Top 10 most impressive pro cycling debut seasons

Cavendish, Merckx, LeMond, Boardman... We take a look at 10 riders that made a big splash in their first year as a professional rider

(Image credit: Watson)

Many riders find the step up to being a fully-fledged professional cyclist a big leap from amateur ranks or development teams.

There are some, though, that appear to have been born to be a professional rider. They join the top-level peloton with the confidence, fitness and finesse to make a real mark in their debut year.

Here, we take a look at back at riders who've entered the pro ranks in a blaze of glory...

Adam Yates

Adam Yates on the podium after retaining his overall lead on Stage 7 of the 2014 Tour of Turkey

Adam Yates made an impressive debut, winning the Tour of Turkey
(Image credit: Graham Watson)

Adam Yates took 11th overall and best young rider at his first race as a pro — last year’s Tour de San Luis. The Brit then went on to win the Tour of Turkey and GP Industria & Artigianato, and placed inside the top six when the big boys came out to play at the Tour of California and the Critérium du Dauphiné. The scary thing is, his twin brother — and Orica team-mate — Simon is equally as good.

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan wins, Paris-Nice 2010, stage five

Peter Sagan wins stage five of Paris-Nice in 2010

Peter Sagan showed the first signs of his prodigious talent at the 2010 Tour Down Under when he joined hitters Cadel Evans, Alejandro Valverde and Leon Luis Sanchez in the winning break on the queen stage to Willunga. At Paris-Nice he displayed his versatility to take two stages and a couple more second places. More wins came at Romandy and California, quickly helping to shape that ego.

Eddy Merckx

Eddy Merckx, Grand Tour doubles

Eddy Merckx started his pro career as he meant to continue

They weren’t among his biggest wins, but the Cannibal — then employed as a domestique for Rik van Looy — was still first across the line nine times in 1965. Of course this was a fraction of Eddy Merckx's career total — a figure so big it could send our resident statto into a fact-checking meltdown.

Tom Boonen


Tom Boonen during the 2006 edition of Milan-San Remo
(Image credit: Watson)

Riding for US Postal Service, Belgian neo-pro Tom Boonen placed third in the 2002 Paris-Roubaix. So instantly did he become a national hero, he had to break his contract to join a more suitable home-based, Classics-focused team for the following season. Big bucks Boonen’s recently attracted the attention of the Belgian taxman.

Eddy Merckx

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Mark Cavendish

Mark Cavendish Scheldeprijs 2007

Mark Cavendish kicked off his amazing pro career with a win in the Scheldeprijs in 2007

Starting with the 2007 Scheldeprijs, Mark Cavendish clocked up 11 victories in his first full season at T-Mobile. Other results included stage wins at the Tour of Catalonia, the Eneco Tour and Four Days of Dunkirk and, although he just couldn’t get into his stride at that year’s Tour, his season was a starter to a five-year reign of bunch sprint dominance.

Moreno Moser

Moreno Moser (Cannondale) wins the 2013 Strade Bianche

Moreno Moser wins the 2013 Strade Bianche

Hailing from a family of professional cyclists, Italian Moreno Moser quickly proved he was riding on more than a name when he won Italian early-season race, the Trofeo Laigueglia. Two stages and the overall at the 2012 Tour of Poland, plus second at the Montreal GP and third in the Italian National Championships road race that year confirmed his talent.

Stephen Roche

Stephen Roche

Stephen Roche collected 10 wins in his debut year

The Irishman turned pro for Peugeot in 1981 and beat Tour de France champion Bernard Hinault around the Tour of Corsica. Victory in Paris-Nice followed — he remains the only neo-pro winner — and he ended his debut season with 10 wins.

Chris Boardman


Chris Boardman is one of Britain's most successful pro cyclists
(Image credit: Graham Watson)

Chris Boardmana turned pro for Gan late in 1993 and marked his arrival with four end-of-season time trial victories. But since we’re talking debut full seasons, how does three stages of the Dauphiné, a record-breaking Tour de France prologue and the inaugural World Time Trial Championship gold sound?

Olaf Ludwig

Olaf Ludwig

Olaf Ludwig won the points classification in the 1990 Tour de France
(Image credit: Watson)

Sprinter Olaf Ludwig won a stage of the 1990 Tour de France and, despite a torturous time in the mountains, he also took home the green jersey. Already 30 years old, the East German was making his professional debut thanks to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Greg LeMond


Greg Lemond made s aplash in his debut year, and went on to win the Tour de France on three occasions
(Image credit: Watson)

The young American upstart won a 1981 stage of Tour de l’Oise before finishing third in the Dauphiné Libéré despite working in the service of Bernard Hinault. Greg LeMond also won the Coors Classic that year ahead of Olympic champion Sergei Sukhoruchenkov.

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