Egan Bernal to win the Giro d’Italia
Although most riders spend their early 20s gradually developing and improving, occasionally a young talent will emerge fully-formed and already capable of challenging for the sport’s biggest prizes – in recent years, for instance, Nairo Quintana and Andy Schleck both took podiums at the Giro aged 23 and 21 respectively, while Alberto Contador won the 2007 Tour de France at 24.
Egan Bernal will be 22 by the time of the 2019 Giro d’Italia, and looks set to follow in their footsteps. Team Sky are set to select him as team leader for that race and, having impressed so much last season, both as winner of week-long stage races like the Tour of California and as a super-domestique in the team’s successful Tour de France, he’s capable of already making the jump to Grand Tour contender.
With the likes of Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) all planning on also targeting the maglia rosa, this year’s Giro will be a particularly competitive edition, but Bernal is such a special talent that he might just conquer them all.
A British world champion
2019 brings with it the exciting prospect of a first road World Championships to be held on British shores since Goodwood 1982, and with it the very real possibility of at least one British champion.
In the women’s road race, Lizzie Deignan will be driven by the dream of winning in her home county, and will by September have had a whole nine months worth of racing in her legs to reacclimatise herself back to racing post-childbirth, and hopefully reach the kind of levels that saw her crowned world champion in 2015.
Chris Froome usually opts to skip the Worlds, but can go pound for pound with the world’s best in individual time trials when he specifically targets an event – as he has the Worlds time trial race in Yorkshire.
And in the men’s road race, both Simon and Adam Yates ought to relish the undulating roads, in which environment either could spring a gold-medal winning punchy attack.
Richie Porte to at last make the Tour de France podium
Geraint Thomas proved last year that it is possible for a rider, even one the wrong side of 30, to break the negative habits that have blighted their career and to at last achieve their full potential with one perfect race.
Having suffered a similar run of bad fortune and frustrating mishaps throughout his career, Richie Porte will have taken heart in how Thomas overcame past problems to triumph at the Tour de France, and will surely be hoping to achieve something similar himself this year.
A dominant victory at the Tour de Suisse last year suggested Porte still has the legs to challenge for the yellow jersey – it was only a first week crash that prevented him from doing so last year. Poised to make a fresh new start with Trek-Segafredo, that elusive first Tour de France podium of his career is still within sight.
Marianne Vos to return to her best
Last year, Marianne Vos enjoyed her best season since injury problems disrupted her career in 2014. After finally opening her account for the season at the Giro Rosa in July, she enjoyed a purple patch of 11 wins in the space of just seven weeks, also sealing second overall in the WorldTour.
It was great to see such a legend of the sport back in the limelight, yet when it came to the biggest races, like the Worlds, spring Classics and overall classification at the Giro Rosa, Vos remained largely absent while her compatriots Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten were all-conquering.
The question for Vos now is whether she can challenge the dominance of that duopoly. It’s a big ask, but, given the way she ended last season, and the fact that, despite having already enjoyed so many years at the pinnacle of the peloton, she remains just 31, 2019 could see Vos reclaim her status as the world’s best rider.
Fernando Gaviria to struggle
How much of a sprinter’s success lies in their own ability, or in that of their team’s?
The demise of Marcel Kittel in 2018 following his move away from Quick-Step Floors underlined the importance of the latter, and this year will provide another fascinating case study now that the world’s best lead-out train have again lost another star sprinter in the form of Fernando Gaviria.
Gaviria has moved to UAE Team Emirates, a team which hasn’t had a great record of maximising the talent of its star signings – just ask Fabio Aru or Rui Costa.
It’s true that the Colombian is more self-sufficient sprinter than Kittel, but it’s also true that he hasn’t won a single race since spectacular stage win double during the first week of last year’s Tour de France.
With so many other sprinters such as Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick Step) all excelling, it might be that 2019 will check Gaviria’s thus-far indomitable rise.
Søren Kragh Andersen to be spring’s breakthrough star
There’s no shortage of exciting young Classics talent in the peloton right now – Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), Michael Valgren (Dimension Data), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) are all 26 or under as well as being exceptionally gifted.
But one equally promising 24-year-old who has arguably gone under the radar thus far in his career is Sunweb’s Søren Kragh Andersen. Though yet to land a major result in a spring Classic, the Dane has already achieved some terrific autumnal wins, helping his team to world team time trial glory in 2017, and very impressively triumphing in the new-look dirt road Paris-Tours last year.
If he can bring that form into the start of this season, Andersen could take the spring by storm – with a huge rouleur’s engine, Paris-Roubaix in particular is a race has the potential to excel in.
Trek-Segafredo to challenge Boels-Dolmans’ dominance
Given just how dominant Boels-Dolmans have been these past few years, the establishment of a new, high profile, well-funded new outfit in the form of Trek-Segafredo feels timely.
The squad that has been assembled is packed full of stars, that could challenge Boels-Dolmans on all fronts. Top puncheur Elisa Longo Borghini and top rouleur Ellen van Dijk ought to make a formidable pair in the Classics, while Lotta Lepisto will ensure they are competitive in bunch sprints.
Last but not least, Lizzie Deignan stands to be the team’s major asset – if she can return to her pre-childbirth levels.