Fernando Gaviria (Etixx-QuickStep)
Fernando Gaviria achieved this year what many promising young riders would gladly take from a neo-pro season and, of all the names on this list, is perhaps the most ready-made for success.
The 21-year-old Colombian, riding for Coldeportes-Claro, burst onto the scene at the Tour de San Luis, where he twice got the better of none other than Mark Cavendish. Cavendish’s Etixx-QuickStep bosses were so impressed that they snapped Gaviria up on a two-year deal from 2016, no doubt helped by the fact that he became a world champion at senior level on the track, winning the Omnium in France.
He has already had some time to embed himself into the Etixx-QuickStep team, having started as a stagiaire in August, and has already won in the jersey at the Tour of Britain. The presence of Marcel Kittel will no doubt be a massive asset in terms of learning and mentorship.
The one potential problem is how Etixx’s ambitions for Gaviria on the road will be balanced with his own track ambitions leading up to the Olympic Games in Rio.
Jack Haig (Orica-GreenEdge)
Of all the fresh talent emerging in the professional ranks in 2016, two of the most promising are Australian and they have signed with Orica-GreenEdge. Rob Power and Jack Haig have both been tipped for big things and been touted as the future of Australian stage racing.
Power finished second at the Tour de l’Avenir in 2014 and Haig finished second this year, and both had deals for 2016 and 2017 sewn up by the start of this year. However, Haig is the man who makes this list given that Power’s future has been thrown into jeopardy after doctors recently discovered he suffers from bone marrow edema. Though he should make a full recovery, he may be forced to rest for between four months to two years.
Haig, 22, riding at U23 level with the freedom afforded by having a pro contract in the bag, impressed at various points in 2015. He was seventh on a stage at the WorldTour Tour Down Under, finishing 16th overall, and had top-10 GC placings at the Giro della Valle d’Aosta and the senior-level Tour d’Alsace. Then there was l’Avenir, where he was fourth and second on the final two stages to clinch the podium spot.
Gianni Moscon (Team Sky)
Italian Gianni Moscon is one of the most exciting young prospects in the sport, and Team Sky’s move to secure his services reflects that.
The 21-year-old looks a fearsome all-round talent, able to climb well and also mix it over a wide range of terrain to stamp his authority on one-day races. That’s shown in his results, with a win at the 2014 U23 Giro di Lombardia, a national title this year in the Italian U23 road race, and second place at the U23 Tour of Flanders. He won no fewer than nine times in 2015, notably taking out the Trofeo Almar Nations Cup, and was even placed fifth overall at the Tour de l’Avenir until he had to pull out two stages before the end.
Sky, with its staggering strength in depth, might not be a team where opportunities are easy to come by, but Moscon willl be surrounded by top riders in a big-budget set-up, and if Sky can nurture him well then he will surely be someone who will be fruitful on the big stage before too long.
Toms Skujins (Cannondale)
Toms Skujins, who at 24 is nearing the neo-pro cut-off age of 25, has had a brilliant 2015 season and has earned himself a WorldTour contract with Cannondale-Garmin.
The Latvian rider, in his second season with Hincapie Racing, caught the eye most strongly at the Tour of California, where he won the third stage and enjoyed a spell in the leader’s jersey. He also went solo to win the Winston Salem Classic, before finishing second overall at the Tour de Beauce, which he won in 2014. He then recorded top-10 GC finishes at the USA Pro Challenge and the Tour of Alberta, earning him top spot on the UCI America Tour.
Skujins has been strong at U23 level for three years now, and it is surprising it has taken so long to turn pro, and he only got the Cannondale deal sewn up in September. There is every indication that he’ll be able to perform in the more demanding and aggressive one-day races, with Flanders and the Ardennes on his programme, while also riding for high overall placings in the week-long stage races.
Lennard Kämna (CULT Energy-Stölting Group)
Germany boast the dominant force in time trialling over recent years in Tony Martin, and they look to be pretty set for the future with Lennard Kämna, who is turning pro with Pro Conti outfit CULT Energy-Stölting Group.
Perhaps the most notable achievement of Kämna’s season came at the World Championships in Richmond, just a couple of weeks after his 19th birthday. After winning the junior time trial in 2014, he stepped up to U23 level and won the bronze medal. Not just that; he then went on to secure a top-10 finish in the U23 road race.
Other encouraging moments came with the U23 German time trial title, and also the 13th overall finish at Bayern Rundfahrt, where he finished just over a minute behind Alex Dowsett in the 26km time trial. He also won a road race with a solo escape in the Giro della Valle d’Aosta.
Kämna rode this season for the Stölting Group team, which is merging with Cult Energy for 2016, and as such the move to the professional ranks won’t be much of a culture shock. He’ll probably continue to race a fair share of U23 races, too, so expect more of the same from the German, who has room to grow and time well and truly on his side.
Sam Oomen (Giant-Alpecin)
This season has seemingly ushered in a new dawn at Giant-Alpecin, with the flailing, and ultimately departing Marcel Kittel - along with the emerging Tom Dumoulin and Warren Barguil - causing the team to break from its sprint-oriented mould and become a more rounded outfit, with overall stage race classifications a much bigger focus.
Sam Oomen, who comes from the Rabobank Development Team, may well represent some continuity in that regard, and is an exciting young GC prospect for the future. His stage racing campaign this season was one of consistency and excellence. A stage and the overall at the Rhône-Alpes Isère Tour, two stages and second overall at the Tour des Pays de Savoie, second at the Tour Alsace, fourth at the Tour de l'Avenir, and, perhaps most impressively, eighth among the pros at the 2.1 Tour de l'Ain. His lowest placing on GC was 19th at the senior 2.1 Tour des Fjords.
The one day campaign wasn't bad, either, with victory at the U23 Paris-Tours, eighth at the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and third at Flèche Ardennaise. Clearly, he can climb strongly already and the consistency he has shown belies his 20 years of age. He says he needs to work on his time trial but one of his wins at Pays de Savoie came against the clock.
Giant-Alpecin have handed him a three-year deal and will have every intention of nurturing his GC potential.
Alex Peters (Team Sky)
Another big prospect on the books of Team Sky, Alex Peters “could be one of the best talents Britain has produced for a long time,” according to SEG Racing coach Neil Martin.
His best performances in 2015 came towards the start of the season, with second place overall at the Tour de Normandie, along with a stage win and seventh overall at the Tour de Bretagne, both senior level races. He had high hopes for the Tour de l’Avenir but was unable to make an impact on GC, though he did manage an impressive 12th overall at the Tour of Britain, where he was racing in Sky colours on a stagiaire deal.
Peters, who chose to swerve the track-oriented British Cycling Academy programme, hopes to become a top GC rider in the future, capable of making an impact on the Tour de France. It is hard to say at this stage just how far he can go, and at 21 there is still a lot of learning to be done, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the next couple of seasons are primarily formative, rather than results-laden campaigns.
Floris Gerts (BMC)
At 23 years old, Floris Gerts has spent the past few years studying for a degree in medicine but hasn’t had to seriously consider a career away from cycling as he was offered a deal with BMC in the summer.
The Dutchman, who spent his U23 days with the Rabobank Development Team, spent this year with the BMC Development set-up, before joining the WorldTour team as a stagiaire. He didn’t take long to prove himself and soon had a pro contract in the bag.
A third-place finish at the Primus Classic Impanis-Van Petegem, a HC one-day race, was a clincher, as was the Tour of Britain, where he was finishing consistently and was high up on GC for a while before pulling out before the end. Before the stagiaire spell he took the victory at the U23 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Gerts is a solid Classics rider in the making. Experience in the bigger one-day races in 2016 will be a crucial next step in his development.
Laurens De Plus (Etixx-QuickStep)
Laurens De Plus has enjoyed a speedy rise to cycling’s top tier since taking up the sport just five years ago, his tardiness stemming from his parents’ view that it was too dangerous for him.
The 20-year-old is part of a new wave of Belgian climbers and his performances this year have made such an impression upon the Etixx-QuickStep management that he has a three-year deal in the bag. A coup, too, for Patrick Lefevere’s team, given that De Plus came through the feeder set-up of Belgian rivals Lotto Soudal.
De Plus, who used to yearn for gradients on the flat races he started out with as a junior, showed his stripes as a grimpeur by riding to second overall at the Ronde de l’Isard. In the Giro della Valle d’Aosta, he was prominent throughout, winning a stage and finishing second overall. He was going really well at the Tour de l’Avenir but cracked on the final stage, where his second place on GC turned to eighth.
"As I started cycling quite late, there's room for improvement. I am not at the top of my potential,” De Plus told Cyclingnews at the race. "He can do even better if he thinks more about himself and fully believes in being a team leader," added Tiesj Benoot. It is unclear what shape his programme will take but, with a three-year deal, De Plus will have the space to stretch his legs and grow his confidence.
Soren Kragh Andersen (Giant-Alpecin)
21-year-old Dane Soren Kragh Andersen is a massively powerful rider who made quite an impact this year, earning himself a contract with Giant-Alpecin for 2016 and 2017.
He more than made his mark on the ZLM-Roompot Tour, where he was active throughout and won a stage and the overall title. He then mixed it with the seniors, winning a stage and finishing second overall at the Tours des Fjords, before two third-place stage finishes at the Tour of Denmark. Back in the U23 ranks, he capped his season with two stage wins, one of them a prologue, at the Tour de l’Avenir.
There is a great deal to be excited about from the Dane, who can finish fast and figure in breakaways and selections. He can also time trial well for someone who claims they’re no expert in the discipline. His Danish coach told Cyclingnews he can be “a Classics rider, including on the cobbles, and a contender for 4-6 day stage races if there are a prologue and some short climbs”.
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