Last year I picked ten riders who I thought would have big seasons; a mixture of breakthrough talent and top level performers. It didn’t all go to plan but I’m back again with ten more. I’m not picking who I think will be the top ten riders at the end of the year but rather a bunch who I expect to have some fun in 2017. This year’s crop are pretty young and there’s a fair chance some won’t hit the headlines anytime soon. Nevertheless, I’ve got faith…
A relatively left-wing selection to start as Emanuel Buchmann is neither a star rider nor exciting neo-pro. The 24-year old hasn’t won very often, with the only victory worth mentioning coming at the German National Championships in 2015. Collectively, his Bora-Argon squad struggled to land wins but that should all change following their evolution to Bora-Hansgrohe. Though the team will rely on Rafal Majka, Jay McCarthy and a certain Slovakian to take World Tour wins, the likes of Buchmann will hope to profit from the increased squad depth. Buchmann rode deceptively well last year impressing at the Tour of Oman, Olympic Road Race and the Tour de France. His climbing is steady and he’s proved he can go deep into punishing mountain stages. I’m expecting a World Tour breakaway win in 2017. No pressure…
Following on from Buchmann, things take a turn for the obscure with Trek-Segafredo signing 21-year old Mads Pedersen. Stölting Service Group will be sad to see him leave so soon but after a highly impressive 2016 season they can’t feel too hard done by. The Dane is a fast finisher but showed another side to his riding when winning a stage and the mountains jersey at the Tour of Norway. He stayed with the leaders during a testing finale before hauling back LLuis Mas and defeating him in a two-man sprint. Arriving at Trek has its obvious perks but also means Pedersen will be expected to work for his leaders. He should hopefully get chances at the smaller races and I’m expecting his stock to have risen by this time next year.
Sondre Holst Enger
Norway has a fine selection of leading riders – if a little on the small side – and after Thor Hushovd in the mid-2000s we’ve seen the emergence of Alexander Kristoff and Edvald Boasson Hagen. Now it’s time for Sondre Holst Enger. I’m really taking a punt with this one because if he keeps going up against the likes of Andre Griepel and Peter Sagan (as he did in his debut Tour de France) he’s likely to find himself empty-handed. So why has Enger made this list? Like his compatriot Boasson Hagen, Enger can roll over difficult and hilly courses as well as packing a fast finish. His efforts for IAM Cycling last year went somewhat unnoticed; in his first crack at the World Tour he collected multiple top ten finishes. In AG2R he’s joined a team who haven’t had a young exciting sprinter in recent memory (Sam Dumoulin has flown the flag admirably in his two spells – but he doesn’t count). I’m not used to seeing the AG2R colours in the big sprints and I believe Enger might be about to change that.
At Bardiani, Sonny Colbrelli came close to taking some landmark victories. He’s now switched to Bahrain-Merida and the move could provide the sufficient boost needed to go from nearly-man to winning-man. He’s my favourite sort of rider; the punchy sprinter with no aversion to hard climbing. These are the sort that you think can win a variety of stage types as well as the tough one-day classics. At Bahrain his place at the Giro is no longer assured but he should still start in Sardinia and I expect him to challenge for stages. If he doesn’t, Bahrain will compensate by giving him protected opportunities at the big classics or even the Tour de France. At Bardiani he delivered some great performances but lacked regular opportunities and top level support. A switch to Bahrain made perfect sense and I’m excited to see him perform.
If I was really good I would have chosen Sam Oomen twelve months ago prior to his breakthrough season on the European Tour. Sadly I missed out, but won’t be making the same mistake twice. Oomen is just 21 but his results in 2016 were pretty fantastic. He placed third at the Criterium International before winning the Tour de l’Ain following a brutal summit victory on Lelex Mont Jura. There was a lot to like about his debut rides at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Milano-Torino too. Giant-Alpecin (Team Sunweb) were happy to throw Oomen in at the deep end and he found his feet remarkably quickly. Michael Matthews arrives this year to head the Sunweb roster but come Grand Tour season Oomen may find himself with huge leadership opportunities. Tom Dumoulin may attempt a Grand Tour but was conditioned for time-trialling last time we saw him. Warren Barguil has indicated he wants stage wins leaving Wilco Kelderman as Sunweb’s only other GC contender. I hope to see more of Oomen this season and for him to prove he is the next big thing in Dutch cycling.
We’re back to heart-over-head inclusions with the erratic Alexey Lutsenko. For some time now I’ve thought that Lutsenko was capable of achieving big results. He’s super strong; best showcased by his solo pursuit to victory in last season’s Paris-Nice. However, I’ve chosen Lutsenko because of flashes of potential rather than a selection of great performances. I’m surprised he’s struggled for opportunities at Astana being the leading Kazakh rider on a Kazakh team managed by Alexander Vinokourov. He was part of the Astana mess up at Driedaagse De Panne when either he or Lieuwe Westra should have shaken free of Alexander Kristoff. He has so far been unlucky and I believe he could land some big results in 2017. If he fails to make his mark on the spring classics I can see him animating the Tour de France. What are the odds on Lutsenko going clear on the Champs-Élysées?
No surprise to see I’ve included Pierre Latour in my list; he’s my new favourite climber. Last year I covered why I thought he could achieve big things in the next few seasons and I’m looking forward to seeing him in action as soon as possible. I hope he avoids direct competition with team leader Romain Bardet and that when he does race – at whatever level – he is given a team to support his ambitions. He’s an exciting rider and developed last summer to lead the Tour of Switzerland for a day before preparing for the Vuelta. AG2R are to be taken seriously over the next 12 months and Latour will be very much part of their plans. I’ll be interested to see how he responds to another winter’s training but truly believe he has a future at the very top level.
This is, admittedly, an interesting one. To many, Aru fell backwards in 2016 following his Vuelta win the previous September. Aru was nowhere near contention for the first six months of the season. He had taken on a different programme in order to peak at the Tour de France and found good results hard to come by. At the Tour he disappointed again; or at least that’s what most of the internet will have you believe. To me, sixth place and less than two minutes off second does not constitute disappointing on your Tour debut. That’s the position Fabio Aru was in as he completed Stage 19. The previous day he had produced the third best time up to Megeve to gain on all his podium rivals. On the final mountain stage a freak turn saw him ship 13 minutes and his race fell apart. Nevertheless, he had grown in confidence throughout the race and I believe there was plenty on display to back-up his Vuelta success. I could go on for longer but I’ll end it there for now. Astana have confirmed he will ride a Giro/Vuelta double in 2017 and I expect him to contest. I’m an Aru-convert.
Time for some big boys now and I’m opting for Nacer Bouhanni to finally break into the top echelon of bunch sprinting. It’s not a particularly bold prediction – many would side with me – but does require Bouhanni being in the right place at the right time. His task is made harder by his team, Cofidis, remaining at Pro Continental level. You’d assume Bouhanni knew what he was signing up for when he left FDJ and signed a three year contract but it’s taken a while to get his train firing on all fronts. Cofidis receive a fair selection of wild card races but Bouhanni will surely look elsewhere in July’s transfer season. He’ll be eager to put himself in the shop window and I’m expecting some big early season wins.
The last time we saw John Degenkolb he was slumped against a team car after the most frustrating of World Championships. It looked as though he had seriously believed he could challenge in Doha despite being on the wrong side of a group split and working tirelessly for Andre Greipel. It was a bad day in a year of plenty for Degenkolb – starting with a terrible pre-season crash in Spain and a badly mashed up finger. He’s moved to Trek-Segafredo now where he’ll continue to act as clear team leader in the one day classics. His time at Giant-Alpecin was highly successful but ended with difficulties which, he hopes, will be eradicated at Trek. Giant were a fantastic team but – as Tom Dumoulin found out at the 2015 Vuelta – they lack the squad depth to offer top level support. After all, the team came from humble begins and focussed almost exclusively on Marcel Kittel’s sprint train in their first few years. Degenkolb might not add to his tally of Monuments this season but he’s a quality bike rider approaching his peak. Comparisons will be drawn to Fabian Cancellara, but in Degenkolb Trek-Segafredo have taken on a rider capable of doing very different things.