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One Bloke’s Guide to the Next Men’s Cycling Talent Tsunami

A look at the young rider ranks for guys who didn’t pop yet, but will soon

26th UEC Road European Championships 2020 - Men’s U23 Individual Time Trial
Tom Pidcock at the Euro Champs
Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images

For a couple years now, the story of men’s cycling has been a non-stop assault on the beleaguered riders in their athletic prime from below, as a tsunami of young talent overwhelms the sport and at times our senses. Pick just about any story of the last four months and you’ll get the picture. I am out of things to say about guys like Wout Van Aert, Tadej Pogacar and so on. So I’ll do the next best thing: start a new list of young guys on their way up.

75th Tour of Spain 2020 - Stage Seventeen
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Last year’s “list,” if you can call it that, included those two, plus the following riders who have already confirmed their arrival: van der Poel, Evenepoel, Pedersen, Bernal, Ganna, Hirschi, Asgreen, Tao Hart, Almeida, Vlasov, Dani Martinez, Cosnefroy, Sosa and Hindley. All of these guys are disqualified from further projection of their future greatness. For them, the future is here.

This list is therefore made up of guys who might be starting to score at the elite ranks, or who have a past history of success in U23 or Juniors which make them riders of interest, curiosity... maybe even obsession (in case of any Belgians). The comments below are pretty superficial; I am not a talent evaluator, nor do I get to watch many U23 or junior races, so feel free to correct some of my information, add names to the list, and so on. However, this list was compiled from a few articles here and there, as well as from 2021 World Tour team rosters — because those guys are talent evaluators, and presumably if they are snapping up kids from the development ranks, it’s for a good reason. I also hunted through results to find a few guys who didn’t get a WT ticket punched yet, since not everyone is in the same hurry to carry bottles for full-fledged grownups. Long story short, I hope this is a comprehensive list of riders to watch on the men’s side, though I’m sure it isn’t perfect.

A few caveats that I can think of... first off, 2020 was a super weird year! It almost goes without saying, but since this exercise consists of trying to judge guys based on recent results, throw in the big stoppage and sudden restart as another awkward factor, especially with riders who looked great until this year. Some results might be misleading where I’ve relied on stage wins. Do the U23 guys let a break stay away sometimes if it’s full of lesser guys? Probably. Conversely, lack of results can be misleading too: at this young age a guy might still be competing in track, cross, MTB... all stuff that is building his case for future success without being reflected in road results. I’ve noted a couple trackies who are focusing on the Olympics, for example. Finally, we have had many decades of U23 winners — world champs, classics victors, GC successes — that ended up not predicting future greatness. I wouldn’t argue that all of these guys will be great. But I would be pretty shocked if the next great riders weren’t somewhere on this list.

[One thing to keep in mind here — almost all of the riders on this list are older than Remco Evenepoel. Dear god...]

Listed below alphabetically. Age is as of 12.31.2020. And a couple categories at the bottom, once you scroll through all the names.

3rd Tour of Colombia 2020 – Stage 4
Photo by Maximiliano Blanco/Getty Images

Juan Diego Alba Bolivar, 23, Movistar, climber

The young Colombian comes off a very strong Giro Bio in 2019 and made his World Tour debut this year. Not much to show yet, but that’s normal.

Giovanni Aleotti, 21, Bora, climber

Fourth in the Giro Bio this year, top five on the big stages. As impressive was his second at the Tour de l’Avenir last year behind Foss, although several of the riders on this list outdueled him there.

Stanislaw Aniolkowski, 23, Bingoal Casino (Pro Conti), sprinter

He spent the last two years racking up 13 wins for the CCC Development Team, including the Polish road race championship. Perhaps there’s a reason he’s not heading straight for the WT level, but he’s got a nice resume to build on regardless.

3rd Tour of Colombia 2020 – Stage 5
Photo by Maximiliano Blanco/Getty Images

Andres Camilo Ardila, 21, UAE, climber

Dominant winner of the 2019 Giro Bio, the Colombian had a rough introduction to the World Tour this year. He’s spent minimal time in Europe, so while several articles mentioned him as a rider to watch, we might need to be patient too.

Thymen Arensman, 21, Sunweb, climber

Arensman just got himself some TV time at the Vuelta, with a couple high finishes from breakaways on climbing stages. He was second at the Tour de l’Avenir behind Pogacar two years ago, so there’s a foundation there too.

75th Tour of Spain 2020 - Stage Thirteen
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Andrea Bagioli, 21, Deceunink Quick Step, climber

Not sure if Bagioli is more of a stage racer or classics guy, maybe both. He has a slew of impressive results to his name, including a few this year as a neo-pro, like the time he beat Primoz Roglic to win the first stage of the Tour de l’Ain. He also won a Coppi e Bartali stage this year, and took big U23 wins last year at the Ronde de l’Isard, Giro della Valle d’Aosta, and Piccolo Giro di Lombardia. DNF’d on stage 16 of the Vuelta earlier this month.

Samuele Battistella, 22, NTT, classics rider

A 2019 world champion in the U23 road race, Battistella moved up to the World Tour this year and showed some ability to hang with the big boys in the big races, like his making the final selection in the Bretagne Classic. NTT even had him ride all the rescheduled spring classics: Liege, Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, etc., and while he didn’t snag a result, it’s a healthy way to launch his career.

Sebastian Berwick, 21, Israel Start-Up Nation, climber

Not many results but he was second to only Jai Hindley at the Herald Sun Tour this year. That result looks better and better.

16th BinckBank Tour 2020 - Stage 4
Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Stefan Bissegger, 22, EF Pro Cycling, classics/big engine

Bissegger still has Olympic ambitions on the track, but when that’s over, he has a nice road career waiting. After six wins for the Swiss Racing Academy last year, EF brought him to the WT this season and he scored some very intriguing results: third in a short ITT and fourth in a sprint at the BinckBank Tour; fifth in the Giro della Toscana sprint; and third behind Stefan Kung and Sylvan Dillier in the Swiss Nats ITT. Crashed out of Flanders, so I guess he’s officially a classics guy.

Mikkel Bjerg, 22, UAE, big engine

Bjerg was already a rider to watch in the time trials, after two world titles as a U23. The Dane crashed out of the Omloop, then in the restart got programmed for the Giro d’Italia, where he turned some heads with third on the opening ITT and another third on the hard breakaway stage to Roccaraso. Not glamorous but he hardly dissuaded anyone hoping for big things either.

Marco Brenner, 18, Sunweb, big engine

Uh, I don’t know how to read junior results, but Sunweb do and they signed him to a four year contract, touting his 20 wins last year mostly in Germany, notably including big wins in the junior men’s German national ITT and Road Race. Put him in both the “file for later” and “holy shit!” categories.

Alexys Brunel, 22, FDJ, classics/big engine

Brunel already has parts of two seasons in the World Tour, and was looking highly intriguing at Etoile de Besseges before the quarantines. He won the Paris-Tours U23 race last year, but that was nothing compared to outkicking Benoit Cosnefroy back in February in pretty much his second day at the World Tour.

Thomas Champion, 21, Cofidis, climber/GC

Not a ton of huge results in his past, but in this year’s abbreviated calendar he had four top five stage results in a mix of climbs and a 22km time trial. The results were top tens at the Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc and Ronde de l’Isard.

75th Tour of Spain 2020 - Stage Fifteen
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Clement Champoussin, 22, AG2R, climber/GC

AG2R had been bringing him along for a couple years, then promoted him after he beat a bunch of guys on this list at the Giro del Friuli Venezia Giulia last year. He scored a nice 8th place in the Tour de Luxembourg before going to the Vuelta and making some real waves. His 17th in the time trial was especially noteworthy.

Kevin Colleoni, 21, Mitchelton Scott, climber

Colleoni has a pretty consistent record of climbing prowess across a few years now at the Giro Bio (3rd overall this year), the U23 Lombardia, and several other events on home soil. Not sure if he’s a legacy kid? There were a couple other Colleonii in Pro Cycling Stats (PCS) about 25 years ago.

Filippo Conca, 22, Lotto-Soudal, climber

Sort of tracking Colleoni’s results, because what else is an Italian climber to do in a truncated U23 season anyway? The numbers look better for other guys, but Conca has been in the mix consistently when the kids have hit the high mountains, and the precise results are notoriously unreliable indicators of future success.

Alessandro Covi, 22, UAE, classics climber

Covi has gotten results on a variety of courses, including the Giro Bio climbs and GC, before making an impression this year at the top level (9th in Brabantse Pijl, second in the Giro dell’Appennino). He got stuck at home with COVID or we would have seen him in the Vuelta. Interestingly, he was 19th on the BinckBank stage in Geraardsbergen, so he has some real classics crossover potential, though at 145 pounds he’s still small enough for the climbers category.

55th Tirreno-Adriatico 2020 - Stage 8
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Alberto Dainese, 22, Sunweb, sprinter

My favorite name on this list to say, in part because “vai vai” in Roman becomes “dai dai” or even “daje daje” if you want to get all Francesco Totti about it. Dainese is from Rome, the first cyclist I can think of from the Eternal City, though I’m sure there have been a handful. Anyway, he took the U23 European road race last year, which earned him a World Tour ticket this season, and took a stage of the Herald Sun Tour before the realities of being a new kid in the bunch gallops took hold. He’s one of many guys on this list to come out of the SEG academy in the Netherlands, so he’ll undoubtedly feel at home on more courses than just the Italian ones.

David Dekker, 22, Jumbo Visma, sprinter

Son of the famed Dutch sprinter Erik Dekker, young David was off to a good start last winter with two minor wins and third at Le Samyn among some World Tour teams (he was with SEG at the time). But a horror crash at the Giro Bio ended his season in late summer, albeit with Dekker relatively unscarred from flipping in a hole on a descent at 80km. His win totals aren’t off the charts, four in two years, so maybe he’ll be more of a classics guy.

Mark Donovan, 21, Sunweb, climber/GC

British Cycling keeps putting out power-loaded GC guys and Sunweb keeps signing young studs, so it was only a matter of time for this Venn diagram to include an area of intersection. Donovan and his buddy Michael Storer got into a couple cool breaks in the mountains of La Vuelta, on the Farrapona and Covatilla climbs, so yeah, he can climb. Donovan has been mixing it up with the big boys for a couple seasons now, which explains the lack of eye-popping results, but is also probably good news. He definitely showed some ITT prowess at the U23 level.

Eddie Dunbar, 24, INEOS, climber/classics

Too old for this list? Maybe, but I haven’t heard much talk about him, so I’ll toss him in here. Dunbar has been in with the top punchy climbers like Ulissi enough to consider him a threat to take points. He was also 22nd in the 2019 Giro, but then missed this year’s race after breaking his collarbone in Tirreno.

Nils Eekhoff, 22, Sunweb, classics

He’s more than a season into his World Tour career, highlighted by winning the Dutch Nats Road Roace (non-van der Poel division) when he finished alone 1.38 up on all the non-van der Poels. That’s pretty good! He had a couple top tens at the Bretagne Classic and first BinckBank stage — two spots ahead of Mathieu van der Poel! Anyway, if we can stop comparing him to Mathieu van der Poel, he’ll probably be successful. Even better would be if we can stop talking about the time he U23 world title he had taken away for drafting. Kids make mistakes, and for his sake I hope he becomes known for something undeniably positive soon.

55th Tirreno-Adriatico 2020 - Stage 3
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Pascal Eenkhoorn, 23, Jumbo Visma, power/classics

Another rider on the verge of aging out of this list, particularly since he has three seasons at the WT level, but he’s a Paris-Roubaix entrant, not something you toss a kid into unless it’s his thing. He’s also 6’1” so I think we know where his interests lie. Give him a few years to build up to that stuff.

Tobias Foss, 23, Jumbo Visma, all-rounder

Another one from the aging out of this list category, Foss is Norway’s next big, big hope. His skills aren’t unlike his hero Edvald Boasson Hagen, which is to say he can race on the cobbles, climb, and time trial well, so what he does with his career is anyone’s guess. But he beat most of the names here in the Tour de l’Avenir last year, powering his win with a strong ITT and solid climbing. This year was marred by a crash in Valencia early on and... whatever knocked him out of the Giro, not sure. His sophomore season will be more telling I think.

Patrick Gamper, 23, Bora, rouleur

Hm, looks like another strong time trialler who can do this or that in the classics.

Ian Garrison, 22, DQS, classics/power

The rare sighting of Homo Americansis on this list, the kid from Atlanta has a US ITT title to his name and a few other strong performances against the watch, including second at Worlds in U23 last year behind Bjerg. Looks like he will get a few shots at the cobbles.

Abner Gonzalez, 20, Movistar, climber/GC

So little information, but at least some of it is in the “holy shit!” category. He’s Puerto Rican, which is cool, but more relevant is that he’s been in Spain racing for a while, so when he’s won climbs on solo attacks, or time trials, it probably means something. He’s done both, by the way. So yeah.

Kaden Groves, 22, Mitchelton Scott, sprinter/classics

I can’t quite tell for sure, but it sounds like Groves has some Michael Mathews in him, as in the ability to go uphill when necessary in the pursuit of victory. Michelton baptized him by fire this year after the restart in places like De Ronde, which notwithstanding his DNF is a sign of how highly they think of him. But more tellingly perhaps is that by his second week as a WT rider he had bagged two stages of the Herald Sun Tour, trading wins with Dainese and Jai Hindley.

103rd Giro d’Italia 2020 - Stage Seven
Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images,

Simon Guglielmi, 23, FDJ, climber

The young Frenchman also spent whatever you call the 2020 season at the top level, mostly getting his ass kicked by the difficulty of that move, but his U23 years included impressive performances at the same old telling races, the Ronde de l’Isard, Tour de l’Avenir and Giro Bio, where he consistently hung in on the climbs and the GC.

Mulu Kinfe Hailemichael, 21, Nippo-Delko-Provence, climber

Hailemichael looks like Ethiopia’s first big talent possibility, or first in a while? DiData had been bringing him along. His big climbing results look a lot like Conca’s or Colleoni’s, so maybe.

Ethan Hayter, 22, INEOS, everything?

Hayter has pretty much arrived, with a win in the Giro dell’Appennino sprint and second at the Memorial Marco Pantani. But before he was a budding WT rider, he made pretty significant waves in the climbs and time trials as well. As a track rider from British Cycling who seems intent on pursuing gold at the Tokyo Olympics (still?), he might be more in the mold of Geraint Thomas with a faster finish. Hayter also has a (presumably annoying) little brother Leo who is lighting up the same races three years after Ethan for the Sunweb Dev Team. That alone should keep Ethan motivated to succeed ASAP.

106th Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2020 - Men Elite
Photo by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

Ben Healy, 20, Trinity Racing, climber?

Don’t ask me a ton of questions about Irish cycling, because I probably can’t answer them. But if your question is, who beat Nico Roche and won the Irish national ITT and road race championships this year? It’s this kid, all of 20 years old and racing for a small continental team, not quite ready to consider world tour cycling. Somehow Healy is the U23 ITT champ, even though he had the fastest time. But he’ll inherit Sam Bennett’s green and orange for next year, wherever he is. Oh, and he’s rang up a couple other wins against some of the guys here at the Ronde de l’Isard and Tour de l’Avenir too.

Johan Jacobs, 23, Movistar, classics

Am I overreacting to his second place (behind Tom Pidcock) at the 2019 Paris-Roubaix Espoirs? No, I am not, because he was in the finale at Gent-Wevelgem this year and hung on at several other big races (Ronde, BinckBank), which means his arrow is pointing up.

Julius Johansen, 21, UNO-X, all-rounder?

The 2017 Junior world champion has had a comparatively weird rise in the sport, appearing in some senior races at age 19 and scoring a dominant win at the Olympia’s Tour, while hanging in with the big boys in a few episodes of the Danmark Rundt. He appears to be WT-ready, after several 2.HC and 2.1 events, but he’s still with his small team for now. My guess is that he’s still prioritizing track, as so many do close to the Olympics, so file him away for whenever Tokyo is done and dusted.

Alexander Konychev, 22, Michelton Scott, classics/all-rounder

Another legacy! The Italian-born and bred son of Dimitri Konychev is now 18 months into his WT career, and has outsprinted Dainese a few times, to go along with his time trialling prowess. He also finished de Ronde and Gent-Wevelgem this year, clearly growing into his profession.

Gijs Leemreize, 20, Jumbo Visma, climber

Not seeing a lot of big numbers, but for Jumbo to pluck a kid this young off the youth team and give him a three year deal says quite a lot. He did take the La Redoute Strava segment off Philippe Gilbert’s hands this year. Oh, and speaking of hands, his year was almost scuttled by a horrible finger injury at the Vuelta a Burgos, but he was back racing a month later, mixing it up successfully with several other guys on this list at the Ronde de l’Isard.

93rd UCI Road World Championships 2020 - Men Elite Road Race
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Andreas Leknessund, 21, Jumbo Visma, all-rounder

Want some big numbers? Here’s your guy. From his junior year in 2017 he’s had 16 wins, nine against the watch, and just got done crushing the Giro del Friuli Venezia Giulia so thoroughly that he took the GC, mountains and points classifications. His two successive Norwegian ITT championships were against guys like Foss and Edvald Boasson Hagen. The mass starts might be a challenge for him at first blush in ‘21 but look for him to score points in time trials right away.

Gino Mäder, 23, NTT(?), climber

Mäder is another rider who arguably has graduated from this exercise, but anyway. His NTT team is on the verge of collapse, but if that happens, Mäder gets snapped up pretty fast. He’s a proven climber, having just finished 20th in the Vuelta, second at the Alto de la Covatilla stage, so he’s all ready to go. NTT signed him after a U23 season in 2018 where he racked up five wins, including high mountain stages, and his ITT form isn’t half bad either.

Brandon McNulty, 22, UAE, climber/power

Another graduate? I’m playing a bit fast and loose with the parameters of this exercise here, but he’s only 22! Anyway, 15th at the Giro including third in the big ITT, and a slew of other results against the watch. He’s popping, now.

Jordi Meeus, 22, Bora, sprinter/classics

For a guy Wielerflits says is “not a pure sprinter” he sure seems to win sprints. Next Tom Boonen? I won’t do that to the guy, but he’s a big, strong kid who can be in the mix of several different types of races. The kind of kid who can get up and down the hellingen. He’s won Gooikse Pijl and taken fourth there as well, showing he’s already a factor at the 200-km distance.

Johnathan Milan, 20, Team Friuli, sprinter

Results or no, a name like that sounds like the cyclist character from the Marvel Comics universe. So he must be pretty good. Aaaand... he is. He outsprinted Meeus for a Giro Bio stage win and routinely features in U23 sprint stages. He also seems to have a pretty big track thing going now, and with his age he might not be heading for the World Tour for a couple seasons.

Jhonatan Narvaez, 23, INEOS, climber

Narvaez barely belongs on this list, but for maybe being lost in the shuffle of young INEOS stars. The Ecuadorian got thrown to the wolves in 2019, but the results started coming in this year after the restart, when he won a scintillating duel with Bagioli in the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, trading stage wins and taking a 1” GC win. From there, he won a Giro stage, albeit from the breakaway, but still. He crashed out later, but I’m sure he enters the winter break feeling confident for 2021.

Barnabás Peák, 22, Mitchelton Scott, classics

A latecomer to cycling, the three-time Hungarian national champ (2x ITT, 1 road) was impressive enough to earn a Quick Step contract at age 20, where you could find him going top ten at Gran Piemonte. He switched to the Aussie outfit and ran the Ardennes classics this year, with no shining results, but he’s beaten a few guys on this list at the U23 level and is just getting started.

75th Tour of Spain 2020 - Stage Fifteen
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Jasper Philipsen, 22, UAE, sprinter/classics

Actually on his way to Alpecin-Fenix, which makes me happy — imagine van der Poel with some help? Anyway, Philipsen is easy to pigeonhole as a sprinter, and a stage win in the Vuelta, plus a near-miss in the Madrid sprint, would bolster that impression. But I’m not sure he’s a dominant sprinter, which means his classics form will be worth watching to see if that’s his avenue. I occasionally want to confuse him with Fabio Jakobsen (or did, before Jakobsen’s terrible crash), but he’s a smaller-bodied rider, which could come in handy in the hellingen.

Tom Pidcock, 21, INEOS, all-rounder

Pidcock is well known from the Cyclocross ranks, where he won world titles as a junior and U23, but on the road he is just as huge a talent, with a world junior ITT title and Paris-Roubaix wins in both juniors and espoirs. And then there was his dominant Giro Bio victory, which included three stages, two in the mountains. I’m struggling to think of what sort of race he can’t win.

Michel Ries, 22, Trek, climber

Not big numbers, he’s more like the Guy Behind the Guy (literally, by a minute or so) as far as his U23 palmares go. But he’s at Trek, running bottles and learning the ropes, and he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Carlos Rodriguez Cano, 19, INEOS, classics climber/time trialler

The Spanish teen got as much attention this year for his pursuit of an engineering degree in between races as he did for that racing. He didn’t race a ton, and when he did, he felt his way around the adult world of cycling, which is unimaginably amazing for a teenager. Gotta think INEOS know what they’re getting, but the numbers aren’t really there, hidden I think behind his history of mountain biking. He’s going to sneak up on the peloton fast.

Javier Romo, 21, Astana, ???

Romo is a triathlete who just won the U23 Spanish national championships and landed with Astana, and that’s literally all I can find out about him. Consider my eyebrows fully arched.

103rd Giro d’Italia 2020 - Stage Twenty
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Einer Rubio, 22, Movistar, climber

Winner of four races (three climbing stages and one classic) at the U23 level, Rubio showed in all the places I’ve been blogging about for about the last 72 hours (Giro Bio, Friuli, Piccolo Lombardia), and then placed sixth on the Giro d’Italia’s Sestriere stage (albeit from a break). That’s a quick trip up the pyramid.

Quinn Simmons, 19, Trek, all-rounder

Simmons’ season ended depressingly when he thrust himself into the latest wave of toxic politics, but maybe as the Trump years fade into the background he can get back to being known for cycling. Which would be great, because lost in that noise was his leap as a teenaged Juniors world champion straight to the World Tour, and frankly he handled his bike stuff awfully well. In 2019 he won 13 times, plus some points and mountains comps, making him one of the world’s top juniors over the classics and stage races alike. Attila Valter (see below) outdueled him in the mountain stage of the Tour of Hungary for the GC, but that sort of performance was remarkable enough. Perhaps even more impressive was his sixth in the Bretagne Classic-Ouest France, a puncheur’s event, where he made the final selection of a WT race. He and McNulty are the next two American hopes.

Robert Stannard, 22, Mitchelton Scott, climber/sprinter

The Aussie now has parts of three WT seasons under his belt, and has been a solid point-getter while advancing toward his prime years. He just finished his first grand tour, the Vuelta, with three top-ten stage finishes, including the Madrid sprint. While it looks like he climbs well enough, but the sprints pay the bills and he has a second place at the Giro dell’Appennino, behind Fernando Gaviria, as his top result.

Harrison Sweeny, 22, Lotto Soudal, climber

Hm, maybe marginal for this list, or maybe he’s just getting started. Sweeny was making incremental progress through the U23 ranks until this summer, when he burst out and won the Piccolo Lombardia and came close at a Friuli stage. Kind of a head-scratcher, without more info. But you don’t win Lombardia out of nowhere.

92nd UCI Road World Championships 2019 - Individual Time Trial Men Junior
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Antonio Tiberi, 19, Trek, big engine

The 2019 junior ITT world champion wet his beak in the World Tour at the Brabantse Pijl, not the easiest transition to adult life, but before that he was rounding out a strong debut at the U23 level, with a win in the Trofeo Citta di San Vendemiano (a 174km race that he won alone) and showed some power early in the Giro Bio flat stage.

Attila Valter, 22, FDJ, climber

The Hungarian spent all of 2019 rubbing elbows with some of the other U23s on this list, racking up top tens, including a home ITT nats win, a climbers’ stage of the Tour de l’Avenir, and fourth in the Piccolo Lombardia. This season he moved up to the big time, and completed the Giro d’Italia — which was supposed to have started back in Hungary — with a ninth in the Sestriere stage.

Maxim Van Gils, 21, Lotto-Soudal, climber

If we’re up to the letter “v” then it’s time to round up the Belgians and Dutchies. Van Gils, of the former, excels at climbing and spent all of 2020 contesting the win on mountainous terrain. Not with success, and we are still talking U23 level, but he’s been very consistent for a few years and will make his world tour debut in 2021.

Ilan Van Wilder, 20, Sunweb, climber/classics

Van Wilder is the more exciting version of Vansevenant, think? He’s a year younger and his resume is a bit more impressive, including beating Vansevenant by 4+ minutes at that Tour de l’Avenir. Just one result, I know, but he was a hot commodity during the summer recruitment period.

91st UCI Road World Championships 2018 - Men Juniors Road Race
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Henri Vandenabeele, 20, Lotto Soudal, climber

You might just scroll down to Xandres Vervloesem or Viktor Verschaeve, they have nearly identical resumes. The case for Vandenabeele being the best of them would be his second place in the Giro Bio, behind Pidcock.

Mauri Vansevenant, 21, Quick Step, climber

Victory in the Giro della Valle d’Aosta Mont Blanc last year, plus sixth in the Tour de l’Avenir, earned the young Wallonian his promotion to the big time. Looks like a classics climber, but stage races shouldn’t be crossed off either. He’s the son of Wim Vansevenant, named for Melchior Mauri. Basically born to ride.

Kevin Vermaerke, 20, Sunweb, all-rounder

The American is one of several AXEON Hagens Berman riders graduating to the top level. Vermaerke punched his ticket last year by winning the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, a 170k version of the main event. Opportunities to race this year were sparse on the U23 stage racing side, but he still finished 18th overall at the Tour de Wallonie alongside the big boys. Looks like he has some MTB in his palmares too.

Florian Vermeersch, 21, Lotto Soudal, classics/power

A promising crosser with six wins at the junior level, Vermeersch seems to have jumped over to the road as his primary occupation. Thus far his only win was the U23 Belgian champs last year, when he put paid to a couple guys on this list. But as a WT rider, he already bagged ninth on the BinckBank GC, which is a pretty decent way to start out. Vermeersch also made it into the second chase group at Gent-Wevelgem and took fourth in the Brussels Cycling Classic. Dunno if he’ll be great, but at 21 he’s already showing he belongs, which is impressive.

Viktor Verschaeve, 22, Lotto Soudal, climber

Verschaeve trained with Lotto last winter and may have been in line for some world tour racing before the whole 2020 thing happened. Anyway, he’s got a very clear track record of climbing success throughout his U23 time, when he has won a stage of the Mont Blanc tour, taken second in the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege to Vermaerke, and finished ninth in the Giro Bio.

Cycling: 90th Road World Championships 2017 / Men Junior Road Race
Photo by KT/Tim De Waele/Corbis via Getty Images

Xandres Vervloesem, 20, Lotto Soudal, climber

Take your pick of the best Belgian Climbing Sensations listed here. It’s anyone’s guess who will get there, at least those of us who don’t have Lotto’s proprietary power data. But the younger Vervloesem won the Ronde de l’Isard this year to make his statement that he was ready for the next level.

Matthew Walls, 22, Bora, sprinter/classics

Walls has a few trophies around from his road racing exploits, and presumably a bunch more for his track days, which he appears to have spent 2020 concentrating on (see Games, Olympics).

Fred Wright, 21, Bahrain, classics

Honestly, this is getting a bit long and I’m not sure how to sort out the resume, but the kid has jumped away for a few wins as a U23, so he may have a nose for the line. Classics careers can take a long time to materialize, or not.

Georg Zimmerman, 23, CCC, climber

Germany hasn’t produced a ton of stage racers lately, so it was impressive to see him 21st at the Vuelta in Zimmerman’s debut season. He was fifth in the Tour de l’Avenir last year. His TT results aren’t notable so he may be more of a classics puncheur type.


71st Criterium du Dauphine 2019 - Stage Eight Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Lastly, I want to mention Bjorg Lambrecht, who would have been very much on this list had he not died from injuries suffered in a crash at the Tour de Pologne last year. At age 22, he finished in the top six in all of the Ardennes Classics, plus second in a Hammer Series stage as well as a stage of the Basque Tour. He won quite a lot as a U23 and was silver medalist in 2018 at the worlds U23 road race. I am sure those close to him remember him for more important things than his cycling career. But I’ve never compiled a list like this before, and I just wanted to take a moment to describe what would have been his place on it. Actually, he probably would have graduated off the list by now. Rest in peace.


Ready to Pop — Guys to look for in 2021

Bagioli, Bissegger, Bjerg, Brunel, Champoussin, Foss, Groves, Mäder, McNulty, Narvaez, Philipsen, Zimmerman

Big P-Potential

Brenner, Dainese, Foss, Hayter, Gonzalez, Leknessund, Pidcock, Rubio, Simmons, Tiberi, Van Wilder, Vandenabeele, Vervloesem

77th Tour of Poland 2020 - Stage 1
Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images