As with the end of every season, cycling goes through a transition from old to new as sponsors come and go, riders retire, and a swathe of young riders make the step up into the professional ranks.
This year is no different, even if a highly disrupted season has meant fewer opportunities than ever to run the rule over junior and under-23 racers. Still, the WorldTour and Women’s WorldTour will welcome plenty for 2021, among them a number of gems and future stars, no doubt.
Neo-pros are classified as riders in the first two years of their pro contracts (above Continental level), but we’ve tried to limit our list to fresh blood as much as possible. We’ve made one exception to this rule, while some riders won’t be stepping up until late into the season.
Still, they’re all young and fresh, and have minimal experience of road racing at the top level – if any at all. The one thing they all have in common is that they’re exciting future prospects. Read on for our 10 neo-pros to watch in 2021.
Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), 21
Pidcock is the highest-profile neo-pro of 2021 as the highly touted British youngster signs up for Ineos – a move that has been mooted for years. He signed a three-year deal with the powerhouse WorldTour squad back in September and looks as close to a sure thing as you could imagine.
On the road he’s won Paris-Roubaix at junior and U23 level, has been junior world time trial champion, took bronze in the U23 road race at his home Worlds in Yorkshire, and won the Tour Alsace. In cyclo-cross, he’s been world and European champion at U23 level and has won the U23 UCI World Cup twice.
And then there’s his 2020 season, which saw him win the U23 cross-country mountain bike World Cup, become the eMTB and U23 cross-country world champion, take silver at the elite race at the cyclo-cross Worlds, win the U23 Giro and, last weekend, beat Mathieu van der Poel to take his first Superprestige ‘cross win in Gavere.
It’s quite the laundry list of achievements for the 21-year-old who has some top-level road experience under his belt, too, having raced the Tours of Yorkshire and Britain for Team Wiggins before starting his own Trinity Racing team last year.
Weighing in at around 58 kilograms and standing 1.57 metres tall, it’d be easy to peg him as a mountain goat but given his range of achievements it’s impossible to pigeon-hole him. Ineos have a special talent on their hands.
Jumping straight from the junior ranks to the team formerly known as Sunweb, the American will be one of the youngest riders in the Women’s WorldTour next season. The track specialist, aiming to represent the USA in the Madison and Team Pursuit in Tokyo, is reigning junior world champion on the road and also in the Omnium.
She’s done plenty more on the road, too, winning the junior Healthy Ageing Tour in 2019, taking second in junior Gent-Wevelgem and winning the junior Trofeo Binda too, and then going on to become junior national champion before heading on to that win in Yorkshire.
Jastrab didn’t race on the road in 2020, but DSM have seen more than enough to hand her a contract for next season, with team coach Hans Timmerman saying they see her as a sprinter-slash-Classics rider in the future.
Her first year at the top-level will be stop-start on the road, with track camps and a trio of Nations Cup events coming on the route to Tokyo in August, but wherever she finds herself racing, Jastrab is certainly one to watch.
Camargo is the latest Colombian talent to emerge into the WorldTour, moving from the Continental squad Colombia Tierra de Atletas-GW for 2021. He’ll join the growing Colombian contingent at EF, who have a sponsorship deal in the works with the Colombian government.
Not that he’s there as a body to please sponsors, though – far from it. In November, Camargo won the U23 Vuelta a Colombia, following on from the likes of Richard Carapaz, Miguel Ángel López and Sergio Henao. By the end of the month, he had won the pro race too, beating three-time champion Óscar Sevilla by 24 seconds after 10 stages.
He also raced against Euro pros at the Vuelta a San Juan and Tour Colombia 2.1 this season, registering an 11th overall at the latter having crossed the line in eighth alongside Esteban Chaves on the final stage up the Alto del Verjón.
The last man to win both the U23 and senior Vuelta a Colombia in the same year was Oliveiro Rincón, who went on to race for Kelme and Once. A fellow Boyacense (along with López, Nairo Quintana and many more), Rincón won stages at all three Grand Tours during his pro career, picking up three top fives at the Giro and Vuelta along the way. If Camargo can come close to replicating that, too, then EF will be over the moon.
Crossing over from the cyclo-cross scene, Van Anrooij brings with her a reputation as a top time trialist on the junior circuit. The Dutchwoman has raced for the Cécémel youth team and currently rides ‘cross for the Telenet Baloise Lions squad, picking up a number of top results along the way.
Along with countless cyclo-cross races around the Low Countries in recent year, Van Anrooij has also been junior national and European time trial champion, as well as finishing runner-up in the discipline at the Yorkshire Worlds.
This year, she won the first-ever junior women’s race at the cyclo-cross Worlds in Dübendorf and continues to race in elite fields at Superprestige, X2O Trofee, and World Cup events. A late-season stagiaire stint at Trek-Segafredo saw her compete at the Trophée des Grimpeurs and Brabantse Pijl – clearly enough for the team to snap her up on a full-time basis next season.
At such a young age, development will take time, but watch out for her at time trials in 2021 and beyond.
Certain races on the under-23 racing calendar always demand more attention than others, and the Ronde de l’Isard is one of them. The stage race, held in the southern French Occitanie region, is a noted proving ground for future pros, and has been won by names as varied as Denis Menchov, Philip Deignan, Kenny Elissonde and Pavel Sivakov in the recent past.
Back in September, Vervloesem added his name to that list, winning the five-stage race and sealing a move from the Lotto Soudal U23 squad to the senior team for 2021. He’ll join four other Lotto U23 riders, as well as two other neo-pros, in moving up next year as the team undergoes something of a youth revolution. More chances for the likes of Vervloesem, perhaps?
The Belgian, who hails from just outside Antwerp, enjoyed a stellar career at junior level before spending 2019 at Sunweb’s Development team, but the combination didn’t mesh, while a kidney infection contributed to a ruined season.
Vervloesem’s Lotto U23 teammate Henri Vandenabeele is another to watch – the 20-year-old heads in the other direction, joining DSM Development team for 2021. Vandenabeele finished second at Isard and the U23 Giro this year, dominating the tough summit finish at Hospice-de-France at the former.
Meeus is one of the latest riders to graduate from the SEG Academy Continental development team, joining Thymen Arensman, Fabio Jakobsen, Cees Bol and Edoardo Affini, among others, in the jump to the pro ranks.
The Belgian is another sprinter developed at the team and has a wealth of impressive results behind him as he embarks on his pro career. The highlight so far is Gooikse Pijl back in 2018, where he beat full-time professionals to the line.
In 2020 he added more wins to his palmarès, including two stages of the 2.1-ranked Czech Tour, a stage at the U23 Giro, and the U23 Belgian road title. He also registered top-five placings at the Antwerp Port epic and Gooikse Pijl once again.
He’ll slot into a lead-out role at Bora-Hansgrohe, but the team say he has the potential to be one of the fastest men in the peloton. The German team recently announced the signing of highly rated junior, the 17-year-old Cian Uijtdebroecks, for 2022 so look out for him on next year’s list.
Shackley is another of the multi-disciplinarians on our list this year, this time a track specialist turning pro on the road. The Scot is a double British track champion, winning titles in the Points Race and Team Pursuit earlier this year.
In 2019 she finished 13th at the inaugural Tour of Scotland, battling top-tier pros for three days on home roads, and also finished third at the junior stage race, the Watersley Ladies Challenge. Despite a disrupted 2020, the top team in women’s cycling have snapped her up for the future, with team boss Danny Stam recognising a “unique driving force” in Shackley.
Having grown up riding hilly terrain in Scotland, she’s hoping to develop into a climbing specialist, citing races like the Giro Rosa and Liège-Bastogne-Liège as her dream goals for the future. With the likes of Anna van der Breggen and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio as future teammates, she certainly has a great group to learn from.
Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates), 17
Ayuso won’t move to the WorldTour until next August, but the promising Spaniard will certainly be one to watch once he does get there. The 18-year-old signed a five-year contract with UAE Team Emirates all the way back in April, having been tracked by manager Joxean ‘Matxin’ Fernández for several years.
He was a dominant force on the Spanish scene this year, taking 21 wins, including the Trofeo Victor Cabedo, Vueelta a Tavalera and Vuelta a la Subbética stage races as well as both national road titles and the hilly Gizpukoa Klasika and Circuito del Guadiana one-day races. All that and two top-10s at the European Championships in Plouay, too.
Ayuso has already spent time with UAE at a training camp, and next year he’ll move to Italian Continental squad Colpack – which has developed the likes of Giulio Ciccone, Simone Consonni, Filippo Ganna and Fausto Masnada – before going pro. Matxin says he’s part of a long-term project at UAE, with the man himself saying he hopes to transition from an all-rounder to more of a climbing specialist in the future.
2020 will be something of a reset for Bäckstedt, the daughter of 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus and former British champion Megan Hughes. She turned pro in 2020, of course, but with just two days of racing under her belt before a broken leg and COVID-19 ended her season.
The Welshwoman, who spent five months in a full leg cast, and who only turned 19 at the start of December, has plenty of accolades under her belt both on track and road.
She has twice been a bronze medallist in the junior time trial at the Worlds, has won junior European titles in the Individual Pursuit and Madison, three junior track Worlds medals, as well as wins at junior Gent-Wevelgem and Omloop van Borsele stage race.
Now back on the bike and training again, Bäckstedt will be back to learning from thee likese of Elisa Longo Borghini, Trixi Worrack, and Lizzie Deignan as she starts again in 2021.
Like Ayuso, Kooij is another rider who will link up with his team later in the season, moving from Jumbo-Visma’s development team to the WorldTour in July. The Dutch sprint talent has excelled at every level he’s raced at so far and has already taken his first pro win.
That came at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali in September, where he won stage 1a ahead of Ethan Hayter and Phil Bauhaus. The win was his biggest yet, but one of many in 2020. In March, Kooij won the Croatian one-dayers, the Trofej Poreč and Trofej Umag, then winning the Slovenian GP Kranj upon racing’s return in July.
As an 18-year-old, he took fifth and seventh at the U23 European and Dutch Championships road races and ended his year with both stages and the overall at the Orlen Nations Grand Prix. Jumbo-Visma directeur sportif Merijn Zeeman has called him “incredibly fast” – going on what we’ve seen so far it won’t be long until we get to see that speed on the biggest stage.
We end our list with the German junior Brenner, who jumps directly to the WorldTour for 2021, having signed a contract back in June. He has been a force on the junior level for the past two years taking 19 wins in 2019 and eight more in 2020, including the Pays de Vaud, Tour of Austria and countless German races.
At the Yorkshire Worlds he took time trial bronze and won silver in the Euro time trial at Plouay this year. He’s also been double junior German champion for two years in a row, winning the 2020 road race solo by almost six minutes.
Brenner also races ‘cross too, taking several wins as well as the German national title during the 2019-20 season. He impressed DSM at their German talent day, eventually leading to his signing at the increasingly youth-focussed squad. DSM head coach Rudi Kemna calls Brenner “one of the biggest young talents in the peloton”.
- Giovanni Aleotti (Bora-Hansgrohe), 21
- Kevin Colleoni (GreenEdge Cycling), 21
- David Dekker (Jumbo-Visma), 22
- Abner González (Movistar), 20
- Clara Honsinger (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank), 23
- Anton Palzer (Bora-Hansgrohe), 27
- Alessia Patuelli (Alé-BTC-Ljubljana), 17
- Javier Romo (Astana-Premier Tech), 21
- Maxim Van Gils (Lotto Soudal), 21
- Kevin Vermaerke (Team DSM), 20