The 2012 cycling season kicked off in Australia with Simon Gerrans winning the Tour Down Under, but there are over 500 other cyclists on ProTeams to cheer for. You may be scratching your head and asking, “Who do I support?” Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans are great choices, but why not go with a young, relatively unknown rider? Our Euro-based Weekly News Shorts columnist “Le Grimpeur” saves you the fuss of searching endlessly and highlights his top 10 young gun riders to watch in 2012 (in no particular order).
Nathan Haas debuted in the Tour of Down Under with Garmin-Barracuda, a partnership that formed back in October. Riding for third division team Genesys, the 22-year-old Australian sealed his switch to the road by winning the Herald Sun Tour and the Japan Cup. The month became even sweeter when he inked his first professional contract.
“To say I expect anything out of my first season, it’s probably a little self-indulgent. It’s more about the questions I ask and the lessons I learn this year,” Haas explained. “You only get one chance to have a neo-pro year, it’s quite important for me to get it right. The only thing I expect out of the year is to learn.”
Garmin features Heinrich Haussler, Tyler Farrar and numerous time trial specialists and will be an ideal team for Haas to discover himself. He will likely improve his time trialling and win a stage in a small stage race this year.
If you follow cycling, chances are you’re passionate about all things Italian. Why not put your weight behind the most Italian of all neo-pros, Sicilian Salvatore Puccio? He is likely to become his country’s next big classics star, joining fellow Sicilian and Vuelta a España winner, Vincenzo Nibali.
The 22-year-old makes his professional debut after an amateur season that included a win in the Under 23 Tour of Flanders. Is he the next Nick Nuyens? Puccio sees himself more in the mould of Oscar Freire. Either way, Italy needs him since it has not had a major classic win in three years.
“He’s quite a punchy and hard rider, not a sprinter but someone a bit like Edvald Boasson Hagen,” said Sky sport director, Sean Yates. “We’re not going to throw him in the deep end this year, he’s still young.”
American Andrew Talansky already completed his first full season in the professional ranks with Garmin-Cervélo. It was a great start, giving home fans reason to believe he could be USA’s next Grand Tour winner.
“He can climb and he can time trial, but how far he can go in those disciplines remains to be seen,” explained team DS, Allan Peiper. “We want to take his development further, help him be a GC leader, to learn to guide a team and to concentrate over long periods. Last season, he was a first year pro, just learning to fit in and earning his team-mates’ loyalty.”
Last season, the 23-year-old placed top 10 in three WorldTour time trials stages: Paris-Nice, Basque Country and Romandy. In Romandy, he was the best young rider and ninth overall and with the Vuelta a España, he finished his first Grand Tour – not bad. The bar is high, but an overall win in a small stage race is the next logical step.
Tosh Van Der Sande
Tosh Van Der Sande of team Lotto-Belisol has a lot going for him: Under 23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner, track star and cool first name. Alexander Vinokourov attacked to win Liège, but Van Der Sande sprinted for his win. (The Under 23 version is slightly different from the pro version that finishes with the climb to Ans.)
The 21-year-old Belgian developed his sprint skills from the track, where he is 2008 junior World Champion in the points race. He would love to win one of the sprinters’ prized events, the Milano-Sanremo. Given his Liège win and ninth place in the Under 23 Worlds, it may be within reach.
Andrew Fenn made his pro debut at the Tour Down Under with OmegaPharma-Quick Step, unusual as most of the British development cyclists ride for Sky.
“They can only take so many British guys,” he explained. “After talking with the Sky guys, there was an option with Quick Step, which is a great classics team.”
The 21-year-old perhaps made the right decision since he is the 2008 Junior Paris-Roubaix winner and will be able to ride alongside three-time winner, Tom Boonen. He will learn the ropes this year, maybe have a chance to win a smaller race and prove his worth to the team, where he has only a one-year contract.
After Fenn signed last year, he won the bronze medal in the Under 23 Worlds in Copenhagen.
Arnaud Démare is France’s answer to Michael Matthews thanks to his sprint win in the Under 23 World Championships. The 20-year-old now has a contract with French team, FDJ-BigMat and hopes to have as successful of a start as Matthews.
Démare explained. “I’ll take my place in the back of the pack and try to learn, starting over again from scratch.” As with Matthews, he said he will take he chance for a win if the opportunity arrives.
Steven Kruijswijk, 24, may not look it, but he is already in his third professional year. The ginger-haired, baby-face Dutchman of team Rabobank rode to ninth overall at the Giro d’Italia and won a stage of the Tour de Suisse last year.
He said, “I really improved my climbing skills when I moved to Spain, where I train a lot on the climbs, sometimes with Robert Gesink.”
Kruijswijk is ready to win a Grand Tour stage this year, possibly when he rides for a third time in the Giro d’Italia. Dress in orange and prepare to scream for three weeks.
Daniel Teklehaimanot is the first black-African to race in the WorldTour and he represents GreenEDGE – how cool is that? Support him, and you are supporting a continent that may hold the next Eddy Merckx, or at least Cadel Evans.
The 23-year-old from Eritrea already rode as a trainee for Cervélo TestTeam and in 2009, finished sixth overall in one of the top amateur races, the Tour de l’Avenir. GreenEDGE’s general manager, Shayne Bannan explained, “If we can harness his energy, we have a guy who can potentially make a name for himself.”
Michael Hepburn has the talent to become the next Fabian Cancellara. The Aussie from Queensland is only 20, but already helped Australia to a team pursuit gold medal at the track worlds and won a TT bronze medal in the Under 23 road worlds.
What’s next? GreenEDGE will allow him to focus on the London Olympics and then harness his power on the road. With several promising results as an amateur in time trials, Hepburn will likely bag a win in his debut season.
George Bennett probably will have to watch team-mates Andy and Fränk Schleck race the Tour de France, but he IS team-mates with them nonetheless. The 21-year-old Kiwi signed his first pro contract with RadioShack-Nissan after a year in its feeder team.
Bennett may well get his chance to shine in the Tour one day, as he is a gifted climber. Look for him to excel in smaller stage races this year.