Rising Stars of Road Racing

Every road cycling season brings a new crop of names to wider global attention. Some riders have been bubbling under the surface for a few years, leading to sage nods between knowledgeable folks when they finally win big. Others have exploded onto the scene with standout performances, mixing it up with the world’s best on the biggest stage. Here we take a look at some of rising stars in men’s road cycling.

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) – 26 years old

Where else to start than with Britain’s latest grand tour winner? Unlike Geraint Thomas, who had been knocking on the Grand Tour door – and lamppost – for several years, Bury born Simon Yates’ 2018 season confirmed his arrival to the big time. A former junior track world champion, he won the world points race title in 2013 and a stage at that year’s Tour of Britain. Eschewing offers from Team Sky (“It’s hard for a young rider to get established,” he said of Sky at the time), he joined Australian World Tour outfit Orica-Greenedge who offered leadership opportunities for him and his twin brother Adam.

2018 started out well, with a stage win and second overall in Paris-Nice in March and more success at the Volta a Catalunya later the same month. An intelligent and tactical rider, he learned the hard way just how unforgiving professional cycling can be with his collapse in the 2018 Giro. But rather than dwell on the failure, Yates put the lessons learned to good use, riding powerfully along with his team throughout the Vuelta a few months later to take a historic overall victory. He’s put on record his desire to return to the Giro in 2019 and deal with unfinished business.

 

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Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) – 23 years old

Spanish cycling success has been somewhat tainted in recent years by caveats beside wins by Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde, a hangover from Operación Puerto and some poor meal choices. Being touted as the next Contador (by El Pistolero himself) might be enough to cause some riders to crack, but not young Mallorcan Enric Mas. In his second year on the World Tour it’s his racing style that is forcing the Spanish to take note – aggressive and with a strong character to match his gleaming toothy smile. He won the super-tough 20th stage of this years’ Vuelta in Andorra and took the young rider’s classification alongside second overall – quite something considering most of his QuickStep team mates rode in support of their sprinter Elia Viviani – finally giving the locals someone to cheer who doesn’t have an asterisk after his name.

 

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Egan Bernal (Team Sky) – 21 years old

Professional cycling is notoriously fickle, with many riders struggling along on short-term contracts. So when Team Sky tied the young Colombian to a 5-year deal recently it revealed just how highly regarded he is. Grounded in mountain biking, his transition to the road has been a successful one: he won the 2017 Tour de l’Avenir, the U23 race touted as the junior Tour de France, prior to joining Sky at the end of that season.

2018 began well with sixth overall at January’s Tour Down Under and first at the Tour of California in May. The youngest rider at the 2018 Tour, he played a major role in Geraint Thomas’s win, often being the last domestique with the Welshman in the high mountains, and he finished 16th overall. A horrific crash at August’s Clasica San Sebastian put him out for a while – tooth and jaw reconstruction takes time – but he was back to his attacking best at the season ending classic Il Lombardia and the World Championships in Innsbruck.

Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford clearly believes in Bernal, telling the Guardian, “I’ve searched and searched for the rider that might be the next Chris Froome, who would be our next big leader for Grand Tours. My choice was Bernal, whom we absolutely had to have in the team. He’s our future.”

 

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Thomas Pidcock (Wiggins (road), TP Racing (CX)) – 19 years old

Competing in cyclocross, road and track, Leeds boy Tom is best known for two astounding performances in 2017: winning both the UCI Cyclo-cross and Time Trial World Championships. Victory in the former led to the Belgian media dubbing him as a “mini-Sagan”. Stepping into the Wiggins road team, 2018 has been tough, but rather than take time off he’s set up his own TP Racing team for the upcoming cyclocross season.

 

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