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Thursday Thoughts – Three GT Breakout Candidates

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Three riders to make strides in next year’s Grand Tours

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Another Thursday, and another column format to which I’ll be returning as we meander through the offseason. A simple idea, this – find a type of rider, and pick three guys of that type who’ll improve in 2019. Simple to explain, that is… delivering three good examples, that’s the rub.

Today’s trio are all young riders who can expect to focus on general classification, particularly the grand tours, and most especially the long mountain climbs. Success will look different for each of them, but they have the tools and the opportunity to step forward on their 2018 performances.

Egan Arley Bernal

What has he done so far? He’s progressed like a future grand tour winner, is what he’s done. Joined Sky on the back of a flawless 2017 highlighted by a win in the Avenir, and on arrival in the evil empire, won the Colombian TT and California, plus adding second in Romandie. He then looked like the best climber in the second half of the Tour. Stunning stuff, and he’s not 22 yet.

Another Thursday, another look at EAB
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What does a breakout look like? He needs the chance to ride for himself in a grand tour, and when he gets it, he needs to prove that he can put three weeks together. That looks like a top five finish, with a podium possible, particularly given his TT ability.

What makes me think a breakout is coming? I’m hardly out on a limb here. He’s a superb rider. The biggest things that can stop him, in my opinion, are injury (well, sure, but I could put that in every preview) and opportunity. Will he be set up in such a way that he can step into a leadership role and succeed? By which I mean, a reasonable team around him and a fitness peak of his own? Well, Sky are crowded as ever but you have to assume he’ll be given a chance. If he is, I’m confident he’ll take it.

Sepp Kuss

What has he done so far? To the average fan, he’s fallen out of a clear blue sky to lead the group of bigs up some of the toughest mountain passes in Spain. The truth is rather more complicated, and involves steady development at Rally (some junior races, a lot of US racing including 9th in the ’17 Utah Tour, and some exposure to European senior racing) and then a move to Lotto, which saw a peak in late 2018 in which he won in Utah and then, as we saw, was a big part of the Lotto-NL attack on the Vuelta.

What does a breakout look like? Consistency in climbing with the very best, coupled with an attempt at a time trial. Producing consistent climbing near his best level will make him a prized support-rider, whilst a good time trial will get him into general classification conversations.

What makes me think a breakout is coming? Some of his junior results make me think he might be competent as a chrono-man, but the results weren’t there in 2018. Effort, or competence? We’ll see. As to climbing, we know he can produce it. I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect to see it more often. Like Bernal, opportunity is against him (more surprising at Lotto than at Sky, but they’re surprisingly stacked as a GT team) but he should be a key domestique in the grand tours and given a chance to go after some week-long races for himself.

Edward Ravasi

What has he done so far? Uh… not much, really. His 2016 year in the juniors was impressive, with second in the Avenir and 5th in Valle d’Aosta. 2017 and 2018 saw him riding full time for UAE and there hasn’t been a lot to write home about. He did complete the 2017 Giro and 2018 Vuelta, and 12th in the 2018 California wasn’t too dusty. Not a lot, though.

More, please. But at the front.
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What does a breakout look like? 2019 is his last year with UAE on this contract, and you’d have to assume they are going to want to see a return on the investment (he was a stagiare with the project back in the Lampre days). We’re grading on a scale here, and I’m not holding him to the same standards as Bernal, or even Kuss. Contributing solidly in the mountains for the likes of Martin and Henao would be a huge step forward, whilst he’s certainly skilled enough to pick up some results for himself in lesser races.

What makes me think a breakout is coming? There’s a failing in cycling fans to give up on guys too soon. Yeah, Bernal made the leap into the world tour look easy, but Bernal isn’t normal. Ravasi’s only 24, he’s not necessarily been in the most nurturing environment, and he’s had two years to get used to the peloton. He rode well with the break in stage 13 of this Vuelta and the signs are there that he’s not lost his junior talent. We just have to hope he’ll show it. For one more year, I’m a believer.

And now for something completely different – the FSA-DS “one and two pointers” league.

I was reminded after the season finished that I never tied a bow around this league. The results are in, and you can review all the teams here. Congratulations go to Larrick!

This was an interesting experiment. It proved a couple of things to me, which I’d long suspected. The first is that the “100 points returned per point spent” rule of thumb simply doesn’t apply at the lowest scores. Not ever, but certainly not in 2018. There were too many good guys lurking down in the cheapest realms. The second is that finding those guys isn’t easy.

One of my better picks last offseason.
Khalid Desouki/Getty Images

The moral of the story? Build a safe structure of comparatively expensive riders, and treat your 1- and 2-pointers as lottery tickets. A couple of winners down here will vault you up the leaderboard.

Also, my “first team” beat my “second team” which is a relief. There was a team somewhere in my top 50 riders that was just about unbeatable - but we can all claim that.