10 riders with a point to prove in 2021

Chris Froome rode his last race for Ineos Grenadiers at the 2020 Vuelta a España, and will ride for Israel Start-Up Nation in 2021
Chris Froome rode his last race for Ineos Grenadiers at the 2020 Vuelta a España, and will ride for Israel Start-Up Nation in 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

While the coronavirus-interrupted 2020 season played havoc with many a rider's year, other factors, such as injuries, dissatisfaction and form, also played their part.

Here, then, are 10 riders who – for myriad different reasons – didn't or couldn't perform at their best this year, but who will be gunning for success in 2021.

Chris Froome

Age: 35
Rider type: Stage racer
2021 team: Israel Start-Up Nation

After a solid but unspectacular Vuelta a España, the four-time Tour de France winner heads to pastures new in 2021 as he seeks to make history and become the first rider since Miguel Indurain to win five Tours.

There will be many hurdles before Froome even reaches the Tour, and it's fair to say that even if he finds the form of a few years ago, Froome and his new team will start the race as underdogs against teams such as Ineos and Jumbo-Visma. That said, the off-season provides the 35-year-old with a clean block of training, and with no interference from constant hours of rehabilitation following a career-threatening crash, Froome has the chance to rekindle something of his old self.

He also has the opportunity to familiarise himself with his new surroundings, in terms of both his teammates and his management, and the early phases of those new relationships might ultimately set the tone for the entire season. Of course, one could easily make the case that a multiple Grand Tour winner has nothing to prove, given that at this point in their career they've won almost everything, but Froome will no doubt want to prove a point to the former squad that let him go after over a decade of service.

Egan Bernal

Age: 23
Rider type: Stage racer
2021 team: Ineos Grenadiers

The headlines surrounding Ineos for the next few weeks and months will ultimately centre on leadership for the three Grand Tours in 2021. With such a stacked roster, Dave Brailsford has plenty to ponder, and his leadership dilemmas are good problems to have at this point. But with Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas, Richard Carapaz, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Pavel Sivakov and Adam Yates all capable of Grand Tour success, the team boss will need to make tough choices when it comes to deciding strategies.

There's absolutely no indication that the team has lost faith in Bernal, and, on paper – and assuming he's healthy – the 23-year-old remains the focal point for any Tour challenge. If he can fix his back issues and make progress in the early season races, then there's no reason to doubt that Ineos will repeat their initial plans from 2020 and send Bernal to the Tour and Carapaz to the Giro, and build suitably strong teams around both riders.

However, the last images we saw of Bernal were of him surrendering his Tour title after a defence that struggled to get going. Any air of invincibility has been swept away by Tadej Pogačar's succession and Primož Roglič's consistency, while the second half of the 2020 season will have felt like an eternity for Bernal as he nursed his wounds and plotted his return. Behind his cool and approachable persona is a rider hungry for success, and after a difficult 2020, the Colombian will be determined to show that he's still the best.

Michael Matthews

Age: 30
Rider type: One-day specialist, sprinter
2021 team: Mitchelton-Scott

Matthews' return to Mitchelton-Scott after four successful years at Sunweb suited all parties concerned. Mitchelton pick up a leading sprinter and one-day specialist that they desperately need, while Sunweb are able to reinvest a portion of Matthews' salary into younger riders.

If Matthews had stayed at Sunweb, then his opportunities would have only further diminished after a Tour de France that saw the likes of Søren Kragh Andersen and Marc Hirschi establish themselves as genuine leaders, so a move to Mitchelton offers Matthews with clear scope and little competition when it comes to major races.

The Australian's move away from Sunweb doesn't in any way suggest that his career is on the decline – his win in the Bretagne Classic was one of his finest in some time – and Mitchelton believe that their returning rider still has plenty of potential to develop. The positives for Matthews, aside from the fact that he will have plenty of chances, are that he doesn't need to alter his style of racing. He knows the set-up, and the team will be devoted to him for the majority of the time.

Having interviewed Matthews several times in recent years, he would likely argue that he has very little to prove to anyone outside of his team, and while he's right to a certain degree, he will want to demonstrate that he's a leader who can keep on winning on the biggest stages.

Bob Jungels

Age: 28
Type of rider: All-rounder
2021 team: AG2R Citroën

There are so many leaders at Deceuninck-QuickStep that it became difficult to determine what sort of rider Jungels was or wanted to be at times. One season he looked destined to compete for top 10s in Grand Tours, and the next he was taking aim at the Classics.

To be fair, Jungels had successes on almost every front while part of the Belgian team, with a Monument win and several other high-profile one-day victories, but at AG2R Citroën, the 28-year-old has the chance to cement himself in a particular role. That doesn't mean to say that Jungels can't continue being an all-rounder to some degree, but a fresh start also affords the former Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner to not only finesse his talents but also breakout and demonstrate a level of consistency away from Patrick Lefevere's stable.

Most importantly, Jungels needs to win a race outside of Luxembourg for the first time since the spring of 2019. But make no mistake, he is one of the most talented riders in the world. We just need to see a bit more.

Romain Bardet

Age: 30
Type of rider: All-rounder
2021 team: Sunweb

After almost a decade under Vincent Lavenu's stewardship, it was clear that Bardet needed a change of scene. His career had stalled somewhat, while at the same time the French squad needed a refresh. While AG2R have certainly lived up to their side of things in that regard – with a string of new signings – it's Bardet who heads into 2021 as one of the most exciting transfers of the year.

Sunweb are already on the up, thanks largely to their new unit of young talent, but assuming Bardet buys into their collective approach to racing, the three-time Tour stage winner can add experience and guile to an already electric line-up.

Bardet doesn't need to prove his gifts as a rider to anyone, but he does need to distill any talk that moving away from his comfort zone was too big a risk, and that AG2R were right to change tack and focus. In so many ways, Bardet feels like the perfect leader for Sunweb, and if he can ignite a career that has only taken two wins in three seasons, we could yet see some of his best performances.

Chris Lawless

Age: 25
Type of rider: Sprinter
2021 team: Total Direct Energie

The British sprinter reportedly had a year left on his contract at Ineos Grenadiers, but was deemed surplus to requirements, and almost found himself without a team until Total Direct Energie came to the 25-year-old's rescue.

While some might see the move to a second-division French team as a step down, Lawless should seize the opportunity presented to him. This could be the most important year of his young career, and leaving Ineos will no doubt have hurt, but if there's one certainty, it's that the highly rated sprinter will now be operating out of his comfort zone and racing on a foreign team.

On the flip side, he will have far more opportunities racing for Jean-René Bernaudeau than he would if still racing at Ineos, and this is a chance for Lawless to stamp some authority on his career and develop into the sprinter that he can be.

Michael Valgren

Age: 28
Type of rider: Classics specialist
2021 Team: EF Pro Cycling

The Danish rider's value has dropped dramatically after two largely underwhelming years at Dimension Data/NTT Pro Cycling, but the former Amstel Gold winner has the chance to get his career back on track, and on a team that in theory should tally with his characteristics as a rider as well as his personality.

EF Pro Cycling had a hole in their Classics team after the departure of Sep Vanmarcke, and what they've received in return is a younger rider at a bargain price, and one who will be champing at the bit to prove that he can return to winning ways and rediscover the form that persuaded Dimension Data to secure his services in the first place.

Valgren will find more structure at EF, as well as a team already ingrained in Classics success under the tutelage of Andreas Klier. With compatriots Magnus Cort and sports director Matti Breschel also part of the set-up, Valgren will have additional help when it comes to settling in.

Alejandro Valverde

Age: 40
Type of rider: All-rounder
2021 team: Movistar

Until this year, the Movistar leader hadn't endured a winless season since his doping ban, and there's a rational argument that at 40 years old, Valverde is over the hill and beyond return. Paradoxically, his saving grace might be the fact that Movistar were almost collectively woeful this year, and rather than singling out their talisman, it was an ensemble of failure that seemed to run through their entire operation when it came to their established leaders winning races.

Valverde was still consistent in 2020, but given that he only raced four one-day races in the calendar year, it might be worth giving the 2009 Vuelta winner one more year before admitting that Father Time has finally caught up with him.

The 2021 season could well turn out to be his final year in the sport, but the once prolific winner will want to go out on a high rather than with a whimper.

Dylan Teuns

Age: 28
Type of rider: All-rounder
2021 team: Bahrain Victorious

The 2020 campaign was far from a disaster for the Belgian, who won a stage at the Ruta del Sol and looked competitive at Paris-Nice. Then came lockdown, an injury, and despite signing a contract extension, the 2019 Tour de France stage winner was left out of the 2020 event.

He argued his case in the press, and rallied with a string of top-10 rides to close out the season, but lockdown or not, this wasn't the season Teuns or his team were hoping for. After all, the 28-year-old enjoyed a memorable 2019, and he looked on the cusp of a fantastic second season in Bahrain colours.

Bad luck and circumstances certainly played their part in a truncated year of racing, which meant that if riders missed one beat, they were always playing catch-up, and Teuns will seek to rekindle his form after a short break over the winter.

With few additional signings made and Ivan Cortina moving to Movistar, the Belgian will have even more responsibility on his shoulders, but as he showed at the 2019 Vuelta, and with a string of other impressive performances, he's more than capable of rising to the occasion.

Elia Viviani

Age: 31
Type of rider: Sprinter
2021 team: Cofidis

The 2020 season couldn't have gone much worse for Viviani, who failed to win a race all year and never looked comfortable or confident in Cofidis colours. To add context, Fernando Gaviria caught COVID-19 twice in 2020 yet still won six more times than his former teammate.

Whether Viviani's woes were entirely down to lead-out issues, confidence or just poor form, it's hard to imagine such a class act having a repeat performance in 2021.

He's already making the right noises, talking about his mistakes and not putting all the blame on his employers, and with a year of building his train, the Italian will hope to hit the ground running once racing resumes.

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