The 2016 season promises some fascinating storylines but here are just 11 of the key riders to look out for next season
Sagan’s achievements in the rainbow stripes will be scrutinised but there’s no doubting that the Tinkoff rider will be a strong presence in the iconic jersey in 2016.
His search for a major Classic win continues, but should be a strong presence in the one day races as he bids to become the first rider to win a Monument in the rainbow jersey since Paolo Bettini won the Giro di Lombardia in 2006.
Few people fancied Tom Dumoulin to be in contention for the Vuelta a España overall win going into the penultimate stage, but the Dutchman’s performance has sprung him into the debate of future Tour de France champions.
His targets in 2015 were to improve his results in stage races – which he did, finishing fourth at the Tour Down Under, third in the Tour de Suisse and ultimately sixth at the Vuelta – and win the World Championship time trial – he came fifth.
Dumoulin’s 2016 schedule is still up in the air, but with the departure of Marcel Kittel Giant-Alpecin are focussing more attention on stage racing, so it will be no surprise to see the Dutchman leading the team in week-long stage races and possibly even having the backing for the Tour de France.
Astana’s Fabio Aru burst onto the Grand Tour scene in 2014 with a third-place finish at the Giro, followed by fifth at the Vuelta. In 2015 he surpassed that feat by clinching second at his home race and winning the Vuelta in remarkable circumstances.
While 2015 was a golden year for Aru, but 2016 could be the defining one of his short, but so far illustrious career. The Italian will ride the Tour de France for the first time in 2016, with Astana preferring to send the 25-year-old over former winner Vincenzo Nibali.
It could be seen as a bit of a gamble by the Astana management, given that Aru has only raced twice in France in his professional career – including his 39th-place finish at the 2015 Paris-Nice – but there is no better time to test his Tour de France credentials.
Historically, the Tour is less about a rider’s climbing prowess than the Giro and Vuelta, but Aru’s abilities in the mountains should hold him in good stead against his general classification rivals.
Nine of Caleb Ewan’s 11 wins in 2015 came outside of Europe, but his final victory – on stage five of the Vuelta a España – gave us a taste of what to expect from the diminutive Australian sprinter in the years to come.
His team, Orica-GreenEdge, are known for their patient approach to developing young talent, but Ewan’s raw speed and nose for the finish line saw the Aussie team send their pocket rocket to his first Grand Tour in his first full season as a professional.
He completed nine stages in Spain before the mountains and lack of sprint opportunities saw him call it quits, but he is scheduled to ride the Giro in May, which should provide him with a wealth of opportunities to prove his talent.
If you had told us at the start of 2015 that Marcel Kittel would only have one WorldTour win all season, we probably wouldn’t have believed you.
But that’s exactly what happened as the German battled a virus, picked up after January’s Tour Down Under, that sapped his energy and restricted him to just 38 days of racing.
In his absence, Giant-Alpecin found themselves competing for the general classification in Grand Tours, leading to a change of team direction and the early release of Kittel – just a year removed from being the peloton’s best sprinter.
The 27-year-old German has found a home at Etixx-Quick Step for 2016, where he replaces the departing Mark Cavendish, and will hope to put his 2015 problems behind him as he bids to add to his eight Tour de France stage wins.
It’s not been a quiet winter for the 2015 Tour de France winner – releasing the data from independent physiological tests – but Chris Froome’s one focus for 2016 will be to defend his yellow jersey.
Froome’s 2015 win was blighted by doping accusations, which likely won’t be silenced by his test numbers, but the Team Sky man won’t let that stop him attempting to join the pantheon of triple Tour de France winners.
His route to the Tour start line in Mont-Saint-Michel is only slightly different to previous years, preferring to start his season at the Herald Sun Tour in Australia reportedly followed by his first ever Paris-Nice.
From there he’ll ride his well-travelled path, visiting the Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné before beginning his Tour de France defence.
After a nightmare 2015 season, during which he broke his back on two separate occasions, Fabian Cancellara announced he will retire from the sport at the end of next year.
This doesn’t mean the Swiss will be on a farewell tour in 2016 – Spartacus believes he still has it in him to win another cobbled Classic, and we’re not going to argue with him.
Another win at the Tour of Flanders would see him become the most decorated ever Ronde rider, while victory at Paris-Roubaix would move him level with record holders Tom Boonen and Roger De Vlaeminck with four cobblestones in his collection.
Cancellara is no one-trick pony, though, with his sights on a second Milan-San Remo title (he’s been on the podium four times since winning in 2008) and a final stint in the Tour de France’s yellow jersey (he’s worn it on 29 occasions – more than anyone other rider who’s not won the race overall).
He will follow the Classics season by riding his first Giro d’Italia since 2009, with the hope of winning the opening prologue and completing his set of Grand Tour leader’s jerseys.
Even as he enters his 35th year, Cancellara remains a marked man in the peloton, but another Monument win would be a fitting send off.
Another rider set to retire after 2016 is Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador and, just like Cancellara, El Pistolero is keen to end his career on a high.
His attempt at the Giro/Tour double were only half complete in 2015, but he won’t try again, preferring instead to target a third Tour de France win in July and then possibly a farewell at the Vuelta a España.
Despite not looking at his best, Contador rode to fifth overall at the Tour in 2015 but nothing less than a win will satisfactory for the Spaniard, who would leapfrog compatriot Miguel Indurain in the all-time wins list if he could take an eighth Grand Tour title.
For the past four seasons since his doping suspension, Valverde has mostly stuck to the tried and tested formula: the Ardennes Classics followed by the Tour and Vuelta.
Valverde won’t be taking it easy in the run up to his Giro debut, however, with a full quota of Ardennes races, plus Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo, Dwars door Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke and the Tour of Flanders.
Once the Giro is in the bag, Valverde will head to the Tour de France to gain form for the Olympic Games road race, which the Movistar rider will enter as one of the favourites.
The undulating course in Rio could give us a showdown between the Valverde and his Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana, and don’t expect either rider to do the other any favours.
The reigning Amstel Gold Race champion has a new team for 2016 and Team Sky will be expecting the former world champion to spearhead their Ardennes campaign.
The Classics are one of the few omissions on Sky’s healthy palmares, and the signing of Kwiatkowski will give the British team more options in the one-day races.
The Pole should also help fill the hole in the short stage races created by Richie Porte’s departure, with his second-place finish in the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice showing his undoubted qualities.
If all the talk is to be believed, 2016 will be Geraint Thomas’s year to shine. Like Dumoulin, Thomas’s performance in a Grand Tour in 2015 propelled him into discussions for future winners and thus the Welshman will focus more on stage racing next season.
For the past few years Thomas has based his early season around preparing for the cobbled Classics and was tipped as a future Tour of Flanders champion after winning E3 Harelbeke in 2015.
But maintaining a top-five spot in the Tour de France until stage 19 led many people to call for him to lead Team Sky in a Grand Tour, and while that may not happen in 2016, Thomas will focus more on stage racing next season.
With Richie Porte’s departure from Sky, Thomas will likely take over as Froome’s right-hand man at the Tour and Sky’s backup plan should Froome’s title defence not go to plan.