Four breakthrough riders to follow in 2018
Each season, young riders emerge from the peloton with breakthrough victories. Were they one-off blazes of glory? Are they simply prelude to even bigger successes? I picked four riders and neatly pigeonholed them into categories (for better or for worse): Cobblestone classics, Ardennes classics, sprints, and grand tour GC. We can expect big things from them in 2018.
Cobbled classics: Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors)
If you were sleeping on Yves Lampaert in 2017, I’ll give you a pass. After all, he was riding on Belgian superteam Quick-Step Floors, during the spring when Tom Boonen rode his farewell Paris-Roubaix and Philippe Gilbert returned to glory, winning Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race.
Now, it’s time to forget about those aging Belgians and look to Lampaert, 26, who had an incredible 2017. He won Dwars door Vlaanderen, his first maiden WorldTour victory. Then, he won Belgian national time trial championships. And finally, Lampaert finished the season with a flourish, winning stage 2 of the Vuelta. He appears to be quite versatile, but bet on him to prioritize the classics. He was fifth in the 2015 Paris-Roubaix and won a stage at Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen that season.
What to expect in 2018: Another spring classics win, but perhaps not a monument, a couple stage wins in one-week races.
Dream scenario in 2018: Two second-tier classics wins, the overall at De Panne-Koksijde, a stage win in a grand tour.
Ardennes classics: Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing)
Although Teuns is a Flandrien, it seems the Walloon hills are his destiny. The 25-year-old punched onto the podium in Fleche Wallonne, third to Dan Martin and winner Alejandro Valverde. He was quiet at the Giro d’Italia. Then, Teuns had a magical three weeks in late July and early August. He notched his first professional win at the HC-classified Tour de Wallonie, stage 3, and went on to win stage 5 as well as the overall. He went on to win three more stages and two overall titles in the Tour of Poland and Arctic Race of Norway, both WorldTour races.
What to expect in 2018: Another Ardennes podium, an overall win in an HC-classified stage race.
Dream scenario in 2018: Wins an Ardennes classic, wins a grand tour stage (but probably not the Tour), wins another week-long stage race.
Bunch sprints: Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo)
He had us English-language headline writers groaning when he won the Tour’s final stage, but really, we’re excited to see a fresh sprinter come to the fore in Dylan Groenewegen. That victory on the Champs wasn’t a one-off, either. The 24-year-old Dutchman was third in stage 10 and second the next day in Pau.
Sure, Groenewegen wasn’t an unknown quantity this season, having won 2016 nationals and a stage at the Eneco Tour. However, his victory on the biggest stage in the world is on the next level.
What to expect in 2018: Wins a spring classic (likely Dwars door Vlaanderen or Scheldeprijs), wins another grand tour stage.
Dream scenario in 2018: Earns 10 victories — two spring classics, a Tour stage, and a handful of stages at major one-week races like Paris-Nice.
Grand tour GC: Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)
Like Groenewegen, Lopez showed his stuff in 2016. But the man who won Tour de Suisse and Milano-Torino that year is now a legitimate GC hopeful for the grand tours. The Colombian they call “Superman” won stages 11 and 15 at the Vuelta en route to an eighth-place overall result. If you’re keeping score at home, he was more than 10 minutes ahead of Astana teammate Fabio Aru, who was supposedly the team leader in that race.
If I were running the Astana squad, Lopez would be first in line to lead a grand tour squad — perhaps even at the Tour de France. After all, this year’s route will favor an aggressive climber like the 23-year-old. And wouldn’t Aru prefer to race the Giro anyway?
What to expect in 2018: A stage win and top-10 overall result at the Tour de France.
Dream scenario in 2018: Wins another one-week stage race, two Tour stages, and finishes top five at the Grande Boucle.