Every season, there are a few riders who seem to come out of nowhere to post major results.
The 2013 season saw more than its fair share, with the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), and Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) ride out of relative obscurity to present their credentials as main players for the future.
One breakout season is no guarantee of long-term success. Some riders have difficulty living up to the pressure of expectations and media attention that come with quick wins. Others find themselves marked, or struggle when they move up to the most important races of the calendar.
The past season also provided glimpses of riders on the cusp of greatness. Looking into the crystal ball, here are five riders to watch for 2014:
Fabio Aru (Astana), Italy, 23
For a nation with such a deep cycling pedigree as Italy, there is a surprising dearth of talent coming down the pipeline. Moreno Moser (Cannondale), who’s already won the Tour of Poland in 2012 and Strade Bianche in 2013, is the leading light. Alongside Moser, Aru shines bright as a top prospect. In fact, it’s Aru, who joined Astana midway through 2012 after finishing second in the Baby Giro to Joe Dombrowski (Sky), whom many see as Italy’s next promising stage racer behind teammate Vincenzo Nibali. Aru was on the frontline with Nibali during this year’s Giro d’Italia, helping to pace the “Shark” to the pink jersey. His 42nd overall result at the Giro doesn’t say much about his potential, in large part because he was working for Nibali.
In 2014, Aru will likely lead Astana at the Giro. With Nibali taking aim at the Tour de France, Aru will have his first chance to show what he’s made of.
“Aru is going to be a big rider,” Martinelli told VeloNews earlier this season. “He can continue to gain experience alongside Vincenzo, but he will get his chances. I could see him winning a Giro one day. He has the qualities to win a grand tour.”
Wilco Kelderman (Belkin), Netherlands, 22
This tall, ever-improving all-rounder will enter his third season in the top ranks with Belkin in 2014. Already a proven time trialist, which helped pave the way to overall victory at the Tour of Denmark in August, Kelderman should continue to shine in shorter stage races that feature a decisive time trial. After posting some solid under-23 results, he turned pro in 2012 and punched into a handful of top-10s in his rookie season, including seventh overall and the best young rider at the Amgen Tour of California.
This year, he continued to improve. In addition to snatching overall victory at the Danish tour, he was sixth at the Santos Tour Down Under, fifth at Tour de Romandie, and 17th at his grand tour debut at the Giro d’Italia. Sport director Erik Dekker said the coming season will prove critical.
“We do not know how far he can go. He can climb well for a tall rider, and his time trialing is very good,” Dekker said. “We will see if he can develop into a grand tour rider.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kelderman short-listed for Belkin’s Tour team, and in perhaps a few years, have a chance to see “how far he can go.”
Bob Jungels (Trek Factory Racing), Luxembourg, 21
He’s tall, he’s fast, and, at just 21, he’s already a seasoned pro despite riding only one season in the big leagues. Despite riding in the shadow of teammate and captain Fabian Cancellara, Jungels is poised for a breakout spring classics season in 2014.
Trek will give him his chances at some of the secondary classics, perhaps such races as Ghent-Wevelgem and some of the smaller stage races. A winner of the U23 Paris-Roubaix in 2012, he’s brash, fearless, and loves racing his bike. Also a solid time trialist, Jungels is just the kind of rider Trek is hoping to build its team around for the future.
“Jungels will see more chances in 2014,” said Trek general manager Luca Guercilena. “He was a big winner as an espoirs, so we want to give him chances this season to win in the pros. We don’t want him to lose that winning spirit.”
Janier Acevedo (Garmin-Sharp), Colombia, 28
Hardly a spring chicken, Acevedo will be UCI WorldTour rookie with Garmin next year after ripping through the U.S. calendar the past few seasons. In 2013, only the top pros could knock back the scrappy Colombian. He scored podiums at California and Utah, and rode to fourth at Colorado and fifth at Gila to win the UCI America Tour ranking. Whether he can transfer that success to European roads remains to be seen, but if he can handle the rigors of the flats and the fight for positioning going into the climbs, he should still be able to shine in the mountains.
Garmin CEO Jonathan Vaughters told Velo editor Neal Rogers he hasn’t seen such impressive screening results since Tom Danielson.
“Of course, that doesn’t necessarily translate on the road in your first year at the WorldTour level,” Vaughters said. “The expectation for him is that he can be a right-hand man for guys like Dan Martin, or Andrew Talansky, in grand tours. Whether that means he’ll race the Giro, and/or the Vuelta next year, we just don’t know. We haven’t seen him in WorldTour races, but he’s a guy that can probably race to win at the Tour of the Basque country, or the Dauphiné, or the USA Pro Challenge, we need to just work on his time trial. He should be capable of being an outright leader right off the bat.”
Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), Great Britain, 21
He’s already been a world champion and shared a podium with his hero Bradley Wiggins (Sky), when he was third at this summer’s Tour of Britain, but Yates still hasn’t raced for a top-flight pro team yet. Yates (no relation to former pro and sport director Sean Yates) won the points race world title on the track in Minsk, and then hit the road mid-season with the British national team to win two stages at the Tour de l’Avenir, only to follow that up with a stage and third at the British tour behind winner Wiggins.
Yates will join twin brother Adam, who was second overall at l’Avenir, at Orica-GreenEdge for 2014. It will be interesting to see how he finds his place on a team already loaded with sprinters and opportunists, but Yates vows to take full advantage of every chance he gets. And Orica promises to offer the twins a chance to stretch their legs, one reason why they chose the Australians over their hometown team Sky.
“There are so many good riders at Sky, so it seems that young riders kind of get stalled there because of the hierarchy of Sky,” Yates told VeloNews last month. “They’re set up for their leaders, so it’s hard for a young rider to get established. It was best for me to sort of break out, and try something new. I do not want to get caught up in that web.”