Thursday, November 12, 2015

Neo-Pro 2016: The World Tour Lowdown

Perhaps it is just my hyper-focus on this issue but it seems like this year, compared with others in recent past, is seeing a larger number of young riders making the leap to the World Tour and Pro Continental level to try and hack it as professional cyclists. The top 13 overall riders from the Tour de l'Avenir have secured pro contracts for next season while 10 out of the top 15 from the U23 World RR have a contract for 2016 with a World Tour or Pro Conti team.

And remember, since we are going by the book, a neo-pro is a rider that is in his 25th year or younger and starting their first season as a professional. Technically, a rider in their 2nd year of a neo-pro deal can still be referred to under the term but now we are just splitting hairs.

Now it is time to go through, team by team, and examine the new signings, beginning with the World Tour. This list could be updated but for the most part, these are signings set in stone.

Ag2r-La Mondiale
-Nico Denz
-Francois Bidard

The French squad is sticking with its roots by taking two riders from their Chambery CF development team to their 2016 roster.

German Nico Denz joined the team last year in August on a full contract so technically his pro career has already begun but I threw him in here anyways. The German is a bit of an all-around rider that has a knack for climbing and some solo breakaways. He will probably be thrown in to all sorts of races in 2016 to see what kind of rider he will turn out to be.

Francois Bidard is more of a climber but wasn't one of those riders that was beating all comers. If he is to be successful in the pro ranks, he will need a couple of seasons to find himself, most likely. Bidard was an outstanding 4th overall in the Rhone Alpes Isere Tour after getting into a stage 3 breakaway with Europcar pro Fabrice Jeandesboz and Felix Grossschartner. Along with some strong riders in the French domestic scene, Bidard should fit into the team well and support the likes of Romain Bardet and Pierre-Roger Latour.

-Floris Gerts

The solo neo-pro on BMC for 2016, Floris Gerts is just one of two new riders to the team along with Richie Porte. Gerts isn't moving far as he was with the BMC Development Team this past season and had some stellar results as a stagiaire with BMC in the latter part of the season.

Gerts was a bit of a late bloomer and only started to truly show himself in his final U23 season with Rabobank Development in 2014 and had consistent rides in the 1.1 races they rode towards the end of the season. Out of the U23 ranks, Gerts exploded at the beginning of 2015 by winning the 2nd race of the season, the Dorpenomloop Rucphen, in impressive solo style. He matched this later in the month with a similar solo win on the final stage around the hippodrome in Caen in the Tour de Normandie.

Gerts' spring is littered with top 10 finishes in a variety of races but he didn't grab his signature win of the season until early July, when he rode off the front of the pack in the amateur Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and took the win by a minute. He joined BMC in August and proceeded to slot right into the pro ranks in the Tour of Britain with four-top 15 stage finishes on the first four stages. His signature result from his stagiaire time was his 3rd place in the GP Impanis, which finished in a bunch sprint.

-Paddy Bevin
-Ryan Mullen
-Toms Skujins

Being the nerd that I am, I actually got into a heated debate over at r/peloton on reddit about Cannondale-Garmin's team for next year. While I am one of the last people to defend some of the decisions that Jonathan Vaughters makes, the team is more than him and while the team is very young, they have a shit ton of talent that can break out.

Kiwi Paddy Bevin hopped over to America right out of the junior ranks and always made heads turn with big results in criteriums against the likes of Jono Cantwell, Luke Keough and Alessandro Bazzana. He peaked in 2012 when he took 2 stages & overall of Merco Credit Union Classic, 3 stages of Redlands as well as the Tour of Bucks County in Pennsylvania. After a troubling 2013, he came back strong in 2014 and ended up 5th overall in the Australian NRS after taking 14 wins.

This season, he has just stepped it up to another level with a stage win and 2nd overall to Cam Meyer in the Herald Sun Tour, a stage win and 4th overall in the Tour of Taiwan and a duel with Caleb Ewan in the Tour of Korea, where he ended up 2nd overall by just 4 seconds. With his Avanti team, Bevin dominated the Australian NRS with 10 wins along with the overall title for the season. If Garmin can retain his sprint then they will be spoiled.

Ryan Mullen is still a diamond in the rough. The Irishman's engine is huge but he will be put into the fire with Garmin in tough races where he will need to show he belongs. No one cares that he was 2nd in the U23 World TT in 2014. When he is getting gapped off of Gatis Smukulis' wheel and he grits his teeth to hold onto it, that is where he will earn respect.

Toms Skujins has been making a following for himself in America after joining Hincapie in 2014. The Latvian rider that could have easily joined the pro ranks after his stellar 2013 season as a U23 where he won the U23 Peace Race, was top 10 in the Tour de l'Avenir and 5th in the U23 World RR. Instead, no big teams picked him up and he journeyed to America. He was an instant hit with Hincapie and after getting his feet under him, he was 6th in Philly and won the Tour de Beauce after an incredible solo ride on Mont Megantic.

This year, his season didn't kick off in earnest until mid-May but then it never really stopped. He won the stage 3 of the Tour of California into San Jose in impressive solo fashion. A couple weeks later, he won the Winston Salem Classic in more solo fashion. The next weekend, he was in the sprint for the win at Philly and managed 3rd place. He nearly went back to back in Beauce but finished up 2nd overall to Peio Bilbao. The consistency was remarkable because later in the season, Skujins was top 10 overall in both the USA Pro Challenge and the Tour of Alberta, two courses which aren't too similar, and then nearly won the Reading 120. Skujins consistency sealed the UCI Americas Tour win as well as the American NRC championship. If he isn't pressured into becoming a rider he isn't, Skujins could thrive next season as he is probably one of the most pro ready riders coming into the World Tour for 2016.

-Rodrigo Contreras
-Laurens De Plus
-Fernando Gaviria
-Davide Martinelli

Some of the most talked about names are headed the way of Etixx for 2016. Pat Lefevere used to be known for how badly he would fuck up young talent that wasn't a young Belgian focused on the classics. A GC talent? Don't make him spit up his Jupiler.

The two that have been known for about 8 months now are the signings of the pair of Colombian talents Gaviria and Contreras.

Fernando Gaviria's talent has been known since his junior days when he was a double World Champion on the track. Last year, Gaviria came onto the scene by winning the Pan-Am Championship U23 RR and a stage win in the Vuelta a Juventud Colombia before a trio of top 10 finishes in the Tour de l'Avenir. Gaviria exploded onto the scene this year by winning two stages of the Tour de San Luis and then winning the Omnium at the Track World Championships ahead of multiple Olympic hopefuls. In his stagiaire-ship with Etixx late in the year, he proceeded to win stages in the Czech Cycling Tour and the Tour of Britain. He talent is undeniable but his track ambitions might see his focus off the roads this upcoming year for a considerable period of time.

Contreras is a bit more mysterious of the two. He was 5th in the Tour de San Luis but proceeded to drop out of both the Czech Cycling Tour and Tour de l'Avenir. He can climb but I don't think he will be lasting in this type of environment.

Martinelli has been talked about on this site ad nauseum due to his talents for not only time trialing but also getting mixed up in the bunch sprints. Remember that Marcel Kittel was a TT specialist in the U23 ranks when he moved to Skil-Shimano. Martinelli is a legacy as his father, Giuseppe, is a current DS with Astana and a former pro himself and the younger Martinelli has taken a liking to one-day racing and the northern classics with 6th in this year's edition of Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. If he began making the transition to a sprinter, this is certainly a good team to hone those skills with especially with Kittel coming on board. If he doesn't go the way of a sprinter, Martinelli has a motor on him that will see him working for others in one-day races this spring.

In one of the more meteoric rises of the season, De Plus is heading to the pros after just one big season in the U23 ranks. He had a fairly anonymous 2014 season as a first year U23 but this year was incredible and perhaps the best all-around year. In the Ronde de l'Isard, De Plus was staying with the best on the climbs and was consistently pushing race leader Simone Petilli before settling for 2nd place. On the slopes of Praded in the Zavod Miru U23, he was a close 2nd to Gregor Mühlberger and ended up 4th overall. He took his only UCI win of the season in Valle d'Aosta by out-sprinting Rob Power on stage 1 of the race. Guess where he ended up on the overall? 2nd place to Power. If it wasn't for the spectacular collapse on the final stage of the Tour de l'Avenir after trying to counterattack race winner Marc Soler, De Plus most certainly would have bettered his 8th place overall and perhaps been on the podium. While he only has one big season behind him, De Plus does seem to have a good head on his shoulders and could continue to build from here. Perhaps throw him into a Grand Tour to see if he sinks or swims and get him time in the mountains to see what he can do.

-Odd Eiking
-Marc Fournier
-Daniel Hoelgaard
-Jeremy Maison

Two Norwegians and two Frenchman walk into a bar together...okay, no. But still, FDJ is bringing in a fine class of riders that can do just about everything. Don't fuck it up, Madiot.

Odd Eiking and Daniel Hoelgaard come from Joker, the Norwegian continental team that has been spitting riders out every year to the pro scene.

Eiking has been a bit hot and cold for my tastes. He had a spectacular result and then falls down the results sheet, which ruins any GC chances. He won a stage in Valle d'Aosta but not after shitting the bed on stage 1. I would not think of him as a future Tour de France winner. He seems to to best in hillier races but in the high mountains, there is inconsistency. Perhaps this can be ironed out by FDJ but only time will tell.

Hoelgaard is the sprinter that was all over the top 10 in 2015 and really has been consistent for the last few years. He has taken 6 UCI wins in the past two seasons and this season alone, Hoelgaard had 22 top 10 finishes. He isn't a sprinter that will gap his competitors by 3 bike lengths and doesn't have the out & out speed of the likes of Simone Consonni but it is very rare when Hoelgaard isn't present for some sort of a bunch kick.

On the French front, Fournier and Maison are more or less polar opposites. Rouleur vs. Climber. Burly, bearded Norman vs. the lithe Burgundian. Fournier won 5 races with CC Nogent-sur-Oise including a breakaway stage win in the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux. Maison has some prodigious climbing talent that will see him fit in with Thibaut Pinot, Alexander Geniez and Kenny Elissonde. On Plateau de Beille, Maison rode away from Simone Petilli and Laurens De Plus and won by an astounding minute to secure 3rd overall. He put together a consistent Pays de Savoie that saw him finish in 4th overall and he was well on his way to some stage glory in the Tour de l'Avenir on stage 5 of the race to La Rosiere but proceeded to crash out of the race. In any case, Maison could be showing himself, especially in some smaller French races that feature climbing.

-Simone Consonni (?)
-Simone Petilli
-Edward Ravasi

Lampre's manager Brent Copeland needs to learn not to string riders along. Edward Ravasi was announced much earlier in the summer as a Lampre signing when his stagiaire role was announced but just this past week, Copeland stated that both he and his Colpack teammate Simone Consonni were going to have to wait until 2017 to get a chance at the pro ranks. I would be a bit annoyed if I had to wait a whole year after being primed for a chance at the pro ranks.

So currently, the only neo-pro joining Lampre is Simone Petilli, who is coming from Unieuro-Wilier. Petilli was on a tear this year, especially in the stage races, by winning the Ronde de l'Isard by a slim 10 seconds, 3rd in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and 5th in the Tour de l'Avenir. That is perhaps a bit understated but he is up there against the best young climbers in cycling. Now he is a bit behind the likes of Rob Power because he had to resort to some shitty tactics to attack the Australian when he had a puncture to try and find an advantage in Valle d'Aosta.

-Jorge Arcas
-Antonio Pedrero

I talked about this Jorge Arcas cat before...

Movistar stuck with home talent by signing Arcas, a strong climber from the Lizarte amateur team, which is managed by ex-Euskaltel rider Juan Jose Oroz. He is a noted teammate, especially in the early part of his U23 career, but in the last couple seasons including this one, which is his first out of the U23 ranks, he has taken over a leadership role in some races and has accrued 9 wins including stages of the Vuelta a Palencia and the Vuelta a Navarra. Most recently, Arcas was battling it out in the Vuelta a Toledo but his Lizarte team was manhandled by the Fundacion Euskadi squad and big time climbing talent Mikel Iturria. Arcas held on for 10th overall while teammate Rafael Marquez finished in 6th, 3 seconds ahead.
Antonio Pedrero is a more recent announcement who also comes from the Lizarte team. Pedrero had a cracking 2013 campaign in his final U23 year where he was integral in Ruben Fernandez's Tour de l'Avenir win and won the Vuelta a Cantabria. He even finished 12th in the Copa de España even though he only scored points in 5 of the 8 races on offer. His 2014 was a little quieter however he did win the Vuelta a Navarra and 2nd in the Vuelta a Toledo. This year, he managed three wins and finished 3rd in the Copa de España. So he is a consistent rider and seems to have a knack for one day races and getting stage wins. Perhaps some stage racing a few years down the road.

-Alexander Edmondson
-Jack Haig
-Rob Power

This trio of talent have been signed by Orica for nearly a year now but with two of them coming off major knee injuries, there form could be up in the air. Obviously, Jack Haig and Rob Power are two fine stage racing talents. Power is the more explosive of the two and perhaps just a little step above Haig but after going 3rd overall in the Tour de l'Avenir, Haig is no slouch whatsoever. Power was sidelined nearly the whole 2nd half of the season with a knee injury that took him out of l'Avenir so how he will come into 2016 is a bit of a mystery.

Juxtaposing these two GC dreamers, Alexander Edmondson is a combination of classics man and track pursuit brute. While he is another that had a knee injury, he made his return at the classic 280km Melbourne-Warrnambool, where he placed 2nd to Scott Sunderland. His eyes will be on Rio for the team pursuit so I wouldn't get too excited to see him make a big impression on the road in 2016.

I will be curious to see how these Australians work out on their move to Europe. With the amount of Australians that move to Europe not working out nearing double digits with Campbell Flakemore being the latest victim, it seems that the AIS system is producing results in the U23 ranks but then leaving riders to flounder once they hit the pros.

Team Alpecin-Giant
-Soren Kragh Andersen
-Sindre Lunke
-Sam Oomen
-Max Walscheid

Alpecin-Giant is one of the teams in the World Tour that can transform so much young talent. This has its plusses and minuses. While they have Degenkolb and Dumoulin bringing them a truck load of results, they also have a lot of "projects" that are trying to steadily progress. Out of 5 new hires this year, they have 4 that are signing their first pro contracts but boy, they are some big signings.

Kragh Andersen had a coming out in 2014 with some strong results and podium finishes but he blew the doors off everyone's expectations this year. He led the Danish attack at the ZLM-Roompot Tour by getting in every major breakaway and topping the Danish filled podium. He then spent most of the spring in the top 10 including a breakaway win in the Hadeland GP and a stage win in the tour des Fjords and narrowly missing out on the GC win by 12 seconds. He then put the cherry on the cake by taking not only the Tour de l'Avenir prologue but also winning a four-up sprint on stage 3 of the race ahead of Mathieu van der Poel. He has a huge engine that if tuned properly, he could make an instant impact next year.

Oomen and Lunke are familiar with one another after being near the front on the climbing stages of the Tour de l'Avenir.

Dutchman Oomen comes from Rabobank Development where DS Grischa Niermann referred to him as a prodigious talent. As a first year U23 in 2014, he already showed signs of a top talent but more or less assaulted the mountains this year. After some good results in hillier races early in the year including Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 and Fleche Ardennaise, Oomen took a stage 1 win in the Rhone-Alpes Isere Tour and turned it into an overall win by beating Fabrice Jeandesboz (Europcar) by mere stage placings. In the Pays de Savoie, Oomen was the only rider somewhat near the "interesting" David Belda (Burgos-BH) after a fine solo win on stage 2 and winning the Orelle time trial to finish 2nd overall. His final three stage races of the year? He didn't finish outside of the top 8 overall. He got better with age in the Tour de l'Avenir as he vaulted up the GC ranks to finish 4th thanks to a 5th place on the final stage. Don't pigeonhole him as a sickly climber either. He and his Rabobank Devo teammates dismantled the Paris-Tours Espoirs race with Oomen and teammate Martijn Tusveld taking 1-2.

Lunke is the Norwegian that played in the shadow of Odd Eiking but is an even better climber than the future FDJ rider. Lunke made a name for himself in 2015 after coming 5th overall in Valle d'Aosta and 11th overall in the Tour de l'Avenir. This year, Lunke had some up and down days but still finished 8th overall in Valle d'Aosta and 7th in the Tour de l'Avenir. He is at his best in the mountains and after getting some races under his belt and adjusting to pro life, he could be a good asset for any team.

German Walscheid is a potential replacement for Marcel Kittel. Alright, that might be a best case scenario but he has won multiple stages of the Tour de Berlin and also won the Kernen Omloop in a sprint this year. If he gets the endurance in his legs for the pro ranks, he could mesh well with riders like Nikias Arndt and Ramon Sinkledam.

Team Katusha
-Matvey Mamykin
-Nils Politt
-Jhonathan Restrepo

Katusha will have a wonderfully weird split on their team with half of it Russian and the other half a mish-mash of riders from all over Europe and now, Colombia.

Matvey Mamykin showed hints of some talent in 2014 after a strong Giro della Valle d'Aosta and a steady Tour de l'Avenir. He started this year anonymous as best but then on the slopes to Praded in the Zavod Miru U23, he came to life and eventually finished the Nations Cup race in 9th overall.

His performances in the summer showed that Mamykin is suited mainly for the high mountains. On the brutal queen stage of Valle d'Aosta, Mamykin dropped Giulio Ciccone like a bag of rocks and in 10 kilometers, he proceeded to put in over 3 minutes on the Italian and took the leader's jersey from Robert Power on a stage that took nearly 5.5 hours to finish. He would cede the lead the next day but the seed was planted. In l'Avenir, he got better with age and on the final stage on the final climb to Les Bottieres, he proceeded to drop eventual race winner Marc Soler and had Jack Haig on the back foot as the Russian was setting an incredible tempo. He would win the stage and settle into 3rd overall. I forsee many low finishes for Mamykin in 2016 but when he gets some chances in the mountains, keep an eye out for him.

Politt and Restrepo were both stagiaires with Katusha in 2015 and signed neo-pro deals with the team. Politt is a strong rouleur that had an impressive Bayern Rundfahrt thanks to his TT that slotted him 6th overall. The German is a very strong time trial rider when on form and seems to do well in other non-climbing big mountains races.

Restrepo has been a known quantity on the Colombian circuit for a few years after winning two stages of the Vuelta a Colombia Juventud and placing 3rd in the individual pursuit in the Pan-Am Championships as a first year U23 in 2013. This year, he won a stage of the Vuelta a Colombia Juventud and ended up 3rd overall in the race. He went on a Pan-Am tear by winning the continental U23 RR, continental Individual Pursuit and continental team pursuit. He was eventual apart of the winning Colombian team pursuit team at the Pan-Am Games in Toronto. While he is untested in Europe besides getting drug through the Vuelta a Burgos, Restrepo is a diamond in the rough.

Team LottoNL-Jumbo
-Koen Bouwman
-Steven Lammertink
-Alexey Vermeulen

The Dutch team is getting more of a facelift for 2016 as they are adding three non-Dutch speaking riders to their roster and to try and kick start what was a sluggish season in the win column in terms of the win column.

Coming over from SEG Racing are Koen Bouwman and Steven Lammertink. Bouwman is an opportunist that was consistent through the season in difficult races. The Dutchman showed off his climbing skills on the final stage of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta when he made the breakaway on the way to the Colle del San Grand Bernardo and rode away from BMC Development rider Kilian Frankiny for the stage win. Besides Valle d'Aosta, Bouwman was a strong helper to Sam Oomen in the Tour de l'Avenir and got some time with Lotto-Jumbo in pro races in the fall including 30th overall in the Tour of Britain.

Lammertink is a time trial stud that had a bad end to his season after such an amazing start. A small group sprint stage win in Triptyque Monts et Chateaux was followed by a top 10 in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and time trial win in the Tour de Berlin, which set up an overall win. Following a win in the U23 TT at Nationals, his season took a nose dive with exception for his win at the European U23 TT in Tartu. He didn't finish the Tour Alsace or Tour du Poitou Charentes. He scrapped a 14th place at the Worlds TT after being dealt bad conditions but sickness took him out of the U23 RR. While his time trial talents are obvious, it seems that consistency could be an issue. This is an issue with big time U23 TT riders that dominate their fields but then struggle mightily in their first pro seasons; Campbell Flakemore and Damien Howson are two recent examples of this.

BMC Development's Alexey Vermeulen is taking the plunge in the pro ranks with LottoNL-Jumbo. Going a route such as Tejay van Garderen did with HTC-Columbia (only one of two Americans on the team in his rookie year), Vermeulen is going with a foreign team that might take the pressure off as opposed to moving up with BMC. I just wrote a recent profile on him so as not to sound like a broken record, go read up on him. Vermeulen will be looking to get his pedals wet in some stage racing as well as some harder one day races. Don't look for a Great American Hope but perhaps the no pressure route will work wonders here.

Team SKY
-Alex Peters
-Gianni Moscon

SKY brings on two high profiles signings with the Hackney Peters and Italian stud Moscon. Tao Geoghegan Hart seems to be in the pipeline but has defered a chance at the pro peloton for another year.

Alex Peters switched to SEG Racing this year and was one of the team's top riders. He started off the year with a bang after a pair of 2nd places and a 2nd overall in the Tour de Normandie and quickly followed it up with a stage win in the Tour de Bretagne. He had a light mid-year but then came back for the Tour of Britain with the British National Team and finished 12th in the Tour of Britain. Obviously he is a talented rouleur but I do hesitate with him a bit because he hasn't had a ton of racing days in a season and stepping up to a World Tour team, he could have some growing pains.

Gianni Moscon is one of the biggest talents on the U23 circuit and it was more of a question of where he was going to end up and not if he would get a contract. Moscon won 9 times this year including the Italian U23 RR, the GP Palio del Recioto, Citta di San Vendemiano and the Trofeo Almar Nations Cup. Even more important were some of the races he didn't win. Moscon was 2nd in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23, 5th in the U23 Zavod Miru (Peace Race), was 5th overall in the Tour de l'Avenir before having to drop out on the penultimate stage and then finished 4th in the World U23 RR after leading out Simone Consonni in a desperate attempt to go for the win.

While I dislike making comparisons between riders but Moscon could be like Paolo Bettini-type except he seems to be a better climber in the high mountains. If SKY do not torpedo his potential like they have with other riders, they have hit a gold mine.

-Erik Baska
-Michael Gogl

Now I am not saying that Erik Baska is overrated but Baska is coming in with some expectations as this killer sprinter and I don't think that he will live up to that, especially right out of the gate. The winner of the European U23 RR that finished in a big bunch sprint in Tartu, Estonia, Baska has gained the majority of his results in Central and Eastern Europe against startlists that might not be up to snuff in other races. His most quality win outside of Europeans was his stage win in the Tour de Berlin. So while he might be quick, I wouldn't be surprised to see him struggle mightily this season.

Gogl, who rode on 3 teams last year including his Tinkoff stagiaire role, is a bit of an opportunist that does well in the breakaway and on selective courses. In 2014, he was 15th overall in the Tour de l'Avenir and was 4th on one stage behind Caleb Ewan. He started off the year with a bang by winning the GP Laguna in a breakaway over Seid Lizde and Simone Petilli. He got a large chunk of race days with Tinkoff (20 race days) and had a lot of top 30 placings. He seems to be a rider that is ready for a large chunk of days (70 or so) that can be a good teammate and maybe get a result or two.

Trek Factory
-Julien Bernard

You can read a more complete write-up of Bernard's signing with Trek on Cyclingtips. Coming from the small SCO Dijon team, Bernard is a very impressive climber that was all over the top 5 in the French mountains this season. Thanks to his dad Jean-François, Julien got a ride with Trek Factory as a stagiaire. After getting through the Tour of Utah, Bernard rode a consistent USA Pro Challenge and managed to finish 10th overall. More recently, he rode the Tour of Hainan and on the only hard stage of the race, Bernard finished 6th and ended up the same on the overall rankings.

Don't think he will be an instant producer but throw some riders behind him and he could grab some top 10s.

Teams with no neo-pro signings - Astana, IAM, Lotto, Dimension Data

Predictions for top neo-pros of 2016?

1. Rob Power
2. Gianni Moscon
3. Soren Kragh Andersen

Am I way off? Am I right on the money? Let me know!


  1. Yes, great work. Thanks you. But I also pick the three riders and I know nothing of U23. This is a problem?

  2. Just announced today (Nov. 27), the BMC Racing Team has added a second neo-pro to its line-up, Tom Bohli - from the BMC Development Team.