After the incredible Milano-Sanremo yesterday, I thought it would be an appropriate time to make a ranking of the top five first year riders through this past weekend. There have been lots of pleasant surprises so far this season; ones that have made headlines and others that have flown a bit under the radar, so let's get on with it, shall we?
1. Bryan Coquard (Europcar)
This has to be the obvious choice through the first quarter of the season as Coquard has been a revelation on the sprinting scene. Coquard has four wins to hi name, two each in Etoille des Besseges and Tour de Langkawi. I've posted videos of his wins at Besseges before, where he won by a considerable distance, but Langkawi was a bit more of a challenge for him. Langkawi saw a considerable step up in competition with Theo Bos, Andrea Guardini and others there to go up against . The first stage saw him snag 2nd place but he wasn't able to contest for the win as Bos finished multiple bike lengths ahead via much better positioning. It wasn't until the race passed over the mountains (and Bos dropped out) that Coquard struck.
While his results have not come on the World Tour level yet, he is bound to net a truly big result at some point this season. Coquard is set to go to Belgium for some Northern Classics so we shall see how he copes with the pavé.
2. Bob Jungels (Radioshack)
The prodigy from Luxembourg not named Schleck has been destined for cycling's top flight since his days as a junior. For those not familiar with him, I shall give you a brief overview. As an 18-year old junior in 2010, Jungels was the top of his class, winning 4 stage races overall thanks to a combination of climbing and time trial ability. And some of these wins were not close either...for example, there is the Vuelta a Besaya where he won by a massive 3 minutes overall, which in a junior stage race is domination. He went on to win the World TT championship in Offida that year. His first U23 season in 2011 was quiet but after this adjustment period, he exploded for big results last year. He won the Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux overall. Then he obliterated the field at the U23 Paris-Roubaix where he broke away from the peloton, reached the breakaway and then dropped all of them. He won by nearly 3 minutes. He then won the Fleche du Sud and went 9th at the professional Tour of Luxembourg. He wasn't done either as he won the queen stage at the Giro della Valle d'Aosta where he dropped his breakaway companions and won by nearly 6 minutes. Get the gist?
After his natural move from the Leopard-Trek development team to Radioshack, Jungels has fit naturally into the pro scene. Jungels went 6th in the TT at the Tour Mediterranéan behind bonafide TT studs. He finished 11th overall at the Driedaagse van West Vlaanderen after a solid prologue result. His next performance is the reason that he is #2 on this list...
Jungels got into the early breakaway at the GP Nobili and as the race wore on, he proceeded to drop his companions and time trial home to a solo victory, maintaining a big gap even with the peloton chasing him. I must say that right there is some impressive work for a 20-year old.
3. Diego Rosa (Androni Giocattoli - Venezuela)
Rosa might be a bit of a surprise pick but I have been very impressed with how he has handled his first pro year so far, seeing as this is only his 2nd season of racing on the road. Rosa grew up on the mountain bike and spent all of his formative years racing MTB including his entire U23 career with the Giant team. He was a pretty good rider as well and finished an impressive 8th in his last U23 World Championships in 2011. In the offseason that year, he received a visit from Oliviano Locatelli, the head of the powerful Palazzago squad that contained Fabio Aru at the time, who wanted him to switch over to the road. Rosa agreed and set out for the Dolomites to train and results came fast for the rider from Cuneo as his attacking nature and strong technical skills played to his advantage.
Rosa sealed up the Giro della Regioni Friuli Venezia Giulia overall after he spent 142km (out of 149) up the road on the 3rd stage, where he finished solo on the Passo Pramollo. Rosa also won the mountains classification in the GiroBio after multiple days out front, including on the final day on the Gavia. Add these results to others he had throughout the season and Gianni Savio signed him to a neo-pro contract with Androni.
So far this season, Rosa has been a factor in nearly every race he has entered. In San Luis, Rosa was a key teammate for Migual Rubiano (finished 7th overall) and even went out on the attack on the 6th stage to Mirador del Sol. In the Tour Mediterranéan, Rosa finished 15th overall and won the youth classification while teammate Francesco Reda finished 2nd overall. Rosa went on the attack in Trofeo Laigueglia and hung on to finish in a chasing group at 18 seconds. Stemming from his MTB days, Rosa is perfectly fine with crappy weather and this was shown true with his long breakaway in Milano-Sanremo, where he spent over 220 kilometers in the day's breakaway in some of the foulest weather imaginable. Rosa hung on to finish with some stragglers but deserves respect for his breakaway. Did I also mention that Rosa wasn't scheduled for this race ad was a last minute replacement for Francesco Reda? So yeah, I'm excited about Rosa and will be looking forward to seeing him race more.
4. Danny van Poppel & Wesley Kreder (Vacansoleil)
I know I'm cheating but I had to have both of them on this list as they have gotten good results in the same races this season. Danny van Poppel is the progeny of Jean-Paul van Poppel and after only spending one year in the U23 ranks with Rabobank Continental, he moved up to Vacansoleil. Wesley Kreder is the cousin to Garmin duo Michel & Raymond Kreder and was a teammate of van Poppel's at Rabobank Continental last season. He was a stagiaire with Vacansoleil last year where he won the Tour de Vendée with a late race attack. After riding the Tour of Oman together, the tandem was together again at the ice hell that was the Ronde van Drenthe. As Alexander Wetterhall attacked up the road, van Poppel was in the first chase group behind him. Eventually Kreder bridged up to Van Poppel and they ended up finishing 4th and 5th, respectively; a commendable effort in a race that saw only 32 finishers. The pair then went to the Handzame Classic, where Kreder went ape shit. With about 10km to go, Kreder attacked with Bert Grabsch (OPQS) and Alphonse Vermote (AnPost-ChainReaction) and the trio had a had a healthy gap going into the final kilometer. With only 300 meters to go, Kreder and co. were swept up by the sprinting peloton. Van Poppel managed to get 3rd while Kreder hung onto 12th. Both of them will be exciting to watch with van Poppel's sprinting and Kreder's general badassness.
5. Scott Thwaites (NetApp-Endura)
Another surprise on this list is Scott Thwaites, the young Yorkshire man on NetApp-Endura. He has been with Endura since 2010 and grew up with the squad and after promising results last year, was able to make the cut when the team merged with NetApp. He fancies himself as a sprinter and classics man, having previous success in harder races such as stages of the Tour de Bretagne. This season, he has had a promising start with two nice results at Le Samyn and Handzame. At Samyn, Thwaites was able to snag 7th place while in a chaotic sprint in Handzame, he got up to 5th place in a very chaotic sprint. He might not have the fastest sprint like Coquard but to see him up there at such a young age is commendable.
- Enrico Barbin (Bardiani Valvole - CSF Inox) was 4th in Roma Maxima, 3rd in the bunch sprint behind a solo Blel Kadri.
- Fabio Aru (Astana) finished just outside the front group in Strade Bianche in 19th place and was good support for Nibali in San Luis.
- Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (Argos-Shimano) was close 2nd in Almeria to Renshaw. He has a full plate of Belgian classics so maybe he can pull a surprise there.
- Tsgabu Gebremariam (MTN-Qhubeka) was 9th overall in Langkawi and 5th in Tropicale Amissa Bongo. That is damn impressive for the only Ethiopian in the peloton. Granted that these results were not in Europe but he no doubt has a big engine.