Five riders to watch in 2019

New season, new teams and goals, new riders to watch (as in more closely than others). Given the unprecedented success of last year’s post, I will try it again for the upcoming season. Acting as a sort of disclaimer, the riders I picked aren’t necessarily unknowns, neo-pros or even breakout candidates; some might just want to turn it around after a so-so 2018, others can’t wait to have their opportunity.

Pascal Ackermann

The German champion will be making his Grand Tour debut at the tender age of 25. After a great 2018, the stars aligned and 2019 seems even more exciting for him. Without Bennett and Pelucchi in sight and with the help of some very valuable men like Selig, Pöstlberger or Gatto, to name a few, Ackermann can cause some troubles to the best sprinters in the world; as his performances in 2018 suggest, besides fighting for some stage wins, he can be a serious threat for the Ciclamino, the points jersey. Flip side of the coin for him are recovery and strength over the three weeks of his first Grand Tour ever.

Ben O’Connor

After a shy start of 2018, the young climber of Dimension Data found his mojo and began his blooming at the Volta a Catalunya, where he finished outside the top-10 for just one second. It was the prelude, as O’Connor composed a beautiful symphony at the Tour of the Alps just one month after: a stage win (ahead the likes of Froome and Pinot), the top-10 in the general classification and the jersey for the best young rider. As far as I know O’Connor isn’t a musician, but he got to his first Giro in great shape, slowly building his rhythm, in crescendo. Only a crash (and a broken collarbone) in the epic Bardonecchia stage stopped him from reaching the top-10 in his first Grand Tour appearance.
Considering also Anton and Pauwels left the team, I can’t wait to see what the Australian can do in 2019. Be it at the Giro, Tour or Vuelta.

Zoncolan – O’Connor behind Oomen (who was shortlisted for the post but didn’t make it) © Scott Mitchell

Zdeněk Štybar

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, they say. Is this the year Styby will finally wear his long white dress? I certainly hope so. Now 33, the Czech rode himself into prestigious results in different cobbled classics, but never got to the top of the podium. He will benefit from absence of Niki Terpstra, who joined Direct Énergie, and will be the most solid card Quickstep can play.
On the other hand, while Sagan and co. are obviously still around, guys like van der Poel and van Aert are slowly adding more and more road races to their calendar and showed they can compete with the best already. Štybar needs to play it smart and time his attacks right, as we saw he still got it.

Sonny Colbrelli

From an adopted Belgian to another, Colbrelli is poised for a great season. His 2018 was stunning even though the classics campaign wasn’t impressive. He also showed he can challenge the likes of Sagan and the two second places in the last Tour de France are evidence of this.
Sonny is in peak condition, as he approaches his thirties, and he will enjoy the help from experienced riders like Sieberg, Haussler or Bole to get closer to that coveted win.
He likes the rain, the typical Belgian weather and he dreams De Ronde; although I can’t see him raising his arms in Oudenaarde, I’m sure 2019 will be big for Sonny.

Jasper Philipsen

Last but not least, an out of the box pick. Courted by many World Tour teams, Philipsen decided to join UAE for his first season as a professional rider. Unlike some teammates, he won’t be pressured for results, but his calendar looks interesting, to say the least. Starting from Australia in two weeks, the young gun from Mol will then ride all the Flemish classics (and maybe more) from the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to Paris-Roubaix. Shadowed a bit by the performances of his compatriot Evenepoel, Philipsen has been incredible in the younger categories, excelling in sprints, hillier parcours and time trials. The Tour Down Under will give him some chances to shine already and I honestly can’t wait to see him (and many others) in action.

The party (“festa”) is here.

 

 

These were my five riders to watch for this season. Who are yours? Who should have been on the list absolutely? Let me know below or on Twitter.

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