There’s a wealth of talent to choose from when it comes to picking out the best male riders aged 25 or under. To narrow the choice, we’ve restricted this particular list to those riders who had contracts with WorldTour teams in 2015.
That means there’s no place for the likes of Jack Haig and Soren Kragh Andersen, who have signed up to join Orica-GreenEdge and Giant-Alpecin respectively for 2016, and who impressed at the Tour de l’Avenir.
Also there’s no room for Nairo Quintana, Michal Kwiatkowski and Taylor Phinney, who will turn 26 in 2016. There are plenty of talented riders left for us to choose from, though, so here is our look at 10 of the best youngsters.
Carrying the hopes of a nation seems a daunting task for a 25-year-old, but Ag2r La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet seems to be dealing with it well so far.
For many years, the boys in brown were a bit of a nothing team; turning up to the Grand Tours but rarely threatening to win anything. But now they’ve received a new lease of life thanks to youngsters like Bardet.
He burst onto the scene in 2013, with an impressive 15th overall at the Tour de France aged just 22 and followed it up a year later by finishing sixth behind winner Vincenzo Nibali with some impressive rides in the mountains.
Coming into the 2015 edition, hopes were high that Bardet would replicate, or even better, teammate Jean-Christophe Peraud’s second-place finish the previous year.
In the Criterium du Dauphiné he set French imaginations alight with a stunning stage win in Digne-Les-Bains – with an identical stage featuring in the final week of the Tour, people were speculating that should Bardet repeat the feat the following month he could challenge for the yellow jersey.
Unfortunately he couldn’t live up to the hype, suffering early time losses to leave a run at the podium a little out of the question. For non-French cycling fans, though, this gave us the opportunity to see Bardet open up and show off the full range of his prodigious talents.
On the stage from Gap to St-Jean-de-Maurienne, Bardet put on a descending masterclass to open up a sizeable gap down the Glandon to win the stage by 30 seconds from previous ‘next-big-thing’ Pierre Rolland.
Along with Thibaut Pinot, Bardet remains the best chance of France ending its Tour de France drought and at 25 years old he has a great future ahead of him.
Another winner from Giant-Alpecin‘s change in strategy is Tom Dumoulin, who put in one of the best, and most surprising, rides of the season at the Vuelta a España.
His exploits in Spain are well documented – climbing with the best in the world, winning two stages, dominating in the final time trial to take the lead and then falling apart on the penultimate stage.
When Cycling Weekly spoke to Dumoulin at the start of last year he talked about his main goals being the World Championships time trial (where he finished third in 2014) and wearing the yellow jersey in front of his home fans at the Tour by winning the Utrecht time trial.
He didn’t achieve either of these goals, but his season was by no means a failure. A crash and a broken collarbone on stage three of the Tour forced the young Dutchman to readjust his goals somewhat.
In all likelihood he went to the Vuelta with the intention of riding hard for a few stages and readying himself for the Worlds time trial. What actually happenend, though, is that he took the red jersey on three separate occasions and was in contention until the end.
Ultimately, the effort that went into trying to win the Vuelta may have hindered his chances of winning in Richmond (he finished fifth), but a shot at Vuelta victory for a rider like Dumoulin could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, although Giant will be hoping for more of the same from the 25-year-old in the years to come.
Not many 21-year-olds get the chance to ride in the WorldTour, let alone for the best team in it. Marc Soler is one of the lucky ones and he showed his future promise by winning the Tour de l’Avenir in August.
Normally WorldTour riders aren’t allowed to compete in the futures’ race, but the organisers relaxed the rules in 2015 and promptly saw a WorldTour rider win it all.
The omens are good for Soler, with previous l’Avenir winners including Joop Zoetemelk, Greg LeMond, Miguel Indurain and Nairo Quintana – some pretty decent names.
His results in the Movistar kit in 2015 show he’s learning his trade as a domestique, but his youthfulness hasn’t stopped him being picked for the big races.
He helped Quintana to second overall at the Route du Sud before the Tour de France, likewise with Alejandro Valverde at the Volta a Catalunya and was involved in the Giro di Lombardia at the end of the season.
One day soon Soler will be the one leading the team in races, and judging by his progression so far, it won’t be long until that day comes.
Another 21-year-old to burst onto the scene in 2015 was Lotto-Soudal‘s Tiesj Benoot. It would be easy to pigeonhole the young Belgian as a Classics specialist, given his results in the one-day races, but his form in stage races has also impressed.
To start the season, Benoot made his name with an incredible ride to finish fifth in his first elite Tour of Flanders, beating the likes of Degenkolb, Lars Boom and Zdenek Stybar to the line.
He then put his stage racing head on and finished second overall at the Belgium Tour and claimed three top-10s at the Dauphiné. Another strong performance at the Eneco Tour led him perfectly into his final races of the season, claiming fifth at the GP Montreal and fourth at a rapid Paris-Tours.
Lotto aren’t short of talent in the one-day races and Benoot offers them yet another option.
When an unknown sprinter upstages Mark Cavendish in the first race of the year, the cycling world takes notice. Fernando Gaviria caused waves when he trumped the Manxman twice in three days at the 2015 Tour de San Luis and was promptly snapped up by Cav’s team, Etixx – Quick-Step for the following season.
Gaviria wasn’t a completely unknown entity – he won the omnium at the London round of the 2014-15 Track World Cup the previous November, but the San Luis wins were his first major achievement on the road.
He went on to win the omnium at the Track World Championships in Paris, having already penned his future with Etixx. He joined the Belgian team in August and the results were vitually instant.
At his first race, the RideLondon-Surrey Classic, he finished eighth before winning the second stage of the Czech Tour. He also won a stage at the Tour of Britain, where his former nemesis, Cavendish, led him out in the sprint.
With Cav having departed for Dimension Data in 2016, Etixx’s sprint hopes are in safe hands, although the signing of Marcel Kittel may lead to a little bit of a power struggle, but on current form we’d back Gaviria to come out on top.
We’ve been raving about the talents of the Yates brothers for years now and in 2015 they both continued their development at a great pace. The great thing is they’re both performing well at different races, proving they don’t have to come as a pair.
Adam added several high-profile results to his palmares in 2015 – no bigger than the Classica San Sebastian in August where he beat off a field packed with talent to take the win.
Having completed his first Grand Tour at the Vuelta in 2014, Adam was given a shot alongside his brother at the Tour de France and showed flashes of his skills in an Orica-GreenEdge team depleted by injuries.
With his form in the hilly Classics in 2015, it will be interesting to see if he can translate it to the Ardennes Classics in 2016 – races that he missed in 2015 due to injuries suffered in a crash at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco.
Simon Yates has been merrily carving his own career path over the past few seasons – building on his Tour de France debut in 2014 with some great stage racing performances in 2015
His season came to life at the Pais Vasco, finishing fifth overall, following it up with sixth at the Tour de Romandie and fifth at the Dauphiné.
Completing his first Tour de France was a significant feather in his cap, and doing it alongside his brother will have made it all the sweeter.
Having shown his credentials in the short stage races last season, Simon will undoubtedly be looking to take the next step by winning one in 2016 and continuing his rise towards the top.
While Bardet and Barguil are two of a number of riders predicted to rescue French cycling, Stefan Küng pretty much flies the flag alone for young Swiss riders.
With Fabian Cancellara in his twilight years, Küng has massive shoes to fill, but his performances in his first year for BMC have shown that the Swiss fans have little to worry about.
He didn’t have many chances to show it in 2015, but he’s pretty handy in a time trial. He did show those skills in road races, though, with a phenomenal solo ride to win stage four of the Tour de Romandie.
Ironically, at the Giro d’Italia he suffered a very similar injury to that of Cancellara by fracturing a vertebrae in a crash which kept him out for most of the summer.
He returned in time to ride the Tour of Britain before forming part of BMC’s victorious Worlds team time trial squad and finishing 19th in the individual time trial.
We probably weren’t the only ones who had to Google Julian Alaphilippe when he finished seventh at the 2015 Amstel Gold Race.
When he then finished second at Fleche Wallonne a few days later we really began to take notice of him and by the time he finished second again at Liege-Bastogne-Liege we were experts on the then 22-year-old’s career.
He didn’t rest on his laurels after the Ardennes, though, taking his form into the Tour de Romandie and notching up three consecutive top-fives in the first three stages.
Then he took fellow phenom Peter Sagan to the wire at the Tour of California and picked up a couple of decent results at the Dauphiné.
With all eyes on the Ardennes, Alaphilippe will have a tough job to match his 2015 performance, but we won’t bet against him doing it.
While Bardet has excelled in a team built around Ag2r’s climbing talents, fellow Frenchman Warren Barguil impressed at the 2015 Tour with a team built to lead sprinter John Degenkolb to stage victories.
Such a lone wolf was Barguil over the course of the three weeks, Degenkolb even got a bit angry with him after he did his own thing to ensure he got over stage four’s cobbles unscathed.
The Breton was the model of consistency over the Tour’s three weeks. In the 19 stages between stage two and 20, Barguil only finished outside the top-40 once as he ghosted around the peloton to ensure he hung around the top-10 overall.
While never finishing particularly low down, he also never finished particularly high up – his best result being 10th on stages two and 18.
Barguil’s efforts sometimes got him into trouble, though, with the 24-year-old almost meeting a grizzly end when he had to swerve round a herd of cows on the Tourmalet. Then, on the Col de Manse, his kamikaze descending saw him barrel into the side of Geraint Thomas, throwing the Welshman into a ditch.
Barguil was one of those riders who was injured when a car hit the Giant-Alpecin team while they were on a training ride in Spain in January. A fractured scaphoid means that his season start will be delayed.
With Giant-Alpecin moving away from their sprint focus towards supporting their climbers in the Grand Tours, Barguil should be able to break the top-10 in 2016.