Five for the future: The riders in today’s peloton that we will be talking about for a long time yet…..

The peloton is awash with young talent and there’s a definite air of the baton being passed from one generation to the next.

But which will be a flash in the pan and which have the ability to go on and dominate for a decade?

There’s no hard and fast way of knowing but here we take a look at our five for the future…

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Remco Evenepoel (Belgium, 19)

Breakout performance
It was more a ‘breakout week’ in this guy’s case. Having dropped and ridden away from the world’s best on the way to winning one-day race Classica San Sebastian in August 2019, he crushed the European Time Trial championships five days later, comfortably beating TT specialists such as Stefan Küng and Alex Dowsett while he was at it.

Palmares to date
San Sebastian 2019
European ITT Champion 2019
Junior World Road Race and ITT Champion 2018

Strengths and weaknesses
The main chink in Evenepoel’s armour is potentially his bike-handling and group riding skills, with a number of people pointing out that his lack of experience of racing at the top level can be noticeable. The only place to learn those skills is through racing, and he won’t be short of that in the future.

Next steps / prospects
Remco is to stay with Deceuninck-Quick-Step until 2023, a logical choice given his nationality and the resources and experience they boast.  But who knows what type of racing he’ll be taking part in – it’s not yet clear whether he’s a future GC star, a one-day rider, or maybe an all-rounder al a Julian Alaphilippe.

One thing is clear, however – at just 19 years of age, he needs to be managed carefully so he doesn’t do too much too soon, and that the absolute frenzy of hype around him doesn’t go to his head.

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Belgium is collectively losing its nut over this prodigious talent, and are branding him ‘the new Mercx’, and that pressure and accolade could scupper Remco’s ability to focus on the bike. 

I imagine the no-bullshit approach of Patrick Lefevre and Brian Holm, should keep him on the straight and narrow.

Indeed, they’ve already stated he won’t ride the Tour de France until 2023, so as to allow him to develop experience and maturity first.

Where did he come from?
You’d expect a rider who has blazed such a trail at such a young age to have been riding bikes since he was in nappies, but Evenepoel played football through his youth, even making the U16 Belgian national team.

He switched to bikes relatively late in life and was plucked straight from the junior ranks by his Belgian super-team, having not even ridden U23 or gained experience at Pro Continental level.

Pub Quiz Trivia
Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe refer to him as ‘the little bastard’ on the ‘Watts Occurring’ podcast, a tongue-in-cheek allusion to his phenomenal talent and power.

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Egan Bernal (Colombia, 22)

Breakout performance
He won a race called the Tour de France once, you may have heard of it?

Palmares to date
Tour de France 2019
Tour de Suisse 2019
Paris-Nice 2019

Strengths and weaknesses
It seems Bernal only has strengths. He can outclimb anyone, on his day. His time trial was the only blip in his ride to the yellow jersey in 2019, but is typically sound – he took 6th and 11th in the time trials on the way to winning Paris-Nice and Tour de Suisse respectively. As an ex-mountain bike racer, he’s got the skills and isn’t just a W/KG machine.

Perhaps more importantly, he seems mature and willing to listen to those that know best. He toed the party line in working for Geraint Thomas at the Tour until it was clear that he was the better rider and the team gave him the green light to ride.

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And despite winning the biggest race in the world, he has remained humble, saying “I want to have my feet on the ground and keep working” in a recent interview.

He’s one of those kids that’s disgustingly good at everything, and nice to boot.

Next steps / prospects
Bernal is signed to Ineos until 2023, and so his future is certainly secure. However, what his role will be is less clear. With Chris Froome possibly making his come back from injury in 2020, the signing of Richard Carapaz, and of course, Thomas’s presence, the team have four grand tour winners on their books. As to how they will divide the racing between them is unclear.

Where did he come from?
Bernal grew up in Zipaquira, a mining town set at 2,650m elevation that is close to Bogata, and learnt his skills in racing cross country mountain bike. As with many other South Americans, Gianni Savio gave him a European opening at his Androni Giocattoli team in the 2016-17 seasons. It didn’t take long for Team Sky to snap him up in 2018, and that’s where he’s likely to be for many years to come.

Pub Quiz Trivia
According to Colombian news outlet El Espectador, his mother mistook her pregnancy with in-utero Egan for a medical condition, and only found out she was due a child with one month’s notice.

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Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia, 20)

Breakout performance
Pogačar had been going extremely well throughout 2019, but it was his stage victory in the storms and dirt of stage 9 of this year’s Vuelta that made us pay real attention. The young Slovenian capitalised on crashes from two of his rivals and used raw climbing power and aggression to ride through the others on his way to victory on the epic high-mountain stage in Andorra.

Palmares to date
Tour of California 2019
Volta a Algarve 2019
National ITT champion 2019

Strengths and weaknesses
As the Slovenian ITT champion, he clearly has the chops against the clock (admittedly, Primoz Roglic wasn’t racing, but Pogacar was still able to better-established names such as Matej Mohoric and Jan Tratnik). Whatsmore, he goes up a hill very well, as his performance in this year’s Vuelta shows. He seems to boast the skillset of modern-day Grand Tour winners such as Tom Dumoulin, Chris Froome, and Geraint Thomas. Let’s see if he can be as successful.

Next steps / prospects
The young Slovenian is signed to UAE-Team Emirates until 2023. With Dan Martin moving across to Israel Cycling Academy next year, that will leave Pogačar fighting with Fabio Aru for team leadership. However, after a storming first half of the Vuelta, you can bet that there’s going to be several teams sniffing around his contract in years to come.

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While UAE-Team Emirates are stable and well-financed, you can’t help but feel that Pogačar may be better off somewhere with a little more clout in order to build experience and get the support he needs.

Where did he come from?
Pogačar entered the world of elite racing through two seasons with the Slovenian continental team Ljubjana Gus Xaurum in 2017 and 2018, with whom he won the 2018 Tour de L’Avenir, holding off a pack of climbing talent on the Colombian team.

The French U23 race is seen as the place to find up-and-coming new talent (Bernal won it in 2017), and it didn’t take long for the WorldTour teams to come calling.

While UAE-Team Emirates were the first off the mark, management at Bahrain Merida are open in admitting that they were disappointed at having missed the opportunity to sign him to their heavily-Slovenian team.

Pub Quiz Trivia
Pronounce his name as follows: Ta-day P-gah-cher. You can buy a Tadej Pogačar-branded keyring here if you feel so inclined.

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Sergio Higuita (Colombia, 22)

Breakout performance
Higuita came to the cycling world’s consciousness in the 2019 Tour of California, where he placed second overall, behind Tadej Pogačar. The achievement wasn’t just in the podium position, however, but in the fact that he had only stepped up to WorldTour level 12 days earlier.

His EF Education First team signed him on the agreement that he spend that start of the season with Basque team Fundación Euskadi so as to give him some exposure to European racing, and he only joined the WorldTour team in May 2019.

Palmares to date
Tour of California 2019: 2nd
Tour of Poland 2019: 4th
Vuelta a Andalucia 2019: 7th

Strengths and weaknesses
Unlike some younger riders, particularly those that have not learnt their craft racing in Europe, Higuita has bike handling and descending skills-a-plenty, with EF-Education First boss Jonathan Vaughters claiming that people told him “he’s the best descender in Colombia.”

Higuita’s background of riding on the track will have given his bike-handling skills something of a head-start, and will definitely have played into his other strength – short explosive power.

His punchiness has even led him to be compared to king of the uphill sprint, Alejandro Valverde, a rider that is 17 years Higuita’s senior.

Next steps / prospects
Higuita’s next two seasons are with EF Education First, which seems to have been a good home for him so far. With Rigo Uran, the godfather of modern-day Colombian cycling on the team, he has the perfect mentor, and will be in an environment where youngsters such as Hugh Carthy and fellow Colombian Danny Martinez are given exposure and opportunity. Presumably, his next step will be some grand tour racing in 2020.         

Where did he come from?
Born in Colombia’s second city Medellin, Higuita has had relatively little experience racing in Europe or North America, having ridden with Colombian team Manzana Postobon in 2017 and 2018.

It was only his few months at Continental team Fundacion Euskadi that gave him a chance to taste racing in Europe. He evidently learnt a lot, fast.

Pub Quiz Trivia
He’s nicknamed ‘The Higuita Monster’. I have no idea why.

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Pavel Sivakov (22)

Breakout performance
Perhaps more impressive than his successes at the Tours of Poland and the Alps was his ninth place at the Giro d’Italia, his second-ever grand tour and the first that he finished.

After Ineos were shorn of Egan Bernal due to his training crash, and co-leader Tao Geoghegan Hart crashed out mid-race, the focus was on the Russian’s shoulders, and he handled the pressure incredibly, with a long spell in the young rider’s jersey and two top-ten results on tough mountain stages.

Palmares to date
Tour of Poland 2019
Tour of the Alps 2019
Giro D’Italia 2019 – 9th
Baby Giro 2017

Strengths and weaknesses
Sivakov is the archetypal Team Sky leader of years past; a big diesel engine with solid time trial skills and powerful climbing, though less explosive than the pure climbers. His potential in one-day races gives him an extra quiver to his bow, however – he placed second in the U23 Liege Bastogne Liege in 2015, and took a solid 15th place in that year’s U23 Paris-Roubaix.

Next steps / prospects
The youngster is signed to Ineos for 2020, after which his future is unclear. With the British super-team set to boast four grand tour winners next year, along with fellow young talents Tao Geoghegan Hart and Ivan Sosa, Sivakov may find himself struggling to gain the opportunities he needs to develop.

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He could learn a lot playing the role of helper to riders of the experience of Chris Froome, but could he learn more being thrown into leadership duties at another team? Watch this space.

Where did he come from?
Born in Italy to Russian former cylists before growing up near the French Pyrenees, Sivakov came directly from the U23 ranks, without riding for a Continental or Pro Continental team along the way.

His first major milestone was riding with BMC’s development team, however, he wasn’t given the race opportunities he needed to flourish. Ineos picked him up after noticing his absolute dominance in the Baby Giro, and signed him in 2018.

Pub Quiz Trivia
Despite holding a dual French-Russian nationality, Sivakov chooses to ride for Russia in national and world championships, where he feels he has more opportunity.

Main image by Alex Broadway, courtesy of ASO.

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