Bad contracts, loss of confidence, terrible luck, or just a mid-career crisis. There’s plenty of reasons why talented riders’ careers stall. Here’s seven riders who used to have the cycling world excited, but now struggle for space on any website.
It might be a little harsh to accuse former Vuelta race leader Ruben Fernandez of doing “absolutely nothing” but he held fine company in his formative years and is now 28 without a pro victory. The most glistening performance on his CV came when winning the 2013 Tour de l’Avenir – without a team – ahead of Adam & Simon Yates, Davide Formolo and Patrick Konrad. He immediately signed with Caja Rural and was at Movistar by the start of 2015, continuing to show promise in an exciting first 12 months. He was hit by injury in 2017 and has struggled for opportunities since, potentially crushing his confidence. It’s not uncommon for a rider to have a quiet spell but Fernandez is in need of a major shakedown.
One year ago, there was two schools of thought surrounding the merits of Jakub Marezcko. The first poked fun at the Italian who surged up the annual win rankings by dominating lowly fields in Hainan, Taihu and Qinghai Lake. The other focussed on his voyages to the Giro d’Italia where he placed second behind a prime Marcel Kittel in 2017 and split Elia Viviani and Sam Bennett the following year. Both camps would have agreed he was lightning quick and deserved a move to the World Tour. His wish was granted by the newly formed CCC, but he has gone winless this season and has not gone closer than on his first day in new colours back at the Tour Down Under. Has the debate finally been settled?
It seems as though nobody likes Gianni Moscon; a fact that may or may not bother the unique Italian. Whilst a string of ugly incidents – racist slurs, on-bike fights and illegal tows – have permanently damaged his reputation, his enormous talent remains untapped. There was the breakout fifth at Paris-Roubaix, the regular improvements against the clock, and the monster mountain pulls for the cause of Chris Froome. Until stuttering in 2019, he looked like a potential World Champion. A mid-career lull is nothing to worry about but the 25 year-old has been short of opportunities this year and did not look anywhere close to his best when picked as a workhorse in July. He might benefit from a move away from Ineos – but will his reputation put a few teams off?
If not for his small but pivotal role in Froome’s stunning raid on Sestriere, Kenny Elissonde’s time at Sky/Ineos would be wholly forgettable. What makes the case of Elissonde even more miserable is that we all knew the move wouldn’t work out. The phenomenal Angliru stage winner from 2013 – who nearly repeated Vuelta heroics in 2016 – never looked a good fit for Sky. He was fun, unpredictable and made for hunting stages. He never looked like a rider who would grab one of Dave Brailsford’s brass rings and develop into a top mountain domestique with the promise that his “time will come”. He’s 28 and yet to ride in his home Grand Tour. The polka-dot jersey awaits – but Elissonde needs a lifeline.
Illness has impacted Fabio Felline’s past two seasons and we can only hope it doesn’t have a lasting effect on his career. The 2015 Trek Factory Racing squad was severely short on young talent and must have been delighted with the progress of Felline. He was a sprinter/triallist with the sort of toughness that could land Italy back on the podium of a cobbled classic. A winless but highly impressive 2016 led to the points jersey at the Vuelta. He even came third on a mammoth summit to Aitana, securing the jersey. The Italian left the 2017 Tour de France and was later diagnosed with toxoplasmosis, which plagued him through the following season. The last two campaigns have seen plenty of false dawns but the recent Binck Bank Tour suggests the end to his unfortunate dip may finally be in reach. The next Felline victory will be extremely popular.
Sondre Holst Enger
Big things were expected for Sondre Holst Enger as recent as the 2017 season. At his first Tour he had collected a handful of top ten finishes against far more experienced sprinters, including a third into Berne at the start of week three. That was IAM Cycling’s final season and he moved to AG2R primed to add to the collection of talented Norwegian strongmen. That season ended up a disaster. He raced for just 41 days – with plenty of incompletions – and it was clear he was unhappy and out of favour at an AG2R squad with greater ambitions elsewhere. A move to Israel Cycling Academy has led to some improvement but Enger is nowhere near the level he threatened to reach. He’s only 25 but looks directionless after a disappointing push by management into the Belgian classics.
Another who has perhaps fallen fatal to joining an uber-talented Movistar team, Argentinian Sepulveda has done nothing memorable since being expelled from the 2015 Tour de France for hitching a short ride in a rival team car to fetch a new wheel. He was climbing well at the recent Austria Tour; but is that now the level of the former breakthrough talent and San Luis runner-up? He hasn’t landed a place at the Vuelta for the second year running and his time at Movistar should be coming to an end. A change of team could lead to one of two options; a resurgence or a fall to obscurity.