I’m hoping we’re all up to speed now. This is the fifth of these Thursday Thoughts, and the second group of three breakout candidates. This week, we turn to a different kind of rider – the hilly classics rider. Some overlap with the GC guys, of course, but I’m looking for more explosive riders, more aggressive, and with an ability to finish races at a sprint, ideally.
The good news is, these guys historically over-perform in VDS – there are lots of one-day races through autumn that are valuable, as well as the spring races, and many of the stars of this sort of race will perform in some stage races. Think Alaphilippe and Valverde. The bad news is, these guys tend to be pretty straightforward to see coming. They also tend to be hard races for kids to win, with strength and experience really mattering. As a result, spotting breakouts at the right time isn’t easy. Here are three I’m expecting bigger things from in 2019.
What has he done so far? Konrad? The GC guy from Bora? Yeah, him. He is a grand tour guy, to be sure, but he’s a more than handy one-day rider, too, and the evidence suggests to me that he’s improving rapidly in that arena. Moreover, as I say, plenty of guys develop their one-day chops late in their career as they become cannier and tougher riders.
In 2018 he rode his third Liege, finishing 27th, and his third Lombardia, finishing 18th. He threw in 5th and 9th in the Canadian races and 10th in Fleche. Those are all rock-solid results. At 27, he’s still got space to improve and is nicely seasoned. He’s also riding for a Bora team that may limit his opportunities in the Grand Tours.
What does a breakout look like? Konrad is on the list of “best riders without a pro win” (which is in itself a good debate) and it wouldn’t surprise me if he changed that on the one-day scene rather than in a general classification ride. A top 5 in a monument, and two or three podiums including a win across other one-day races will be a career year.
Why do I think a breakout is coming? As I say, a combination of maturity and experience will only make him more effective in the sorts of races I’m describing. You can paint a pretty clear upward trajectory of his performance in these races and if I’ve noticed, the brains at Bora will have too. A little more focus on the Ardennes and Italian autumn races would improve his season.
Bonus thought: The Austrian team seem unusually well-suited by the World Championship course in 2019, no? Probably a touch too easy for Konrad, but on bad weather and with hard riding early, stranger things have happened than a podium for a man of his talent.
What has he done so far? In 2018, he was a rider I kept a close eye on, and I’d say he was impressive without ever delivering a big result. His efforts on stage 9 of the Giro were little short of heroic, with him caught in the last 3km after riding alone on a steep and exposed road at the end of 225km stage. Elsewhere, he was on form to finish his season with a win in the Tour of Hainan – not exactly Flanders or the Tour, but it is something. Riding with Ciccone and Antunes to the finish of the Apennino (he finished third) was also impressive.
What does a breakout look like? A breakout means backing up that win in Hainan with a professional win in Europe. He’ll be back with Androni who, shorn of Sosa, might be looking to him for more results. A continuation of his aggressive style, with either more luck or more strength at the end of races, could lead to a couple of wins and maybe a podium in a bigger race or a GT stage.
Why do I think a breakout is coming? I wrote about him before the 2018 season, and he delivered 50 VDS points. Maybe he’s just someone I’m watching closely and I’m getting confirmation bias? It is possible, but I do think there was a lack of luck and that a similar season in performance terms could look like a breakout in results (and especially VDS) terms. He’s a talented rider who’ll have opportunity and will ride to win. It is that simple.
What has he done so far? Unlike the other two riders on this list, Stannard isn’t yet old enough to buy a drink in the less-enlightened parts of the world. Only recently turning 20, he’s stepped up from Mitchelton-Scott’s development team to join the big boys, on the back of a great 2018. He won three junior one-day races in Italy, including the junior Lombardia, and also finished fourth in the junior Fleche (and third in junior Flanders). He’s a pretty good GC rider too.
What does a breakout look like? A breakout is coming into senior races and going well there. There’s one thing I didn’t tell you about his 2018 – Mitchelton signed him to the big leagues in October, whereupon he finished 8th in the Japan Cup, supporting the winner (Power) and mixing it with the big boys. I’m not saying he needs to win a monument before his 21st. I’m just hoping he can get placed in a few lesser races where he might grab some glory, and prove himself a precocious assistant to the likes of the Yateses.
Why do I think a breakout is coming? You know what I said about well-seasoned riders and maturity mattering? I believe that to be true – normally. I also think that some riders are so talented that the rules don’t apply, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s true for Stannard. In his first season, Alaphilippe served notice that he was coming (3rd in London, 5th in Plouay, stage of Tour de l’Ain, that sort of thing) before exploding in his second year. Stannard was a better junior and just might be a touch more precocious, even if the comparison ends up overly flattering in the end.