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Every season, lesser-known riders win significant races. These youngsters might not always be in the headlines, but we are watching them, and sometimes, if you look closely, you can see promising glimpses of cycling’s future superstars. As we looked ahead to 2019, we pored over results to find our favorite up-and-coming riders. Whether they are sprinters, climbers, or all-rounders, these five cyclists show promise to step up to another level of performance and results.
Katie Hall (Boels-Dolmans)
After dominating the North American scene for the past two seasons Hall is making the jump to the European peloton with the top team in the women’s WorldTour, Boels-Dolmans. Hall is already one of the world’s best on long, grueling climbs. Yet we’ve never seen her race against the WorldTour’s best climbers at the Giro Rosa because her former team, UnitedHealthCare, rarely (if ever) received an invite. If Hall can drop North America’s best on the Mogollon and Oak Glen, how will she fare against the world’s best on the Gavia Pass? I’m eager to find out.
I think that Hall will be an asset to Boels’s stage racing squad this year to assist Anna van der Breggen, and I hope she’s given an opportunity to attack on the big climbs for her own glory.
Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Spencer Powlison, @spino_powerlegs: Bora-Hansgrohe’s stable of sprinters is pretty crowded, but Pascal Ackermann found opportunities to shine in 2018, and more victories are on the horizon. As a 24-year-old, he won stages in four week-long WorldTour races: Tour de Romandie, Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour of Poland, and Tour of Guangxi. He also proved himself in the classics, finishing second to Fabio Jakobsen (more on him later) at the sprinter-friendly Scheldeprijs one-day race.
As I hinted at, Ackermann often plays third-fiddle on Bora, behind Peter Sagan and Sam Bennett. However, in 2019, he is expected to get a chance to race the Giro d’Italia as the team’s sprinter. It will be his first grand tour and a fine opportunity to earn a maiden stage win. Plus, as he already proved at Scheldeprijs, opportunities will arise for the German national champion to sprint for classics glory, especially if Sagan opts for a lighter race schedule (and he might, given his plans to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège). At the very least, expect Ackermann to notch a few more one-week stage wins throughout 2019.
Enric Mas (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)
Andrew Hood, @EuroHoody: Who is poised to stand out this year from the Spanish peloton? Enric Mas. The 24-year-old from Deceuninck-Quick-Step already had a breakout season in 2018, finishing second overall at the Vuelta a España and notching the first two pro wins of his promising career (a stage at the Vuelta and the Tour of the Basque Country). This year he’s poised for even better results, with a Tour de France debut on his 2019 calendar.
What qualities does Mas harbor that even Alberto Contador calls him his rightful heir? Consistency, grit, natural ability, and ambition. Those characteristics are what’s needed to excel in grand tours, and everyone close to Mas says he has that and then some. His gritty stage win at Collada de la Gallina in the Vuelta gave everyone a glimpse into Mas’s true potential. This season will be all about confirmation. A solid Tour debut will set him up nicely as Spain’s next big GC contender. That’s just what every bike fan south of Pyrénées is clamoring for.
Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)
Chris Case, @chrisjustincase: The most successful neo-pro of 2018, Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) gathered seven wins last year, including three in WorldTour races. None was bigger than his stunning victory at Scheldeprijs in atrocious weather and against far more experienced opponents. He also took sprint victories at the Tour des Fjords and Binck Bank Tour. Jakobsen finished his season with a flurry, taking two stage victories and the points classification at the final WorldTour stop at the Tour of Guangxi.
The 22-year-old rider hails from the Zeeland province in the Netherlands and was named after Fabio Casartelli by his cycling-mad parents. Jakobsen joined Quick-Step after riding for the SEG Racing Academy for three years. “When [team boss] Patrick Lefevere makes you an offer, then it’s like ‘The Godfather:’ It’s an offer you can’t refuse,” he said back then.
Built for sprinting and the one-day races, Jakobsen sees Dylan Groenewegen as his role model. Like his countryman did the past two years, Jakobsen’s ambition is to win a stage of the Tour de France. Before that, however, look for him to score more wins and surprise the veterans in his beloved spring classics.
Sam Oomen (Sunweb)
Dane Cash, @danecash: As a promising up-and-comer who signed with WorldTour squad Sunweb at a young age, Sam Oomen has had the weight of expectation on him for years. That didn’t stop him from riding to a Giro d’Italia top-10 last spring even as a domestique for team leader and Dutch compatriot Tom Dumoulin.
Oomen is an all-rounder with real potential as a stage racing star. He is not quite as far along at age 23 as, say, Miguel Ángel López was, but Sunweb has a strong track record of development. The team has been patient with bringing Oomen along so far. That could prove helpful in the long run. His contract runs through 2020, which should take some pressure off as well.
What’s more, Oomen has Dumoulin to learn from, and it’s hard to imagine a better situation for a young Dutch rider to find himself in than that. Oomen should get more opportunities to shine in 2019.