10 riders with something to prove in 2023

10 riders with something to prove in 2023

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The sometimes unfortunate truth inside elite men’s professional cycling is that a rider is only as good as their last result.

Of course, that’s not always the case, but no rider is immune from the harsh reality that results are expected, especially if a rider is on a big salary.

The past three seasons have wreaked havoc across the peloton, more so for some riders than others. Either through a world pandemic or injuries, or through their own doing, several top riders in the elite men’s WorldTour go into 2023 with more pressure than ever.

Whether it’s chasing a contract extension, bolstering their reputations, or proving that they still deserve to be on cycling’s A-list, there are plenty of big names rolling into next season with a lot at stake.

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Many of these riders have already achieved great things. The question begs will they keep doing so.

Here are 10 riders — in no particular order (with their age and future team marked for next season) — with the pressure and expectations to step up in 2023:

Peter Sagan, 33 (TotalEnergies)

Illness torpedoed Sagan’s chances for much of the past few seasons. (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

The king of the “Class of 1990” is coming off a string of three frustrating seasons. Still a fan favorite, Sagan is no longer the race-maker or conversation-starter that he was during much of the 2010s, the Slovakian is hoping for a return to form next season.

It’s been a story of one step forward and two back for Sagan, who saw his reign of green jerseys come to an end in 2020. With his contract up at the end of 2023, Sagan will need to get back to being Sagan the race-winner, not just Sagan the crowd-pleaser, at least if he hopes to keep earning the big bucks.

Sagan insists the passion to train and race is still there. With two wins in 2022, Sagan needs to find ways to win again against faster, hungrier, and younger rivals. This season could prove decisive in how long the wildly popular Slovakian remains in the bunch.

Egan Bernal, 26 (Ineos Grenadiers)

Egan Bernal is hoping he’s back to full strength in 2023. (Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

The Colombian continues to make impressive strides from his catastrophic crash in January last year when he slammed into the back of a bus during a training ride in Colombia.

Incredibly, following a string of surgeries, Bernal’s brush with death seems to have changed his outlook on life and his career. And from every indication, Bernal seems determined to regain his place at the top of the grand tour pecking order.

If Bernal is indeed fully recovered, there is optimism inside the Ineos bus that he can pick up where he left off in 2021, when he won the Giro d’Italia. As Colombia’s first Tour de France winner, Bernal will be under pressure from fans and media to regain his Tour crown, but that pressure won’t come from team officials.

A lot’s changed since Bernal won the 2019 yellow jersey. The rise of Tadej Pogačar, Remco Evenepoel, and Jonas Vingegaard means there’s more competition at the top. Ineos Grenadiers no longer sets the tone in the peloton as UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo-Visma have stepped up.

A bigger danger for Bernal is trying to come back too soon, but there are indications that he’s on the right footing. Coaches say Bernal now needs to rebuild his depth and resistance to go the grand-tour distance of three weeks. A busy opening of 2023 already seems likely, but it remains to be seen which grand tour he might race next season.

Chris Froome, 38 (Israel Premier Tech)

Froome says there’s still gas in the tank, and wants to prove it. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The four-time Tour de France winner continues to chase his dream of returning to his former glory, but the 2023 season could be the deal-breaker for Froome.

Throughout 2022, Froome was suggesting that he finally turned the corner on his career-threatening crash from 2019 at the Critérium du Dauphiné that also nearly killed him.

Like Bernal, he’s undergone a series of surgeries and physical therapy that put him back on the bike. Froome has been dogged by complications and setbacks, but he said that during much of 2022 he was finally able to train and race without problems.

A third-place at the Alpe d’Huez stage at the Tour de France provided hints that Froome was indeed coming closer to a return to form. A bout of COVID-19, however, derailed his hopes for the Vuelta a España, and Froome rides into 2023 hopeful he can be at the pointy end of the race more consistently.

Israel Premier Tech boss Sylvan Adams insists that Froome can race as long as he wants to, and it seems Froome wants to see how far he can go. If he can remain healthy for most of 2023, this season should provide the answer with finality.

Miguel Ángel López, 29 (Astana-Qazaqstan)

Miguel Angel López at the Vuelta a Espana
The pressure is on Miguel Ángel López to challenge for a grand tour victory. (Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images)

The tempestuous Colombian is facing a crossroads in 2023. The question is whether or not he can ever win a grand tour. Even his boss Alexander Vinokourov is asking the question.

López is a consistent top-10 grand tour performer — when he doesn’t abandon the race, like he did on the penultimate stage of the 2021 Vuelta — and fourth overall at the 2022 Vuelta reconfirmed his status as a podium contender.

In fact, López has never finished out of the top-10 of any grand tour he’s finished throughout his career, an impressive statistic that reveals his consistency.

What troubles some — especially team managers who might be considering signing him when his contract is up in 2023 — is the trajectory. Teams and managers like to sign riders based on their ability to improve rather than what they’ve done.

López needs to attack and come close to winning a grand tour, or win one outright, to prove he deserves the marquee billing going forward.

Thibaut Pinot, 33 (Groupama-FDJ)

Pinot celebrated two wins in 2022 after years in the wilderness. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Another shining light of the “Class of 1990,” Pinot has been through the wringer with a string of dramas, from his tearful late-hour abandon at the 2019 Tour and his opening-stage crash at the 2020 Tour that left his back a mess.

After struggling through 2021 without racing a grand tour, Pinot finished both the Tour and Vuelta in 2022 inside the top-20.

Of course, for a rider on a million-dollar-per-year salary, that’s not good enough. At least he won some races in 2022, his first since 2019. That bodes well for his confidence and outlook for this season.

A climber-friendly Tour will bode well for Pinot, but it also will mean even more pressure than ever, something he doesn’t particularly like.

Greg Van Avermaet, 38 (Ag2r-Citroën)

Greg Van Avermaet at the Critérium du Dauphiné
Greg Van Avermaet vows to work harder to return to winner’s circle. (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Van Avermaet continues to pop steady results, with a podium at the 2021 Tour of Flanders and a podium at the 2022 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but even by his own admission, he’s far from his “Golden Greg” years when he was a podium guarantee in the classics.

Going into his final year with the French squad, Van Avermaet is putting pressure on himself to step up. He vows he’s working as hard as ever, and wants to prove he can still be a factor, especially in the spring classics. His winless streak dates back to 2019, so he knows if he wants to continue racing, he’s got to step up.

Tao Geoghegan Hart, 28 (Ineos Grenadiers)

Overall race winner Team Ineos rider Great Britain's Tao Geoghegan Hart wearing the leader's pink jersey celebrates on podium after the the 21st and final stage of the Giro d'Italia 2020 cycling race, a 15,7-kilometer route between Cernusco sul Naviglio and Milano on October 25, 2020. (Photo by Luca Bettini / AFP) (Photo by LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images)
Geoghegan Hart hasn’t won since his breakout 2020 Giro d’Italia victory. (LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images)

A surprise grand tour winner at the 2020 Giro d’Italia, Geoghegan Hart has for, a variety of reasons, been unable to confirm that result. Injuries, illness, and team politics have all been factors.

Winless since the 2020 Giro, he’s been plodding through the past few seasons either in a helper role or battling through setbacks. A top-20 at the 2022 Vuelta suggests that he’s turning the corner.

Ineos overlooked him for a starting slot at the 2022 Tour, but with the exit of such riders as Richard Carapaz and Adam Yates, Geoghegan Hart will have an open runway to prove his worth to everyone.

Like many on this list, his contract is up at the end of 2023. That fact often brings the best out of riders.

Caleb Ewan, 29 (Lotto Soudal)

Ewan is always a favorite when he has a clean shot to the line. (Photo: Getty Images)

No one denies that Ewan is one of the fastest sprinters in the bunch. Yet a series of crashes and bad luck has seen his pedals stuck in mud the past few years.

Consistently a winner across the season, Ewan delivered 20 victories in the past three seasons, but he was blanked during this year’s grand tours. To add insult to injury — which came with crashes at both the Giro and Tour — Ewan was left off the Australian worlds team on home roads in Wollongong.

As the lead sprinter on the team, Ewan will see the support and calendar of his picking, though the team’s likely relegation out of the WorldTour will be a factor in what races he can and does start next year.

Wilco Kelderman, 32 (Jumbo-Visma)

Wilco Kelderman endured another rough and tumble season in 2022. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

His high-profile move to Jumbo-Visma next season is loaded with anticipation. Perhaps no rider in the bunch has as much unfulfilled potential as Kelderman (though Ineos Grenadiers rider Pavel Sivakov also ranks).

He’s punched into the top-10 on six occasions in grand tours, but it seems like something always goes wrong for the all-round Dutch rider. A flat, a bonk, a crash, or a tactical misfire can often be his enemy.

Staffers inside the Jumbo-Visma bus are convinced they can put Kelderman back on track, and give him the support he needs. Even with the team’s loaded GC arsenal, he will see his opportunities as the team embraces a soccer-like “total football” approach to racing.

Yet 2022 saw him struggle at both the Tour and Vuelta, though in both cases he stepped into support roles when teammates emerged as legitimate contenders during the races. Consistency will be the challenge for 2023.

Sam Bennett, 33 (Bora Hansgrohe)

Sam Bennett needs to be doing this more consistently in 2023. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The Irish speedster showed hints that the worst is behind him during the Vuelta, when he won two stages before being forced to abandon.

Two seasons racing behind Michael Mørkøv and Quick-Step’s superb leadout train saw him rise to the top in 2020 and 2021, but he’s been stifled since a return to Bora-Hansgrohe in 2022.

Following a rough spring, Bennett was back on track in the last half of 2022. More so for a sprinter than anyone else in the peloton, a win is all that matters. The pressure will be on to prove he still has the winning kick.

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