Nine years ago I became a cycling super-superfan, and shortly after Just Pro Cycling was born. I had been a pro cycling fan for much longer, but it was around 2013 that things got a little silly. Two-thousand word Tour of Qatar reviews kind-of-silly. I remember pausing a Qatar sprint to see the exact moment Jose Rojas had managed to topple Boonen and Demare in the middle of the desert.
Whilst Just Pro Cycling the website attempted to stay something close to neutral, Just Pro Cycling the Twitter account has always played favourites. At first there was Vincenzo Nibali and Mark Cavendish. Then Romain Bardet and John Degenkolb. There was even a brief Michael Matthews phase (hi haters). Diego Ulissi, obviously. More recently, Tom Dumoulin, Kasia Niewiadoma, Davide Formolo, and Dylan Groenewegen.
The names above will be delighted to hear they are all guaranteed a place in the Just Pro Hall of Fame, but it’s time to hand pick a selection of new riders to shout encouragement at over both Twitter (always) and the roadside (hopefully some time soon).
Don’t expect this to be a list of 20 year-old semi-pros who looked good for three hairpins at the Tour de l’Avenir. Instead, here are the riders that from this moment forward will be adopted as Just Pro Cycling’s Class of 2022.
First up it’s a young, obscure, Australian climber named Jack Haig. Okay, so he isn’t that young (how he is 28?) and he isn’t particularly obscure. But he is Australian. This is the first season that Haig arrives with a reputation fitting of his ability as an elite climber, such was the jump he took at last season’s Vuelta. However, the signs have always been there. Haig has always looked super comfortable on nasty gradients and should be free to target whatever he pleases at Bahrain-Victorious.
Haig co-headlines the Class of 2022 alongside the second most established name, Andrea Vendrame. Just Pro Cycling has long had an infatuation with Italian riders who can do a bit of everything. Vendrame is as likely to win Strade Bianche as he is Sanremo. Or a stage in Sestriere at the final week of the Giro. Or the World Title. And that is exactly what we need on the team.
The last rider closer to the 30 than 20 in the selection is Mads Würtz Schmidt. The Dane finds himself in his third year at Israel Premier Tech who – to put it nicely – are probably the World Tour team you would struggle to name when rattling off the current eighteen. He also happens to be riding at the time of a stunning showcase for Danish cycling and a number of his compatriots have far more shiny achievements to display (not the 2021 National title though, eh Mads?). To summarise, Wurtz Schmidt is a wildcard whose moderate reputation is not befitting of his wide range of road racing tools.
If you saw the climb at the conclusion of Stage 20 of last year’s Vuelta, you’ll know why Clement Champoussin makes the cut. The young Frenchman put in a wonderfully aggressive performance against an elite selection of GT riders to delight fans with a surprise victory. His never-say-die attitude might sometimes be to his detriment but who cares when he’s so gloriously entertaining. If he continues to develop his all-round performance, he could embark on a decade’s worth of dazzling victories. For now, let’s just enjoy Clement doing some more Clement-ing.
Maxim Van Gils is a 22 year-old Belgian lucky enough to be snapped up by the vastly experienced Lotto Soudal team. He only recently blipped his way on to my radar, during a quick review of the 2021 season (in particular last year’s Tour of Wallonie). Only time will tell what sort of rider Van Gils will become, but he’s probably more Liege than Flanders.
Unless your name is Anna Kiesenhofer and it’s the Olympics, toppling the rock-steady applecart of elite riders on the Women’s World Tour may seem almost unfathomable. In Britain last year, Juliette Labous came just one place and 62 seconds from becoming the first French woman to win a Women’s World Tour event since its inception in 2016. At just 23, Labous is surely destined to snap that record and Just Pro Cycling will be there every step of the way. She can already climb and time-trial at an elite level, and is surely just a slice of luck away from landing a major victory.
There’s nothing like the Australian racing season to shake off January blues, and women’s racing has led the charge in recent years with the men’s Tour Down Under sadly cancelled. In 2020, I tried to reach out to Canyon’s Ella Harris following her Herald’s Sun Tour success. Unfortunately, she was too busy being awesome at the New Zealand Nationals to speak to Just Pro Cycling (a.k.a me) but the dream continues. Harris is a great climber, and we need Canyon to hand her more protected opportunities in Europe this year.
When it comes to Filippo Zana, you could mention the Tour de l’Avenir, or the U23 road race, or the Sazka Tour, or the two Giros he has already completed, but it’s far easier to just talk about how cool his name is. The young Italian just sounds like a winner. It’s a bit Filippo Ganna and a bit Filippo Pozzato. Just the right amount of Zakarin, but without the horrendous descending. He probably needs to get away from Bardiani, as the Pro Tour team have a mixed history of both creating stars and ruining talent. By the end of the year, hopefully Zana will have climbed himself onto the World Tour (not Ineos or Astana, not Ineos or Astana, not Ineos or Astana… say it with me).
After happily watching Dylan Groenewegen graduate to the big time – and hopefully put the most difficult period of his career behind him – it’s time to adopt another Dutch sprinter: Olav Kooij. He’s the youngest member of the class but definitely the fastest. He’s so fast, in fact, that he might have threatened Groenewegen’s undisputed status as Jumbo’s sprinter if the two were teammates once again this campaign. He’s hopefully got enough in his legs to contest more than just the pancake stages. When he wins the 2032 green jersey, we can all say: “I can’t believe he once raced against Mark Cavendish!”.