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Thursday Thoughts: Breakout Sprinters

The last list of three breakout candidates, and these are the fast guys

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Another Thursday, and a fourth and final look at the riders for whom I expect bigger things in 2019. As November ends in wind and drizzle, we look at the electric fast men who’ll brighten the days of summer. Yes, it is time for the sprinters to be reviewed.

I hope you’re going into this thinking, this is the guy who tipped up Pascal Ackermann for 2018, he really knows his onions. You might, however, be thinking that this is the guy who foresaw glory for Rudy Barbier and Yannis Yssaad. You might therefore conclude that of my three picks, one is likely to be successful. It’d probably be more sensible to conclude that picking sprinters isn’t easy. Unlike the classics riders of the previous fortnight, they don’t (always) take years of progression to reach the top. Ackermann is far from the first rider to rapidly take his place among the most regularly successful world tour sprinters.

So, with that health warning, two sprinters who until now haven’t achieved glory, but have given glimpses that success may be on the horizon, and one who is on his way, but has the headroom to improve enormously.

Alvaro Jose Hodeg

What has he done so far? Other than a typo (this may be apochrophal, but his name is supposedly a mis-spelling of Hodge) he hasn’t done much wrong. Stepped up to world tour level in style, winning Ham Sandwich and a stage of Catalunya early in 2018, then coming back with stages in Poland, Germany and Turkey to round out a five-win season. It wasn’t a total surprise after Quick Step swooped following a strong junior season in 2017.

What does a breakout look like? He’s already a world tour winner, so consistency and volume of wins are the key. If he can grab a win in a grand tour, he’ll have had a good season. Failing that, there are more world tour races and flat classics where he can prove his worth. Eight or nine wins and more podiums than he managed in 2018 would demonstrate meaningful progress.

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What makes me think a breakout is coming? He’s clearly got the speed, and can, at a young age, deliver a sprint after a tough stage. That’s the two biggest challenges, so a breakout doesn’t seem unfeasible. Getting the chance to ride for himself in bigger races may be his biggest stumbling block. Lefevre’s cupboard Is full of talented riders and Jakobsen is another youngster who’ll be challenging for sprint chances right alongside Hodeg (and Viviani, etc, etc). Still, I’m confident that he’ll be given sufficient opportunity and I’m confident he’ll take it when it comes.

Chris Lawless

What has he done so far? The young Brit is also starting his second season in the world tour, joining Sky from Axeon last year. His first season came with less glory than Alvaro’s, but he did win a stage of Coppi e Bartali and finish third in a (particularly odd) Scheldeprijs. Like Hodeg, he won a stage of Dsigns of a more rounded set of skills, but he clearly has the pure speed to pursue this line. Like so many young Brits, has a track background and is no slouch against the watch.

What does a breakout look like? The bar is set a little lower for Lawless, and winning a first world tour race would be a success. He could usefully add some podiums, too. Tougher stages, and perhaps classics, may suit him better than the simple flat stages, but time will tell.

What makes me think a breakout is coming? Whisper it, but Team Sky aren’t awful at supporting young sprinters. The reason is pretty smiple – they tend to have good engines in every race, and they tend to ride to win. No, Froome’s mountain train won’t pull him down the Champs (he won’t be in the Tour team) but if he’s the eighth man and nominated sprinter in, say, Dauphine? Or Down Under? Yeah, he could grab that win and a few high places. He’s got the skill and the versatility.

Damien Touze

What has he done so far? We’re picking Touze a year earlier in his development, as he’s just signed with Cofidis after a year with conti outfit St Michel-Auber. The highlights of his young career are doubtless his stage of the 2018 Avenir (a theme in this article) and 6th in the 2017 U23 worlds. Lots of other top tens. Early days, but all the results you’d like to see.

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What does a breakout look like? Touze has a lower bar again – he’s at a Pro-Conti team and in his first year, and he’s just 22. He needs to learn to ride with the bigs, and he’s joining a team with two established sprinters (approximately). All that said, if he’s good enough to succeed at the top level, he’ll be good enough to win a few lesser races at this level and make a small contribution to the case Cofidis are attempting to build that they can make it at world tour level. He needs to mix it up in some sprints and he needs to stand on the top step somewhere, even if it isn’t a prestigious race.

What makes me think a breakout is coming? There’s not much to this. He’s fast enough to have been successful at the highest levels that juniors race at, and he’s going to get his chances. He’s also joining a team that will have a track record of supporting and developing sprinters. That combination of talent, production, and opportunity will make up for a lack of experience at this level.