra pressure that comes with a place in a World Tour team, and so he’ll be able to develop his skills.
Ilia Koshevoy – comes from Belarus and started cycling late, when he was 16, but his talent came to the surface almost immediately, so he filled the gap on the other cyclists from his generation rather quickly. In Italy, the results came from his first races, the Giro della Lunigiana and Giro di Basilicata, so he decided to stay there, eventually being spotted by Lampre-Merida. Winner, as an amateur, of the Gran Premio della Liberezione and Cronoscalata Gardone, Koshevoy secured a professional contract in the summer, after he finished 13th in the Tour Utah, one of the toughest stage races in the calendar.
Stefan Küng – at just 21, he is already seen as one of the future stars of the cobbles, not only due to the fact he has already raced there, but also because of his excellent ITT skills, which drew many comparisons with Fabian Cancellara. Road and ITT European champion in 2014 and bronze medalist in the Ponferrada Worlds ITT, the Swiss – who has a past on the velodrome – is a force of nature, and BMC became aware of this ever since his win in the Tour de Normandie, which was at that time (March) the starting point of an excellent season.
Pierre-Roger Latour – 2014 wasn’t a year of victories, but of consistency, a factor which earned the Frenchman a contract for three seasons with AG2R. 5th in Tour des Pays de Savoie, 6th in the Tour de l’Avenir and 9th in the Tour de l’Ain were the best results of Latour, his ride in L’Ain being the most impressive, due to the fact he raced against World Tour cyclists. Besides stage races, the new rider of AG2R finds appealing also the one-day races, which he demonstrated by finishing 3rd in the Tour de Jura and the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia.
Kevin Ledanois – is the son of Yvon Ledanois, sports director of BMC and a stage winner in the Vuelta a España, and 2015 will find him in Bretagne-Séché’s roster, where he will get plenty of opportunities to put on the display his aggressive ride, which could already be seen at the Worlds Championships in Ponferrada. The Frenchman, win ner fo the 2013 Trophée Loire Atlantique, is not only an offensive rider, but also a very powerful one and with a high stamina, his ride in the Arctic Race of Norway, where he came in 6th, and his win in the Tour of Jura being very revealing.
Lorrenzo Manzin – with a nice background on the velodrome, the Frenchman is an exotic presence in the peloton, as he comes from the Reunion Islands. He is also one of the young riders to whom FDJ decided to give a chance, which will come more than sure. A fast sprinter-puncheur with a volcanic character and very strong psychic, Manzin got four wins last year, it’s true, in smaller races, but this doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a big potential. As a matter of fact, it’s very likely to see the 20-year-old having a similar debut to the one Bryan Coquard has had, two seasons ago.
Mike Teunissen – only the second cyclist to win Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Tours in the same season, the 22-year-old Dutch rider excels on the cobbles, thanks also to the years spent doing cyclo-cross, where he became U23 World Champion. Giving that he raced for Rabobank Development, it was somehow logical for Teunissen to sign with LottoNL-Jumbo, where he got a contract for two seasons. In addition to his skills on the pavé, Teunissen has a nice ITT and feels good on a hilly parcours, which can help him set his goals also in week-long stage races.
Kristoffer Skjerping – after the bronze medal he got in the road race at the World Championships, Sky became interested in Joker’s rider, but Cannondale-Garmin moved faster, so the Norwegian 21-year-old will make his debut in the pro ranks with the US team. Well suited to one-day races, Skjerping stands out when the course is very difficult, and the Worlds isn’t the sole proof, but also the Tour of Flanders, where he finished second. Another strong point is his sprint, which often helps him make the difference when there’s a small group at the finish.
Dylan Teuns – as stated earlier, BMC has focused on transferring many young riders in the past months and the Belgian promises to be one of the sensations of the year, if we take into account his 2014 season, during which he was a protagonist in almost all the races he did. Thus, his resume includes podiums in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Piccolo Giro di Lombardia, as well as victories in the Tour de Bretagne, Tour de l’Avenir and Giro della Valle d’Aosta. At just 22, Teuns seems to have a fantastic future in the Classics, but he sure won’t be a stranger when it comes to stage races, giving that he was the best young rider of the Tour of Utah and finished 10th the Tour of Britain, both as a trainee.
Lars van der Haar – the young Dutch is one of the greatest talents seen lately in cyclo-cross and that’s why his transition to the road is awaited by many. Very aggressive and fast, Van Der Haar can become something of a phenomenon with Giant-Alpecin, where he comes recommended by his stage win and points jersey in the Oberösterreichrundfahrt, and his 5th place in 2013 Tour d’Azerbaijan. His speed and climbing skills might surprise many in the future.
Louis Vervaeke – just 21-years-old, the new Lotto-Soudal rider is the most promising climber Belgium has sent to the World Tour in recent seasons, coming here after an excellent 2014, with four wins, two of them being the overall standings of the Ronde de l’Isard and Tour des Pays de Savoie. In addition to this impressive “double” – which was obtained by just a single other rider before – Vervaeke got a memorable victory in the last stage of the Tour de l’Avenir, when he was in the escape all day long. All these were enough reasons for Lotto-Soudal to offer him a professional contract starting with the summer of 2014.
Ruben Zepuntke – another alumni of Axel Merkcx’s project – which has sent over the years 19 riders to the World Tour – Zepuntke stood out in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, where he took advantage of the fact he wasn’t selected for the Tour de l’Avenir (a big mistake of the German national team). After being 18th in Colorado, Bissell Development’s cyclist came again in the spotlight during the Tour of Alberta, where he won stage one in a sprint. Zepuntke is an all-rounder and has a huge potential, which recommends him for stage races, but especially for the Classics he loves so much.