Tom Pidcock to help Ineos Grenadiers return to the top
There’s no denying it: Ineos Grenadiers were well and truly usurped by Jumbo-Visma last year as the world’s best stage racing team. However, a busy recruitment drive (which sees Adam Yates, Daniel Martínez, Richie Porte and Laurens de Plus add extraordinary strength-in-dept to a squad that already features Grand Tour winners Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal, Richard Carapaz and Tao Geoghegan Hart) suggests that, far from being the end of an era, 2020 was merely a blip in their supremacy in the sport. There’s no clear outright among these riders, but any one of them could feasibly win a Grand Tour.
And then there’s Tom Pidcock. Huge things are expected of the 21-year-old as he makes his long-awaited leap to professional level on the road, and, if his recent cyclocross form is anything to go by, he might already be ready to start mixing it up with the world’s best.
Remco Evenepoel to win the Tour de France
If Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) can win the Tour de France at the age of just 21, then why can’t Remco Evenepoel? The Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider will turn that age in January, and looks like the most talented rider yet in the new wave of young stars currently emerging.
There was a time not long ago when a rider that young winning the Tour was unthinkable, let alone one who had yet to even make his Grand Tour debut. But these are different times, and if Evenepoel does decide to target the Tour, he has the ability to win.
An Olympic gold double for Annemiek van Vleuten
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) has unfinished business at the Olympics. Four years ago in Rio she found herself out in front just 12km away from winning gold, when she lost balance making a right turn, hitting the deck hard in what remains one of the most shocking cycling moments of recent years.
It looked potentially career-ending, but since then the Dutchwoman has come back even stronger. A gold medal in the climber-friendly road race in Tokyo to make amends for that disappointment certainly looks on the cards — and why not in the time trial too?
With young time trial sensation and 2019 world champion Chloe Dygert (Canyon-SRAM) facing a race against time to recover and regain her top form following her own serious crash in September, both races look very winnable for Van Vleuten, who could become only the second rider in history (following Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel in 2000) to be crowned Olympic champion in events.
Nairo Quintana to return to his best
In the aftermath of his Tour de France, which unravelled in much the same way as all of his recent appearances there, it was easy to forget just how well the start of the season had gone for Nairo Quintana. The Colombian looked a man reborn, winning his first two stage races pre-lockdown for new team Arkéa-Samsic, and continuing to look solid in the races leading up to the Tour.
It’s also worth remembering that it wasn’t for want of form that Quintana flopped at the Tour, but rather due to lingering issues with his knee. Now successfully operated on, the Colombian should enter 2021 fit and riding with a team he’s evidently happy at, meaning he could roll back the years and win a first Grand Tour since 2016.
Inaugural Paris-Roubaix to win converts to women’s cycling
Paris-Roubaix was the biggest race to be cancelled in last year’s pandemic-decimated season, whetting the appetite even more for the 2021 edition of what is always among the most spectacular races of the year.
Almost as if to make up for its absence last year, a women’s Paris-Roubaix will be held for the first time ever, in what promises to be a landmark moment for the sport. Unlike other recent high-profile additions to the calendar over the last decade like La Course and the Madrid Challenge, this won’t be a watered-down equivalent to the men’s race, but one that will see the riders take on most of the famous cobblestones that make Paris-Roubaix such a uniquely special race. Fans of men’s cycling who have yet to get into the women’s sport may find themselves converted.
Tobias Foss to be the breakthrough rider of the men’s peloton...
In 2017, Egan Bernal won the Tour de l’Avenir; two years later, in 2019, he won the Tour de France. In 2018, Tadej Pogačar won the Tour de l’Avenir; last year, he too followed that with a Tour de France win. In 2019, Tobias Foss won the Tour de l’Avenir; in 2021...well, you can see where we’re going with this.
Perhaps the yellow jersey might be beyond his reach, given he didn’t quite have as successful a debut season on the WorldTour as those two aforementioned riders, but we’re nevertheless expecting Foss to make a huge breakthrough this season. With his quality climbing legs backed up by a powerful engine for the time trials (he was fifth in the opening stage of the Giro last year), look out for 23-year-old Norwegian to star in stage races for Jumbo-Visma this year — and maybe even Grand Tours.
...and Niamh Fisher-Black to be the breakthrough rider in the women’s peloton
Mikayla Harvey was one of the breakthrough riders of last season, and now another New Zealander looks set to follow in her footsteps in 2021. Riding for Equipe Paule Ka, Niamh Fisher-Black helped her compatriot to fifth overall at the Giro Rosa, and put in a star turn of her own on the final stage of the race when she came within a few meters of winning the stage from the day’s successful breakaway.
Her performances impressed SD Worx (formerly Boels-Dolmans) enough for them to sign her up, meaning that in 2021 she’ll line-up alongside some of the world's best like world champion Anna van der Breggen, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Jolien d’Hoore. Riding in support of them will no doubt help her learn the ropes, but Fisher-Black is talented enough to also start gaining big results for herself already.
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