It is next to impossible to predict which riders will light up the racing calendar, especially in a sport where fate can be especially fickle. Riders racing for General Classification honours and team leader roles are easier to read, but the surprise appearance of young hopefuls who snatch stage wins from their elders is one of the things that makes cycling so interesting.
Narrowing down the list to just five riders was really tough, and we’ve skirted some of the more obvious candidates in favour of those who may have snuck in under the radar on the back of a great 2015.
5 Pro Cyclists to Watch Out for in 2016
The young Italian has climbed through 2015, first up mountains and then through the ranks at Astana. Handed leadership for the Giro d’Italia, Aru won two mountain stages back to back, and finished the race in 2nd place.
After teammate Nibali’s underwhelming performance at the Tour de France, manager Vinokourov appeared to lose faith in the 2014 winner and chose to send three possible GC contenders to the Vuelta a Espana in Aru, Nibali and Landa. However after stage 2, Nibali’s bad luck continued with a disqualification for holding onto a team car.
Aru’s season has been far more positive and far less controversial than Nibali’s so I would not be surprised if we see Aru’s name at the top of the roster and perhaps even winning a Grand Tour in 2016.
The sheer volume of racing days has not impacted on the Welshman’s performance. After a solid cobbled classics campaign, winning E3 Harelbeke and claiming third at the stormy Gent-Wevelgem, Thomas has flung himself at two Grand Tours in support of Froome.
As we saw at the Tour de France, it is clear he is capable of doing a stellar job of his domestique duties and still finishing in a strong position. He played a decisive role on the climbs, calmly reeling in attacks from other GC contenders to keep Froome in yellow.
Thomas was arguably one of the strongest riders at the Tour, and we have seen him go from classics specialist to potential general classification contender. 2016 is unlikely to be his GC year, but Thomas’s career is accelerating fast.
The former South African Champion had a great start to the season at the Tour of Oman, African Continental Championships, and the overall victory he snatched from Team Sky’s Ben Swift at the Coppi e Bartali in Italy.
As part of the inspiring MTN-Qhubeka team, Meintjes was never far from the front when the road went up in France. Sadly he was forced to abandon a few days before the end, but not before making himself known in breakaways and showing bravery on the climbs.
I’d like to see what he can do at the Ardennes Classics and he could have a Grand Tour summit finish in his legs in 2016.
Just one of Etixx-Quickstep’s powerhouses, Zdenek Stybar’s victory at the Strade Bianche came at the start of a busy classics campaign. Most notable were his handful of top ten finishes in France and Belgium including second place at E3 Harelbeke and Paris-Roubaix.
It’s easy to forget his Stage 6 win at the Tour de France as it was overshadowed by his teammate Tony Martin’s crash and subsequent withdrawal while wearing yellow. It was his second Grand Tour stage win. He could well double that figure next year and he might be an outside shot for a one-day Classic like Paris-Roubaix.
Adam & Simon Yates
The British twins may not be grateful for being lumped together all the time, but if Orica GreenEDGE can give them joint leadership, then why not? Success has swung between them all season and neither seems to show sign of weakness.
Simon had a great run-up to the Tour with a strong Criterium du Dauphine, taking home four top ten finishes and the best young rider’s jersey. Both twins relished the climbs at the Tour de France with two and three top ten finishes respectively. Finally, let’s not forget Adam’s victory at the Clasica San Sebastian where he seemed the most surprised to finish ahead of big names such as Gilbert, Valverde, Rodriguez, etc.
It’s fascinating to have two such similar riders in the same team and it will be thrilling to see how they progress. Will they continue to share the spoils or will the Yates rivalry be the most hotly discussed in the history of cycling?
There are so many other riders who have not made the shortlist, and no doubt a few names will pop up as the Vuelta draws to a close and we near the end of the season.
Two young hopefuls that will certainly have Team Sky fans excited are Brits Alex Peters and Tao Geoghegan-Hart, who joined the superteam as late-season stagiaires this year. With so much great British talent on the roster, it mightn’t be too long before we start to see some fractures within the camp. How long, really, will talented riders like Luke Rowe, who are well down the pecking order at Sky wait until seeking a leadership spot elsewhere?
Mikel Landa, widely tipped to join Team Sky next season, could well climb into contention when the road goes up at the Vuelta this month, and two more Orica GreenEDGE riders, Esteban Chaves and Caleb Ewan have great potential. They have both lit up the first week of the Vuelta with Chaves taking, losing, and retaking the overall lead, plus three stage wins between them.
And finally, it will be interesting to see what Tejay van Garderen could do with the form he demonstrated early in the Tour de France. He will be joined at BMC by Grand Tour hopeful Richie Porte, which may mean he is forced to play second fiddle, but the American’s GC potential is clear to see.
Is there anyone we’ve overlooked?