Five riders to watch in 2018
My personal list of riders I will keep a close eye on during this year. The idea was to include guys that will hopefully have their breakout (or revenge) season, not necessarily young, neo-pros or unknown, as they are usually dealt by mainstream cycling websites.
Let’s start this off with one of my favourites. The Groningen native probably left Cannondale because of the initial financial struggle of the team, but a change was well needed for him anyway. After four years with Vaughters and after being shadowed by the important and up-and-coming figures of Uran and Woods last season, I feel this is the right move. He joins Dimension Data, a fine team that can support him in the Ardennes and in many other classics, and give him a free role in a Grand Tour of choice. The field is now as strong as ever (especially for the Classics), but at 28 and after some important top-5 results I hope this is the time we finally see Slagter in full bloom. Tour Down Under will give us some answers already.
This was a difficult choice, as other guys from Trek were meeting my requirements for this kind of post, but I finally decided to go with Jasper. A borderline pick, as he’s been all over the place these seasons, but the maître chocolatier from Leuven is due a really big win now. He made the final selection in last Roubaix, won in Geraardsbergen (last stage of the BinckBank Tour) ahead of the likes of Sagan, Van Avermaet, Gilbert, showed he can win from a long-range attack and surely is one of the best sprinters among other Classics riders. He will be happy to join Degenkolb in what is a deadly duo for the pavé, while Felline could lend a hand too.
Being in the same team of the Boss is not easy but Jay is an awesome rider, there’s no doubt about that. After five seasons as a pro and some very good results, 2018 might be his breakout year; he gets over the hills with ease, likes uphill finishes and packs a great sprint, too. With these characteristics, I could definitely see him winning more than a stage in a GT, but what impresses me the most is how he has barely raced Ardennes yet, whose profiles fit a guy like him, and last year’s results were the proof. Supporting my choice is also the great National Championships he just did, taking the silver behind a dominant Mitchelton-Scott. As for Slagter, we’ll see more of McCarthy already next week. If the Boss gives the green light.
Laurens De Plus
Many fans will remember him for his horrific crash during Il Lombardia, but he surely put the episode behind him and will be eager to give us some better memories. A superb help for Jungels top-10 at last year’s Giro, he seems to excel in long climbs but he also got good results when the race was featuring hills or short climbs; he is not a bad time triallist either and, in particular, he has the power of intimidating other climbers with his 1,90m.
He will be back at the Giro in 2018, but this time with his own general classification ambitions. It will be his third season as a professional rider, and I honestly can’t wait to see what he’s capable of. (below a pic of the banner of his fanclub in a strategic place in Geraardsbergen)
Odd Christian Eiking
Probably my favourite Norwegian rising star. I will try really hard not to make any puns, so I will just say his transfer to Wanty seems unusual. It officially happened just after the last Tour de Pologne, where he was wheel-to-wheel with Poels, Majka, Yates, Teuns, among others, so apparently he and the FDJ management had different views.
He was climbing very well in his U23 stint, but his explosiveness and speed suggest he’s better suited for races like the Ardennes. Also, Wanty just got a wildcard to participate at the Tour again, so Eiking will surely want to show he’s ready for his first Grand Boucle. He is my last rider to watch, but definitely not the least; hopefully the odds are with him and his season will be fun and successful.
© Cover image from Chris Auld.