This 2015 season showed that the new professional cyclists can not only fit in, but also ride side by side and win against their WorldTour colleagues. Belgian Tiesj Benoot placed fifth in the Tour of Flanders, Australian Caleb Ewan won all over the world and Swiss Stefan Küng rocketed away from the pack.
Cycling Weekly takes a look at seven top WorldTour neo-professionals from this last year.
Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal)
The 21-year-old placed fourth in the Under 23 Worlds last year and kept improving during his first year at the WorldTour level. He failed to win, but hauled in the UCI points.
The Belgian turned heads with his fifth place behind Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) in the 265km Tour of Flanders. He did not stop there. He finished second behind established Belgian professional, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) in the Baloise Belgium Tour, eighth in the Eneco Tour and closed his season with fifth in the GP Montréal and fourth in Paris-Tours.
Lotto’s manager Marc Sergeant is happy, he has Benoot on his books to at least the end of 2017.
Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE)
The Australian pulled in the most wins, 11, out of the neo-pros. That number puts him fifth in the win count for any rider from the 2015 season behind Alexander Kristoff, Marko Kump, André Greipel and Mark Cavendish. Cavendish incidentally also sprinted to 11 wins in his debut year.
The 21-year-old’s best victory came when he blasted ahead of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) on the one-kilometre ramp ending stage five of the Vuelta a España. He also won the Vuelta Ciclista a La Rioja and the Tour of Korea overall classification.
Stefan Küng (BMC Racing)
With Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) nearing retirement, Switzerland has another strong time trial rider to cheer.
Küng can do it all it seems. He soloed to victories in the Tour de Romandie and the Volta Limburg Classic, and helped BMC Racing win the World Championships team time trial. On the track, the 21-year-old won the individual pursuit at the European Track Championships and set the seventh fastest pursuit time in history.
Watch: How much speed can you buy?
Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)
After his Tour de L’Avenir win, the baby-faced Colombian debuted properly with team Astana. He won a summit finish stage at the Vuelta a Burgos ahead of Daniel Moreno (Katusha) and placed fourth overall. In the Tour de Suisse, with the podium of Simon Spilak (Katusha), Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), the 21-year-old placed eighth overall.
Astana have already groomed talents like Fabio Aru, this year’s Vuelta a España victor, so Lopez will be in good hands if he wants to one day win a Grand Tour.
Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale)
Frenchman ‘Roger’ placed fifth overall in the Vuelta a Burgos and seventh in the Tour of Austria. At home, the 21-year-old notched up points with a seventh overall in Etoile de Bessèges, 10th in Tour de Picardie, third in Route du Sud and third again plus a stage win in the Tour de l’Ain.
Followers should expect more to come. He has a contract through 2017 with France’s AG2R, where he can draw on the experience of team-mates like Romain Bardet and Jean-Christophe Peraud.
Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-GreenEDGE)
After a successful run in 2014 with a stage victory in the Tour of Denmark, a general classification win in the Ronde de l’Oise and second overall in the Tour des Fjords, Orica snapped up the Dane.
And he didn’t slow down in 2015. Though he failed to raise his arms in victory, Cort sprinted to 10th place behind Kristoff in the GP Ouest France-Plouay and fourth behind Sagan in a Tirreno-Adriatico stage, and bagged points in the Eneco Tour, Tour of Turkey and the Tour of Denmark.
Marc Soler (Movistar)
The 21-year-old Spaniard impressed in his first year in Movistar’s blue and green colours. He helped Nairo Quintana to second overall in the Route du Sud before the Tour de France, and did the same for team-mate Alejandro Valverde in the Volta a Catalunya.
When the team did let him loose, he won. In the Tour de L’Avenir, which is normally not open to WorldTour riders, he took the overall victory. It’s a good sign because the ‘Tour of the Future’ honour roll includes Quintana, Greg LeMond and Felice Gimondi.
Given such a start, Soler could be about to start in a Grand Tour in 2016 and soon after, take the reins from Quintana and Valverde.