Five top neo-pros of 2021
Neo-pros with exceptionally bright futures ahead of them
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The man everyone expected to be the star neo-pro of the year lived up to the hype. If there were any doubts that young Brit might struggle to make the leap to the biggest level following his move to Ineos Grenadiers, they were quickly dispelled as early as his first weekend of classics racing, where he animated Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and sprinted for third at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. He went on to earn his first ever professional win at Brabantse Pijl only a few weeks later, before coming within millimeters of a first World Tour race in the bag at Amstel Gold, and even had the legs after completing his first Grand Tour and winning the Olympic title in the Mountain Biking to place sixth at the Worlds road race, a ride that was confirmation — if it still needed confirmation — of just what a special talent he is. Not to mention becoming the first British man to win an elite cyclocross world cup race.
Comparisons to the great Fabian Cancellara should not be made lightly, but Stefan Bissegger might just be the man to put Switzerland back on top in the world of time trialing. The EF Education-Nippo recruit caught the eye with his unusually shaped helmet, and justified the innovations with results in the ‘race of truth’, winning stages at Paris-Nice and the Benelux Tour, and also registering runner-up finishes at the UAE Tour, Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse. A stage win from a breakaway in the latter proved he’s more than just a time trialist, while a commitment to riding all the major Northern European classics showed an interest in the cobblestones — could he follow in Cancellara’s footsteps and become a star in them, too?
It speaks volumes about how quickly Anna Shackley has adapted to racing at the highest level that she completed a full season riding alongside the superstars of SD Worx, yet does not appear at all out of her depth. The 20-year-old was a regular presence in the team’s stage race line-up throughout the season, playing an integral role in steering Anna van der Breggen and Demi Vollering to overall victories at the Vuelta a Burgos and Women’s Tour respectively, and coming within just thirteen seconds of her teammate Niamh Fisher-Black in the youth classification at the Tour of Norway. On top of that, she was crowned under-23 national time trial champion, and offered great support for Lizzie Deignan at the Olympic road race.
Nothing announces a new force in classics racing quite like placing on the podium of Paris-Roubaix. Prior to that result Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal) was having a sold first full season as a pro, having the odd high placement in World Tour races here and there, winning the mountains classification at the Tour de Wallonie, and finishing the Vuelta a Esapana. That Paris-Roubaix ride came completely out of the blue, none of his previous performances had prepared us for this feat. Given the severity of the conditions, pedigree of the opposition and prestige of the race, it was enough alone to make him one of the breakthrough riders of the season.
Jay Vine’s rise to the professional ranks has been far from a conventional one, but results and performances in his first season suggests that he more than belongs there. The Australian was awarded his first professional contract with Alpecin-Fenix at the relatively late age of 25 as a result of winning the Zwift Academy. He immediately seized the opportunity he had won for himself by placing second overall at the Tour of Turkey, and proved himself capable at cycling’s toughest test, Grand Tour racing, by making it all the way to the finish of the Vuelta, and also finishing third on the mountain top finish Pico Villuercas.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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