The limited 2020 calendar still provided plenty of opportunities for some fresh faces to shine in the colours of their new teams. We've taken a look at the riders who made the biggest impacts after transferring over the 2019 winter off-season.
While several neo-pros and young riders stood out, we're keeping this list to the more established pros, with 2020's breakout stars to feature in their own piece later on.
Richard Carapaz (Movistar to Team Ineos)
It was pretty soon after his Giro d'Italia victory that Carapaz, much to Movistar's frustration, decided to jump ship and join Ineos. A bigger paycheque awaited, and some wondered whether the Ecuadorian was trading in his own opportunities by joining such a well-stacked outfit. A year on, Carapaz now looks central to the British team's near future. Chris Froome is off to Israel Start-Up Nation, Geraint Thomas had a non-event of a year and Egan Bernal has been diagnosed with a spinal condition that threatens to eat into his 2021 campaign.
Carapaz, meanwhile, weathered a turbulent season to further enhance his standing in the pro peloton. Even with lockdown out of the way, his plans were abruptly changed once he arrived in Europe, as he was taken away from the Giro d'Italia and parachuted into the Tour de France in place of Thomas and Froome.
When Bernal collapsed on stage 15, Carapaz went some way to salvaging Ineos' Tour, with a string of attacking displays in the final week. He didn't quite win the polka-dot jersey, but he did finish with Michal Kwiatkowski in a memorable two-up break over the Plateau des Glières on stage 18. In a move that will have done wonders for his stature in the team – if nothing for his palmarès – he dutifully allowed Kwiatkowski to cross the line first.
There might have been a tinge of 'what if' as Tao Geoghegan Hart won a wide-open Giro, but Carapaz went to the Vuelta a España and finished runner-up. Primoz Roglic proved too strong, but Carapaz certainly wasn't far behind, with an encouraging time-trial performance and a net time that was actually quicker than Roglic, who swept up nearly a minute in bonus seconds.
Carapaz is targeting the Olympics in 2021, which may push him towards the Giro, given the Tour's proximity to the Games. Either way, he has quickly made himself an important figure at Ineos – a team he recently said he feels he's been at for five years.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar to Arkéa-Samsic)
Nairo Quintana's sorry demise at Movistar was well-documented by the team's own Netflix series, in which the Colombian grows ever more quiet and cut-off from his teammates and coaches. To see him with a smile as wide as his ears in the new year, then, came as something of a shock. The nice social-media content of the Colombian two-time Grand Tour winner bedding into the overwhelmingly French second-division team was all well and good, but could he back it up on the road?
He could. The Tour de la Provence and the Tour du Var – two of the most important stage races for Arkéa-Samsic – were reeled in via dominant performances on the respective summit finishes at Mont Ventoux and the Col d'Eze. He added the final stage of Paris-Nice before lockdown struck, and suddenly Quintana looked every inch the rider who'd won the Giro and Vuelta and finished on the Tour podium three times.
There was even talk of him going one better and finally fulfilling his so-called 'yellow dream', but those hopes evaporated after a crash mid-way through, and the Tour actually ended on a terrible note as French authorities launched an anti-doping raid on the team hotel. Nothing further came of that investigation, and Quintana has since undergone surgery on both knees ahead of the 2021 campaign.
The year certainly didn't end on the high on which it began, but, in a transfer that was risky on all sides, Quintana, who simply looked like he was enjoying riding his bike again, was reborn.
Mavi Garcia (Movistar to Ale BTC Ljubljana)
At the age of 36, most riders are one the decline, but it still feels like Mavi García is only getting started. With a background in triathlon and duathlon, she was a latecomer to professional cycling, and this year continued an upward curve that you'd bet on continuing. Having started out at Bizkaia-Durango, she spent two seasons at Movistar, but left her 'home' Spanish team to race for Ale BTC.
She has taken a big step forward, with her first wins outside of the National Championships coming on the opening two stages at the Tour de l'Ardeche, where she finished second overall. She did the double at the Spanish Nationals, winning both the road race and time trial for the second time.
García also made a name for herself with runner-up spots at the Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa and Strade Bianche, finishing behind Annemiek van Vleuten both times – the latter after a pulsating pursuit. Top 10s at the Giro Rosa and Brabantse Pijl capped a fine season.
Rohan Dennis (Free agent to Team Ineos)
Two days in the Italian Alps were all it took to turn the most high-profile transfer of the winter from disappointment to roaring success. Rohan Dennis joined Team Ineos as the world time trial champion and a free agent, having been fired by the Bahrain-Merida team for the still-mysterious debacle that was his sudden exit from that year's Tour de France. His world title was proof of his class and mental strength, but there were legitimate question marks over his ability to work as part of a team.
How misguided they now seem. Ineos took the punt and were rewarded with the Giro. OK, that exaggeration does a disservice to Tao Geoghegan Hart, but Dennis' performances on stages 18 and 20 were mind- and race-bending. On the Stelvio, the Giro's most imposing mountain, only Sunweb's Jai Hindley could follow, with the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang and Joao Almeida scattered in a wake of destruction.
The fact that he carried his turn to the top meant he could work down in the valley, where Wilco Kelderman came undone. The Dutchman still took pink, and was buoyed as the penultimate stage was re-routed from the mighty Agnello and Finestre towards three more modest ascents at Sestriere. The damage was still done, though, with Geoghegan Hart and Hindley again the only two able to follow Dennis on the second ascent. He kept going, through the valley and then, remarkably, all the way up to the final 1,500m of the final climb, where Geoghegan Hart won the stage and set himself up for the overall title in the final time trial. It was one of the great domestique displays in recent Grand Tour memory.
At the least, Dennis was expected to sweep up some wins in the array of time trials in his first season with Ineos, but he was disappointing against the clock. He could only manage second at the Australian Nationals, second at the Volta ao Algarve, third at Tirreno, fifth at the Worlds and 15th on the opening stage of the Giro. He was second and third on the Giro's subsequent two time trials, but they were again won by his teammate Filippo Ganna – the new world champion, and seemingly the new dominant force against the clock. Even so, in the space of two days, Dennis silenced some doubters, justified an investment, and suggested there may still be life in his old ambitions of becoming a Grand Tour contender.
Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe to Deceuninck-QuickStep)
It's fair to say that Sam Bennett did his fragile self-confidence no favours when he spoke of Deceuninck-QuickStep's illustrious list of recent sprinters and the sort of figures he needed to be reaching to justify the new jersey on his shoulders. Ever self-critical, Bennett may well feel he could and should have won a little more in 2020, but he still did enough to end the year as the best sprinter in the world, according to Cyclingnews' infallible ranking system.
Bennett felt aggrieved at a lack of opportunity in his final season at Bora-Hansgrohe, and he fully justified his place in the Tour de France with two stage wins – the latter coming on the hallowed ground of Paris' Champs-Elysées in what is surely the highlight of his career so far. He was also wearing the green jersey, depriving former teammate Peter Sagan for only the second time since the Slovakian first raced the Tour in 2012. It was no mean feat to break that stranglehold, and Bennett's defence of green – under significant pressure from Sagan's Bora troops – showed his all-round ability and added drama to the transition stages.
Bennett's Vuelta didn't go quite as well, as he was contentiously relegated for a headbutt on a stage where he crossed the line first, and then missed out to Pascal Ackermann in Madrid by the finest of margins. Still, he'd added another Grand Tour stage to his palmarès, and proved himself a worthy successor to Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Fernando Gaviria and Elia Viviani. The way he slotted into the lead-out train maybe says more about the team – and In particular Michael Morkov – but Bennett will start 2021 knowing he belongs with the very best.
Guillaume Martin (Circus-Wanty to Cofidis Solutions Credits)
After spending his first four years at Wanty, where he ensured the Belgian team a spot at the Tour, Martin made the next step in his career, moving to a French team and a WorldTour outfit in Cofidis. His steady progression continued on paper, with a Tour de France results sheet that now reads 23rd, 21st, 12th and 11th. However, the stride made by the 27-year-old was far greater in reality.
He was consistent either side of lockdown and caught the eye with a quality third place at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Soon, everyone was talking about him, as he placed third at Orcières-Merlette on stage 4 of the Tour de France and got through the Pyrenees and into the first rest day in third overall. Things didn't go so smoothly in the second week, as he had a bad day on the road to Puy Mary, but he battled on to claim his best Tour finish, even if he'd have been disappointed not to make the top 10.
Just as encouraging was his ride at the Vuelta, where he won the mountains classification and even finished 14th overall in what was the first time he's ridden two Grand Tours in one season.
Cofidis have made a couple of signings to support Martin next year and he showed in 2020 he's worth building a team around.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla to FDJ Nouvelle-Acquitaine Futuroscope)
Signing the effervescent Dane would make sense simply from a media engagement point of view, but her results this year have provided a handsome return on investment. The 25-year-old had a strong season in 2019 and, despite the lack of racing on offer, has taken another step forward in her career, with a solo victory at the Giro dell'Emilia and fourth overall at the Giro Rosa, not to mention a top 10 at the World Championships road race in Imola, Italy.
Even before she attached a race number, team management had seen enough to convince them to build a team around her, handing her a two-year contract extension as early as July.
"Cecilie is the image of the team, ambitious and hard-working, and together we want to win the most prestigious races on the world calendar," said manager Stephen Delcourt.
You sense they won't be waiting long.
Lennard Kamna (Sunweb to Bora-Hansgrohe)
Sunweb's transfer activity has come under serious question in recent years, with a number of high-profile riders leaving before the end of their contracts. Kamna wasn't one of the ones who wanted to get away, but when he asked for a new deal mid-way through 2019, he was reportedly told to wait for the Tour de France. After a couple of eye-catching breakaways and calls from his agent, he was soon on his way to Bora-Hansgrohe for 2020 and, with a number of impressive displays this year, Sunweb were left to rue their hesitancy.
Kamna's season sprang to life with his stage win in Mégève on the penultimate day of the Critérium du Dauphiné, and he followed it up with a fine stage win at the Tour de France, where he dispatched Carapaz en route to Villard-de-Lans.
Kamna, a former junior time trial world champion, proved his climbing ability, and confirmed he has a bright future, having only turned 24 in September. Alongside Pascal Ackermann, Emanuel Buchmann and Max Schachmann, the German team has all bases covered with a super-strong core of home talent.
Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates to Israel Start-Up Nation)
2020 was a huge year for Israel Start-Up Nation as they embarked on their first campaign in the WorldTour. Rudy Barbier and Hugo Hofstetter got them off to a nice start with wins at the Vuelta a San Juan and Le Samyn, but there were genuine questions over whether the team had the depth to get results at the biggest races. Martin, with two Monuments and a string of Grand Tour top 10s to his name, was the highest-profile rider on the roster, and he duly stepped up.
Things didn't go to plan at first, as he crashed out of the Dauphiné with a sacral fracture and was hampered at the Tour de France, but he bounced back at the Vuelta a España, winning a stage and placing fourth overall. He said he'd wanted to time his preparation to go for stages at the Tour and the GC at the Vuelta, and he did a fine job of it. He claimed his first win in more than two years on stage 3, and, despite missing the final podium, sealed his best Grand Tour finish and put his team in the mix in only their second Grand Tour.
Lorena Wiebes (Parkhotel-Valkenburg to Sunweb)
This was an absolute mess of a transfer, which only went through in June after a protracted legal battle between Wiebes and her old team.
"We have reached an agreement that will not satisfy anyone," was the neat summary of the Parkhotel Valkenburg owner. Wiebes had to wait to leave a team whose vision she "clashed" with, Sunweb had to wait to field their new star signing, and Parkhotel were obviously losing one of the biggest talents in the sport.
When the deal did go through, the 21-year-old had just nine race days in the white of Sunweb, but won three of them, taking the GP Euromat, the Driedaagse De Panne and the opening stage of the Vuelta Challenge, where she placed third overall. There wasn't much time, but there was enough to underline that Sunweb have signed someone who's surely going to rack up a stack of wins in the coming years.
Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis to Arkéa-Samsic)
Whatever Bouhanni did this year, it was bound to be an improvement, given things couldn't have got much worse for the French sprinter at Cofidis. He fell out of favour when Cédric Vasseur replaced Yvon Sanquer in 2018, and the relationship just grew uglier and uglier.
When Bouhanni's contract ran out at the end of 2019, it was clear he was on his way, and he joined second-division Arkéa-Samsic. There was no Tour de France return, as the team rallied around Quintana, but Bouhanni picked up four victories – two either side of lockdown. The first two came at the Saudi Tour and the Tour de la Provence, while the second two were one-day races in the form of the GP d'Isbergues and Paris-Chauny, which landed him overall victory in the Coupe de France (French Cup) series.
There's still a way to go before Bouhanni unlocks what's considered his true potential – he still wants to shine at the Tour in 2021 and complete the Grand Tour stage-win set – but he has got his career back on track, and that's a success in itself.
Today's best Black Friday deals
Today's cycling-related highlights from the Black Friday sales. For even more, view our guide to the best Black Friday bike deals where you'll find on all things cycling, including bikes, helmets, clothing and more.
Today's best deals: USA
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As Features Editor, Patrick is responsible for Cyclingnews' long-form and in-depth output. Patrick joined Cyclingnews in 2015 as a staff writer after a work experience stint that included making tea and being sent to the Tour de Langkawi. Prior to that, he studied French and Spanish at university and went on to train as a journalist. Rides his bike to work but more comfortable on a football pitch.
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