It is almost everyone’s favorite time of the year-- that magical time of slaving over our FSA VDS teams and hurling vitriol at Ursula. In the run up to FSA VDS at this time of the year, I will typically join some other fantasy cycling games as training for VDS-- like a Belgian in the Middle East. In doing so, I always find it interesting to look at the neo-pros for the upcoming season. Usually there are numerous articles that save me from any need for my own research. But this year, cycling media seems to be on the decline (Jens stepping down, the loss of Cycling Quotes) and such articles haven’t been forthcoming. So, in the light of this I decided to compile my own list of neo-pro riders that I thought may be interesting to watch this year.
A few caveats to this list: First, all of the riders may not technically be neo-pros, but are close enough. Second, my only expertise in this area is from watching some races last year, access to PCS, and, of course, last but not least finishing in 4th place in FSA VDS last year. (My will now directs my wife to put that accomplishment on my tombstone. What I’ve told her not to tell anyone is that I lost a podium position to someone that would have picked a team of a 126-point Cavendish and 24 one-pointers). Therefore, I disclaim any liability for any one that has a disastrous VDS team as a result of reliance on this list. Also, if anyone has a secret pick that appears on this list that you wanted to keep safe from Ursula, I can assure you that the she-bear knows all and will eat all of your VDS dreams regardless of this list.
1. David Gaudu
French climber on a French team with a need for another GC prospect alongside Pinot? Check. Last year’s winner of the Tour de l’Avenir? Check. Top 10 placing in a stage race with decent, but not great competition? Check. The stars seem aligned for Gaudu to have a great neo pro season with FDJ. Past Tour de l’Avenir winners including Quintan and Chaves. However, Romain Sicard also won that race. Gaudu is only 20 years old, but may do well in some French SSRs this year. He looks like a pure climber, weighing in at only 54 kilos (119 lbs). Whether he develops into a passable time trialist, like Quintana, or remains a frustrating Formolo on the TT bike remains to be seen.
Rating for 2017: 3.5 Kenny Ellisondes
2. Vincenzo Albanese
Anyone that had either Colbrelli or Ulissi on their VDS teams last year know that there are multitudinous Italian one-day and stage races during which a lot of points can be won. You know who is not in Bardiani anymore-- Colbrelli. You know who is? Young Vincenzo. Someone has got to fill that vacuum and sweep up the points in those semi-sprinty Italian races. Last year, Albanese took the points competition in the Tour de l’Avenir, winning Stage 1 in a sprint from a small group and coming in second to Kristoffer Halvorsen in Stage 3 from a bunch sprint. He also won the Trofeo Matteotti, a category 1.1 race, beating several stale Italian sausage in Manuel Belletti, Marco Marcato, and Francesco Gavazzi, all at the age of 19. He looks poised for a bright future, but whether that happens in 2017 remains to be seen.
Rating for 2017: 4.5 Filippo Pozzatos
3. The Young Abu Dhabians
Speaking of Italians, the only remaining Italian world tour team, Lampre, I mean only Chinese world tour team, TJ Sports, I mean only United Arab Emirates world tour team, UAE Abu Dhabi, has a bevy of young Italian talent, including Simone Consonni, Filippo Ganna, Edward Ravasi, and Simone Petilli. Petilli had a bit of an anonymous 2016, but may make an improvement in 2017 with a grand tour in his legs. Ravasi may be a bit undercooked to have a stand out year in his first WT season. Ganna seems an exciting prospect after winning the Paris-Roubaix espoirs last year and demonstrating success in the TT, but at only 20 probably needs some experience. Based almost entirely on one race, Consonni seems the most poised to have a good 2017, after coming in 5th in the Gran Premio Bruno Beghelli. However, his teammate Valerio Conti has proven that success in Bruno Beghelli is not always the best bellwether. Add to that the fact that UAE Abu Dhabi is lousy with cut rate sprinty types-- Ben Swift, Sacha Modolo, Andrea Guardini, Marko Kump, Marco Marcato, and Roberto Ferrari, opportunities may be scarce.
Ratings for 2017: 3 Sad Zombie Fausto Coppis
4. Taco van der Hoorn
Great name or greatest name? With a name like that, it’s hard not to get noticed, even though his best result was probably a 9th in Schaal Sels. Riding for Team Roompot, he may get some opportunities in some smaller races and will look to follow the career trajectory of Dylan Groenewegen from Dutch continental to Dutch pro-continental to World Tour team.
Rating for 2017: 2 Bo Hamburgers.
5. Truls Engen Korsaeth
Of all the neo pros this year, the Hammer from Lillehammer was literally the most visible in 2016, hammering away at the front of the pack in the World Championship Road Race for either Kristoff or Boasson Hagen, depending upon who you ask. Korsaeth finds himself as the token Norwegian on an Astana team looking to establish a new identity after the loss of Nibali. While likely being employed as a domestique to ride at the front of the pack on flatter race days, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sneak a surprise race or stage victory.
Rating for 2017: 2 Salmon Hills
6. Mads Wurtz Schmidt
It doesn’t take Paul Reiser to tell the cycling world that it’s time to be mad about Mads Wurtz Schmidt. In 2016, he finished third in the GC behind fellow Danes Michael Valgren and Magnus Cort Nielsen in PostNord Danmark Rundt, improving from a 7th place in 2015. He’s also a prior stage winner in the Tour de l’Avenir and the former U23 TT World Champion. While Katusha may seem an odd choice for the young Dane, this ain’t your dedushka’s Katusha. The now Swiss team, is less Soviet rocket and more UN peacekeeper, and Mads may do well to learn from Tony Martin and Alexander Kristoff.
Rating for 2017: 3.5 terrible Mad About You references.
7. Ondrej Cink
There is only one neo pro who has beaten Peter Sagan in a big race and that is Ondrej. Sure, it was in the Olympic mountain bike race, but still. It remains to be seen if he can follow the wheel of his fellow countryman mountain-to-roadie, Zdenek Stybar.
Rating for 2017: 2 Greedy Peter Sagan VDS Owners Angry that He Rode the Olympic Mountain Bike and Not the Road Race
8. Pascal Ackermann
The powerful German is quite possibly due for a breakout season. He finished last year strong, with a 3rd place in the Sparkassen Munsterland Giro and a 2nd place in the U23 WC Road Race. His big impediment, however, will be finding opportunity as he finds himself on a sprint-heavy Bora team, with Sagan, Bennett, Pelucchi, and Baska. Being a German team, however, I would wager that Pascal will get his chances.
Rating for 2017: 3 Greipel Thighs
9. Amund Grondahl Jansen
Lots of interesting Norwegians this year, even though the most successful, Kristoffer Halvorsen, is staying at the continental level with Joker for another year. The next best thing, however, is Halvorsen’s teammate and often lead out man, Amund Grondahl Jansen. He was 5th in the U23 WC Road Race, despite leading out Halvorsen, won a stage of the Tour de l"Avenir, and won the U23 Norway National Championship. And he finds himself on a LottoNL-Jumbo team that just purged many of its fast finishers besides Groenewegen and only brought in Mr. Inconsistent, JuanJo Lobato.
Rating for 2017: 3 Salmon Mountains
10. Max Walscheid
After his season was postponed due to the horrific Team Giant training crash, he came on strong at the end of the year and dominated the Tour of Hainan, winning 5 stages. However, that raises the question of whether success in Hainan is a predictor of anything. Perhaps it is, as Sacha Modolo and Niccolo Bonifazio are recent multi-stage winners of the race. So is Theo Bos, winning 6 stages in 2013, which would sound like an argument against Hainan, however, he followed up those 6 victories with his most successful year in 2014 with many decent wins. Like Bos in 2014, Walscheid should be given ample opportunity in many races with below-top-notch competition as he finds himself on a team that has moved away from a sprinty raison d’etre and toward a more GC-centered orientation. Also, if the interwebs are to be believed, Max is 1.99 m (6’6"), making him one of the tallest, if not the tallest rider in the peloton.
Rating for 2017: 4 towering Stijn Vandenberghs
11. Edward Planckaert
With a name like that, he was born to win a cobbled classic, and although he is not related to the more famous Planckaert clan, he is related to the 2016 VDS famous Planckaert-- Baptiste. Combine his name and his blood with the fact that he rides for Sport Vlaanderen, which often produces a surprise belgium winner, Edward is a good bet for success in 2017. .
Rating for 2017: 3 Tom Van Asbroecks from 2014
12. Davide Rebellin
So, who does everyone else have on their list of rookie riders for 2017?