3. John Degenkolb: Confirmation of raw talent
John Degenkolb was always nibbling at the edge of big-time success, with insiders at the former HTC-Highroad, where he won two stages at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné, singing his praises.
With a move to Argos-Shimano in 2012, he finally took a huge bite out of the peloton with no less than five stage wins at the Vuelta a España.
Which one was the best? Take your pick, because he won with cool confidence that defied his 23 years. His first, in stage 2 in Viana, was probably the most telling, because few were picking him to win.
Sky and Orica-GreenEdge were driving the final surge when Degenkolb exploded off the wheel to stab his bike across the line victoriously ahead of Allan Davis and Ben Swift.
Granted, the mountainous 2012 Vuelta, with no less than 10 summit finales, didn’t draw the deepest sprinters’ field, but Degenkolb made it over the climbs and picked up four more stage wins.
The young German ace bookended his season with fifth at Milan-San Remo (second in the field sprint) and fourth at Paris-Tours, revealing he has the chops to ride longer classics as well.
With Argos graduating to the WorldTour in 2013, Degenkolb looks to be just getting started. Team brass promise to share the wealth between Kittel and Degenkolb this season. Kittel is best when it’s long, fast and flat, while Degenkolb is more like an all-terrain vehicle, who can win in a variety of circumstances and conditions. Fourth at the worlds in Valkenburg, Degenkolb should just keep getting better with age.