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The hunt for the next Pogačar, Evenepoel continues: Young talent floods toward WorldTour

Top-level teams continue to bet on youth as Quick-Step, Astana, Bahrain-Victorious tap extra-young new riders.

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The men’s WorldTour continues to take an increasingly fresh complexion as it hunts for, or looks to develop, the next Remco Evenepoel or Tadej Pogačar.

Soudal Quick-Step, Bahrain-Victorious and Astana Qazaqstan all confirmed Gen-Z signings for their WorldTour or development teams Friday as the sport’s pivot toward youth continues apace.

Next year will see the 23-year-old Igor Chzhan step up from stagiaire with a two-year deal at Astana-Qazaqstan. Italians Nicolò Buratti (21) and Alberto Bruttomesso (19) will ride one year with Bahrain-Victorious’ feeder squad Cycling Team Friuli before they hit the top tier in 2024, while Soudal Quick-Step signed 22-year-old Warre Vangheluwe to its development team with a view of bumping the Belgian up to the WorldTour sometime soon.

“For several years we have been closely following not only the performance but also the progress of Igor Chzhan,” Astana team boss Alexandr Vinokurov said of his Kazakh rookie.

“There is a lot of work to be done together, but I believe that our team is the best place to develop young domestic riders, giving them a chance to prove themselves in the WorldTour – the main cycling league of the world.”

From the teen ranks to the top of the WorldTour

The coming season sees known names like “Baby Giro” winner Leo Hayter and U.S. talent Matthew Riccitello join the cycling elite with a rookie ride in the men’s WorldTour. Stacks of totally unknown faces will be alongside them in bringing bottles to team captains across the top of an ever-youthful sport.

Leading squads are increasingly snapping up teenage and early 20-something starlets for a spot in their top-tier or development teams.

In some cases, scouts and staffers are rolling the dice and sending teen sensations direct to the WorldTour from the junior ranks.

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Jumbo-Visma, Groupama-FDJ, and DSM are among the top-flight teams that have long hosted a development squad.

Recent months saw Soudal Quick-Step and Bahrain-Victorious join them by bringing development outfits into their orbit as the WorldTour hunts the for next Evenepoel, Pogačar, or Juan Ayuso.

Jumbo-Visma director Merijn Zeeman told VeloNews that developing talent within the team’s own system secures loyalty and ensures a pipeline of home hopes aligned to its national identity.

“We are a Dutch team with Dutch roots. And that means that we always keep an eye on young riders, and that starts already when they’re 14-15 years old,” Zeeman told VeloNews.

“We develop them through the junior ranks, through the under-23 ranks, and then we hope then they come to the WorldTour with us. Developing talent internally means they learn our culture, our technologies, and the way of the team.”

Belgian crew Lotto-Dstny and French teams Groupama-FDJ and Ag2r Citroën are likewise active in developing home-born riders.

Groupama-FDJ promoted seven riders from its feeder arm to the senior squad this winter, while the recently relegated Lotto-Dstny likewise pumped a number of their U23 apprentices up a level.

“The conti model which we implemented in 2018, has proven itself. The young athletes train and live together, have access to quality performance facilities and can switch to the WorldTour team in certain races,” said Groupama-FDJ manager Marc Madiot.

“When we recruit them to the WorldTour team, we know they are ready and they know what they are getting into. They already have the DNA of our team and they want to evolve with us.”

The hunt for the next Tadej Pogačar or Remco Evenepoel

Evenepoel this year became the youngest elite men’s world champion since Lance Armstrong won in 1993 at 21. The 22-year-old also joined Jai Hindley (26) and Jonas Vingegaard (25) as a 2022 grand tour champion in a season of unparalleled success.

Meanwhile, Tadej Pogačar (24) continued to dominate all through the calendar and topped the WorldTour ranking with marquee victories in classics and stage races, and second-place at the Tour de France.

Although not every teen rookie will become the next Pogačar or Evenepoel, teams like Quick-Step and Bahrain-Victorious will continue to gamble on youth in the hope they might find the Tour de France or Paris-Roubaix winner of the future.

“Turning pro is the dream of every young rider, and when it comes to happen with such an important team as Bahrain Victorious, one of the strongest WorldTour teams, there’s nothing more to add to describe how happy I am,” said 19-year-old Bruttomesso.

“I will aim to keep on learning as much as possible and help the team captains. After that, maybe then I could dream of winning for Bahrain-Victorious a monument classic someday.”