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2019 Neo Pros to Watch

and to agonize over including (or not having included) on your vds team

UCI Road World Championships - Day Three
Watch out Jasper, there’s a new chocolate boy in town!
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

As the hour of reckoning approaches to submit your FSA DS team, I figured now would be as good a time as any to make a list of new riders that you should consider dumping your much-agonized-over selections for (or rue that you didn’t pick after having submitted already). Later in the season, Andrew may have a post that discusses the neo pro riders with an actual expert on the matter. This is no such post. This post is simply a missive from a malcontent with no particular special insight (if there’s really any question on this point, simply refer to my last year’s neo pro post) designed to make your FSA DS decisions even more maddening.

Before we get to the list, I want to try to try to dispel one long-held belief-- that a neo pro is not going to have the opportunity to score points. That may have been true in the past for many reasons, but 2018 turned that notion on its head. Let’s examine through vds-hazed glasses. In 2018, there were 4 neo pros that scored more than 1,000 points and 7 others that scored at least 600 points. 2 of those 11 neo pros where first year neo pro riders-- Alvaro Hodeg and Fabio Jakobsen. The list of 11 riders also doesn’t include Egan Bernal, who even though was riding in the World Tour for the first time with Sky, had rode 2 years previously at the pro-conti level.

2018 Neo Pros

Pascal Ackermann 1645 2 24
Maximilian Schachmann 1261 2 24
Enric Mas Nicolau 1100 2 23
Fabio Jakobsen 1074 1 21
Richard Carapaz 880 2 25
Wout Van Aert 770 2 23
Sam Oomen 701 2 22
Davide Ballerini 670 2 23
Alvaro Hodeg 662 1 21
Guillaume Martin 600 2 23
Hugo Hofstetter 600 2 23

2017, on the other hand, was a much sparser year for neo pro breakouts. Only 4 scored at least 600 points.

2017 Neo Pros

Fernando Gaviria 1942 2 22
Gianni Moscon 1269 2 23
Rudy Barbier 625 1 24
Lilian Calmejane 602 2 24

2016 and 2015 also did not come close to 2018.

2016 Neo Pros

Dylan Groenewegen 1663 2 22
Fernando Gaviria 1178 1 22
Gianni Moscon 730 1 22
Oliver Naesen 710 2 25
Tiesj Benoot 705 2 22
Pierre Latour 671 2 22

2015 Neo Pros

Edward Theuns 1120 2 23
Tiesj Benoot 1095 1 20
Julian Alaphilippe 1005 2 22
Adam Yates 719 2 22

Looking at those stats, it’s clear that neo pro riders out performed their usual returns in 2018. The only question is whether this is a statistical blip or a trend. I don’t know the answer to that, but it certainly feels like the pro ranks are brimming with young talent these days, particularly in a 2018 which saw some of the older talent whither- including Alexander Kristoff, Nairo Quintana, Marcel Kittel, etc. Maybe we’ll get a reversion to the mean this year and the old fogies will find their sea legs, but I sense there may be some larger trend at play, but I’ll leave that question for another day.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get to the list. And like last year, I’m just going to discuss first year neo pros. And I’m not going to include the likes of Tadej Pogacar, Jasper Philipsen, Mathieu van der Poel, or Remco Evenepoel. If you don’t know who they are or have them in your team already, I’m sorry Grandpa/ma Rebellin, but you’re too lost already.

10. Jaakko Hanninen

When you come 3rd in last year’s Worlds in Holl edition of the u23 championships, you deserve a mention on this list, beating out this year’s 1 point wonders Tadej Pogacar and Mark Padun. Jaako also beat the likes of Rein Taaramae and Lilian Calmejane in the French SSR race- Tour de Gevaudan Occitainie, so it made sense that AG2R would scoop him up. You probably shouldn’t do the same for your vds team at this point, as he won’t start riding for AG2R until midway through the year, so consider this more of a sneak preview for 2020. The young Finnish rider, at least according to some questionably translated sources, would ride his bike 30 kilometers to and from school each day and fancies himself a climber who would one day like to be a grand tour contender. He’ll look to become the most famous Finnish cyclist since such household names as Jussi Veikkanen and Kjell Carlström.

Who should I dump from my vds team for him: Chris Fontecchio

9. Stan Dewulf

Stan has quite the name to live up to

The name game is strong with many of these new riders (and just wait until Barnabas Peak turns pro next year). The Belgian wolf pup doesn’t find himself riding with the wolf pack this year, but rather on a young and promising Lotto Soudal team. Dewulf makes it on this list by having won the u23 Paris-Roubaix last year, ahead of vds 2 point favorite Jasper Philipsen among other promising riders. That race hasn’t always been the best harbinger of future success, as only Bob Jungels stands out as a recent winner who has flourished in the pro ranks (though Mike Teunissen is bound to break out one of these days). This year is probably more of a learning experience for Dewulf, though he already has a top 10 stage finish in San Juan this year.

Who should I dump from my vds team for him: The shark pup, Antonio Nibali

8. Aksel Nommela

The long reign of Taaramae as the best Estonian rider may soon becoming to an end as Aksel Nommela finds himself in the pro ranks on the Wallonie-Bruxelles team on the basis of some strong consistent performances in the Belgian SSR season last year. Nommela says that he prefers the cobbled races and looks like he packs a decent sprint. In a team with the likes of Baptiste Planckaert and Kevin Dehaes as the other house sprinters, he should get a fair number of chances as well.

Who should I dump from my vds team for him: Tanel Kangert

7. Marc Hirschi

Everyone probably remembers the Swiss chocolate bar from his dominant performance in the u23 World Championship in Innsbruck last year. Less gaudy of a performance, but showing his maturity, was his 4th place in GC in the Tour de l’Ain, where he outperformed many of his elders. And he won’t even turn 21 until the start of the Vuelta this year. Perhaps he should change his name to Lindt because he’s not just some discarded Halloween candy fodder. However, despite his talent, he’s probably more of a long term investment as he rides on the traditional and highly regimented Sunweb squad where he’ll likely have to earn his golden ticket to the points factory, particularly on a team with many similarly-attributed riders. Where in the pecking order will he be with Jan Bakelants, Chris Hamilton, Jai Hindley, Sam Oomen, Robert Power, Nicolas Roche, Michael Storer, and Louis Vervaeke?

Who should I dump from my vds team for him: the wrong Mark-- Padun

6. Robert Stannard

Stannard has a similar problem to Hirschi on the Mitchelton-Scott team-- too many cooks and not enough kitchens. Stannard, though, may have an advantage as it looks like he has a diverse culinary repertoire-- he finished on the podium in baby Flanders and the baby Giro, won baby Lombardia, and mixed it up with the sprinters and climbers both in l’Avenir. He’s also ambitious-- not only did he move up to the WT level several days after turning 20, he also moved up in nationality, switching from Kiwi to Australian in 2017. While normally it may be seen as a learning year for Stannard, with many of the team’s other resources devoted to grand tour results, don’t be surprised if he finds more opportunities to ride for himself.

Who should I dump from my vds team for him: the wrong Stannard-- Ian.

5. Max Kanter

Germany has always been a sprinter-factory, but this year the number of German fastmen is ridiculous-- Pascal Ackermann, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, John Degenkolb, Max Walscheid, Phil Bauhaus, and now joining those Teutonic ranks-- Max Kanter. But it’s not the German comparison that finds him on this list. Instead, it’s the similarity to another sprinter of the Dutch variety that broke out last year-- Fabio Jakobsen. Like Jakobsen before his breakout year, Kanter won a stage of l’Avenir last year. Like Jakobsen before his breakout year, Kanter won two stages of Olympia’s Tour. Like Jakobsen before his breakout year, Kanter won his u23 national championship. And when Kanter and Jakobsen had a chance to go head to head in the bunch sprint behind the front group at the u23 Paris-Roubaix, it was Kanter who came out ahead.

Who should I dump from my vds team for him: Andre Greipel

4. Julius van den Berg

This year’s FSA DS competition is like a U-Haul rental facility-- so many vans to choose from. And like the typical U-Haul experience, you’ll probably end up renting the van with no air conditioning and a bad transmission-- aka the Van Garderen. Let me see what I can do, though, to have you driving off the lot in a brand new van den berg. Special features of this van include the u23 Dutch championship, a 2nd place in the u23 Paris-Roubaix, and a 2nd place at a stage of Binck Bank. If you can’t afford a van Aert or van Avermaet, this is the van for you.

The Tejay has seen better days

Who should I dump from my vds team for him: Any van, just please not van genechten.

3. Gino Mader

There is at least one benefit of not being picked by a strong world tour team like Deceuninck-Quick Step and Sunweb (besides not have to deal with Lef or a militaristic regiment) and that is opportunity. So when life gives you lemons or puts you on Dimension Data, make lemonade. Mader finds himself on a team where he’ll immediately have opportunity— as he’s only competing against Louis Meintjes, Roman Kreuziger, and Ben O’Connor to be DiDa’s preferred climber. Finishing 11th in the first stage race in San Juan this year and his podium in l’Avenir and strong performance in the u23 world championship last year should put him at the top of this meager pile. Of the young Swiss neo pros, Hirschi might have had the better u23 career, but Mader is the one that will get the chance to race in his first year.

Who should I dump from my vds team for him: Any DiDa rider, except Valgren.

2. Rui Oliveira

Track Cycling - European Championships Glasgow 2018: Day Six
The new eraserhead?
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Against all odds and reason, the former Lampre team looks to be a contender this year. Sure, they brought in a lot of top riders, as well as a revamped team of sports directors, doctors, and management, but they also acquired a crop of uber-talented neo pros. Tadej Pogacar and Jasper Philipsen might get all of the attention in that group, but the Oliveira brothers might outperform both. Did you know that besides acquiring every talented rider looking for a contract that they could, UAE also expanded its race program this year— already entering a lot of races in the Belgium SSR circuit. Before the real season has even gotten underway, they have 45 one day races on their program— rivaling the likes of other SSR stalwarts like Lotto Soudal and Jumbo Visma. Kristoff and Gaviria are going to be busy in the bigger races, so look for an opportunity for the neo pros in the smaller races. The only question is picking the right Oliveira— Ivo or Rui, but I’d go with the one that already had top 10 finishes in Handzame and the Primus Classic last year.

Who should I dump from my vds team for him: Jasper Philipsen

1. Matteo Moschetti

Trek was more than happy to let Nizzolo walk last year and you should follow Luca Guercilena’s lead and leave him off your vds team for the same reason— the development of the Machete from Milano. This machete is ready to chop through the pro ranks after a year that saw him take an impressive victory in the Vuelta a Burgos as well as winning some smaller stage races. This year he finds himself on a Trek team bereft of sprinters that are not focused on the classics. The opportunity and talent is there and at 22 years of age he should be a little riper than the other neo pros on this list.

Who should I dump from my vds team for him: Giacomo Nizzolo