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Year-End Awards CHANGEUP! Pick the Breakout Rider of 2016!

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Let's face it, Rider of the Year isn't very dramatic...

Susie Hartigan

I hear ya, the 2016 Podium Cafe Rider of the Year voting is not going to involve a lot of drama. But if there's a subject worth wrangling over and holding what promises to be a pretty interesting vote, it would be picking the breakout rider of the year.

Which is what, exactly? That's the key question. So as not to hamper the voting, I am being very inclusive, but you can narrow your criteria from there if you like. For me, the definition could mean:

  • Young guy who starts winning and/or scoring a lot more
  • Unexpected achievement compared to past results
  • More subjectively, performances that suggest he's reached a new level that will be sustained going forward
I've probably missed a definition or two here, but you get the gist. Big hat tip to PhilProf for suggesting this vote in comments! Let's go...

Esteban Chaves, Orica-BikeExchange

2015: Won Abu Dhabi Tour, fifth in Vuelta with some days in the lead and two stage wins, 55th in Giro d'Italia, 8th in Lombardia. Ranked #19 PdC, #40 CQ.

2016: Won Lombardia, won Emilia, second in Giro plus stage win and day in pink, third in Vuelta. Top 15 in world.

So? Nobody's ascension received more notice than Chaves', as he shed the label he sorta earned, but maybe already started to shed, in 2015 that he couldn't finish off a three-week race. The Lombardia win was a giant punctuation point on the season, coming in October on a big stage. The two knocks on his breakoutedness would be the question as to how much he'd already started to break out the year before, and the fact that this list includes guys who scored more points.

Adam Yates, Orica-BikeExchange

2015: Won Klasikoa Donostia (San Seb), 50th in Tour, 9th in Tirreno, 20th in Dauphine

2016: Fourth in the Tour, seventh in Dauphine, 4th in Yorkshire Tour

So? This is really a one-point entry: do you think Yates' near-podium performance in the Tour is a breakout performance in and of itself? I'm sure a lot of people would say yes, given the way the Tour is viewed and approached by teams vis-a-vis their young, developing riders. Points-wise, Yates was about on par with his last two years.

Dylan Groenewegen, LottoNL-Jumbo

2015: Wins in Arnhem-Veenendal and Brussels Cycling Classic (the former Paris-Bruxelles). Fifth in Handzame classic.

2016: Eleven wins (sixth in the world) including Valencia,  Dutch Nats, Driedaagse West Vlaanderen, Yorkshire, Rund um Koln, Britain, Ster Electroer, ENECO and Eurometropole. Second in Handzame, Fourth in Kuurne, third in Nokere Koerse. Ranked #12 (PdC) and 22 (CQ) in points.

So? Sprinter breakouts are easier to track. It's win or ... come close to winning. Or go home. Groenewegen tripled his points, or quintupled them if you use the quality-heavier PdC ranking.

[A little side note, we do not include all the 2.2 flotsam of races that wind up in CQRanking. Not that they are wrong, but we are emphasizing performance at or very close to the World Tour in our rankings.]

Anyway, Gorenewegen made a huge leap by any statistical measure. On a more subjective level, he occasionally beat the top recognized sprinters in the world, in ENECO for example, but still mostly cleaned up against a less elite competition. His best Tour finish was fourth.

Fernando Gaviria, Etixx-Quick Step

2015: Five wins, nothing above the 2.something level. But, his Britain win came against Greipel, Boasson Hagen and other top guys.

2016: Eight wins, including Paris-Tours and stage of Tirreno against quality field. Two stage wins in Tour de Pologne. Sixth in Gent-Wevelgem. Second in Kampionschap Vlaanderen and Gran Piemonte.

So? Aaaand... 79th in Milano-Sanremo. When will we stop judging him for his last-second lapse that cost him a Monument win on his first try? Well, here is a good place to do so. Using the subjective third definition of breaking out, here was a guy coming from nowhere to almost win (should have won) a 300-km classic of the highest order. And in case you were still shaking your head, he won a very hard race in Paris-Tours to drive the point home. He has ascended to a new level. The only real knock, apart from competition and other disciplines, is whether he ascended as far as he should have. Side note: he's 22 and a long way from home.

Primoz Roglic, LottoNL-Jumbo

2015: Stage and overall Tour de Slovenie, stage and overall Tour of Azerbaijian, stage of Qinghai Lake.

2016: Time trial stage wins of Giro d'Italia and Slovenian Nats, second in Giro opening ITT.

So? His points actually went down, but up in quality. His Giro ITT performances and other high stage finishes suggest a guy who's going to score a lot of points, at least in one-week stage races. Personally I think it's premature to call this a breakout, but you guys nominated him.

Petr Vakoc, Etixx-Quick Step

2015: Won Czech nats and Tour of Britain stage. Third in Czech ITT nats. Won stage and overall in Czech Tour.

2016: Won three spring classics including Brabantse Pijl. Fifth in Strade Bianche. Second in Tour La Provence, GP Wallonie. Fifth in Euro Champs, ninth in Quebec.

So? Hrm... I had thought he might have a stronger case on the numbers. Still Vakoc quadrupled his production in a year, and at 24 he's made the leap to Ardennes contender.

Romain Bardet, AG2R

2015: Won Dauphine mountain stage ahead of van Garderen and Froome and fourth overall, won Tour de France mountain stage and ninth overall.

2016: Won another Tour mountain stage and second overall, second in Dauphine, second in Giro dell'Emilia, fourth in Lombardia.

So? Like Yates, this candidacy is based largely on the Tour de France, and being a Frenchman this is no laughing matter. Bardet had little chance of getting past that last obstacle (Froome) but otherwise delivered on his promise in a big way. Continued success into the fall strengthened his rep as an all-around rider. The only real case against him is that this isn't a breakout so much as incremental progress, though I'm not sure I buy that.

Gianluca Brambilla, Etixx-Quick Step

2015: Tenth in Lombardia, 13th in the Vuelta

2016: Won Trofeo Polenca, stage of Giro d'Italia (and two days in pink), stage of Vuelta.

So? Probably the oddest entry here but you guys nominated him, so... he's 29 and had never done that much point scoring before this year, when he roughly tripled his haul and forged his way into the top 50 (peaking at 32 in CQ). He certainly elevated his game to the status of danger-man, at least in stage hunting. If you're going by expectations, his were as low as anyone on this list coming into the season.

Bryan Coquard, Direct Energie

2015: Four wins from Route du Sud, Dunkerque and Etoile de Besseges. Fifth in Tour points competition.

2016: Twelve sprint wins plus overall at Dunkerque and Boucles de la Mayenne. 6th in Tour de France points, second in one sprint. Fifth in Paris-Tours, third in Tour de Vendee, fourth in Brabantse Pijl, fourth in Amstel Gold Race, second in Dwars door Vlaanderen. Ranked 11th (CQ) and 21st (PdC) overall.

So? A very intriguing case! Coquard cleaned up in a ton of races that the PdC rankings don't much care for, while being more or less the same guy as always at the Tour de France. In fact, he was third on points in 2014, his best performance so far. He didn't really improve that much as a sprinter. But, he improved quite a bit as a classics/all-round rider, he certainly didn't lose anything from his sprinting in the process, and he's only 25 at press time. By both rankings he more or less doubled his points haul from 2015.

Magnus Cort Nielsen, Orica-Bike Exchange

2015: No victories in first World Tour season, but fourth in Danish nats, third in Danmark Rundt and ENECO stages.

2016: Won Danmark Rundt stage and two stages of Vuelta a Espana, including closing Madrid stage. Cracked top 100 in both PdC and CQ.

So? Actually, his most impressive performances may have come in the Abu Dhabi Tour, where he was twice fourth in a very high quality field. It's nice that he got some fancy Vuelta palmares, but they came out of the well-cured hides of Daniele Bennati and Nikias Arndt. Nielsen got better and got noticed, but he's probably more akin to Roglic insofar as the cake still baking.

Bob Jungels, Etixx-Quick Step

2015: Won ITT and overall in Etoile de Besseges, won both road and ITT Lux Nats. Fourth and fifth in Tour Alps stages (27th on GC), sixth in Tour de Suisse.

2016: Won Oman road stage, Lux RR and ITT Nats. Led Giro d'Italia for three days and finished sixth overall, third in Tirreno Adriatico, part of winning TTT Worlds team.

So? Another for the grand-tour-based, qualitative leap. Jungle Bob went from being a classics/ITT guy to a grand tour person of interest with his Giro performance, where he lasted all the way to the end, long after we expected him to. Granted, if we really *did* feel that way, we probably weren't paying close enough attention in the third  week of the '15 Tour, when he was top five twice and 13th at Alpe d'Huez, ahead of guys like Nibali, Contador and Bardet. Not exactly the results of a guy who can't handle a grand tour. But if you didn't notice before this year, well, you probably have now.

Jarlinson Pantano, IAM Cycling

2015: No wins, but third on a Tour stage to Gap (19th on GC), and 11th in Catalunya.

2016: Won stage of Tour de Suisse (4th overall), stage of Tour de France (19th again), second in two Alps stages of Tour, third in KOM points.

So? Sneaky Old Guy Leap! In Pantano's defense, he's only 27 (we couldn't just call him "man"), and it was only his second season racing for a European team, though his Team Colombia resume includes mostly Italian events. But Pantano came from very low expectations to being a pretty solid contributor and interesting stage hunter in the high mountains (Colombian stereotype alert!). He's off to Trek next year to continue his development.

Pierre Latour, AG2R

2015: Won stage and third overall Tour de l'Ain, third in stage and overall Route du Sud, third in two stages and fifth overall Vuelta a Burgos.

2016: Won final mountain stage of Vuelta (28th overall), second in final stage and GC Criterium International, third again Tour de l'Ain, 12th in Emilia, 10th in Lombardia.

So? Back to the kids. At age 22, Latour came from the minor leagues and put up a heck of a season, start to finish. He's mostly had success in shorter events, but that win at the end of the Vuelta bodes well for his development into a grand tour rider. Another guy where there is more baking of the cake to be done, but it's pretty tasty already.

*****

Don't see your guy listed here? Too bad. Go vote anyway!