7 Tour de France Rookies You Should Know
You've heard of Ineos’s Egan Bernal, a possible Tour winner, but don't miss these other fantastic talents—both men and women
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If Egan Bernal does manage to take the Tour de France this year (and he’s a fashionable pick for many pundits), he’ll be the third-youngest winner in the event’s history. But he’s far from the only young phenom in the race. Here are five more riders, all in their first Tour de France, plus two La Course racers, who you should keep an eye on for future greatness.
A talented climber, Ciccone is in his first season as a WorldTour racer, but he spent several years on the second-division Bardiani team in Italy, winning a stage of the Giro d’Italia in his first-ever outing in that race. He added another victory this year, plus the secondary-jersey competition for the race’s best climber. Many times, a rider who does the Giro is a little past peak fitness for the Tour. It’s impossible to hold top form that long, and for young riders in particular, the strain of two three-week Grand Tours in a season is significant.
But so far, Ciccone’s showing no signs of fatigue. On Stage 6, the first mountain stage, he jumped into the day’s main breakaway, narrowly missing a stage win on the summit finish. But the consolation prize—the yellow jersey of race leader (fastest total time across all stages)—is a career achievement for any rider. He wore it for two days before Julian Alaphilippe stole it off his back with an aggressive ride on Stage 8, and he held the white jersey of the race’s best rider under 25 for another two. What’s more, Ciccone’s overall-classification trajectory is encouraging: in four Giros, he went DNF, 95th, 40th, and, this year, 16th overall. There’s likely better yet to come.
Unlike Ciccone, Asgreen doesn’t have sterling finishes here at the Tour. Outside of a third place in the team time trial, his best placing is 33rd, on Stage 1. But don’t overlook the tall Danish powerhouse. No, literally, don’t, because you’ll see him at the front of the race for much of each day. His Deceuninck–Quick-Step team is having a fantastic Tour so far, with stage-winner and current yellow-jersey-holder Alaphilippe and another stage win by sprinter Elia Viviani. As a result, Asgreen has been spending most of the week at the front of the peloton. He got a day or so off after a wicked crash late in Stage 3 snapped his bike in half and left him beat up, but since then, he’s been back at work, dragging the pack around to bring back breakaways and set up his team leaders for wins.
Asgreen is only in his first full season on the WorldTour, but already his own results are turning heads. He was second overall at last spring’s Tour of Flanders, one of cycling’s five Monuments and a race of such length (166 miles) and difficulty that it’s impossible to get a fluke result: if you podium there, you’re good. He followed that up with a stage win at the Tour of California and a win at the Danish national time-trial championships. He’s not a rider who will win the Tour, but if you like the one-day classics like Flanders, he’s one to watch.
Laurens de Plus
A talented climber and all-arounder, De Plus is the seventh-youngest rider in the Tour. But the young Belgian talent is also already in his fourth WorldTour season and fourth Grand Tour. His team, Jumbo-Visma, which has stockpiled top talent, thinks so highly of him that it sent him to Giro d’Italia to support Primoz Roglic’s bid for victory and the Tour in service of Stephen Kruiswijk. The Giro didn’t end well for him, with a first-week DNF from illness. But in his first attempt there, in 2017, he finished 24th overall.
De Plus doesn’t have a solo win as a pro (although he’s been a part of several team-time-trial stage winners, including Stage 2 of this year’s Tour). But if you look back at his past results, you see a clear talent, with wins and top finishes in key stage races for under-23 riders, like the Tour de l’Avenir, the so-called Tour de France for young riders. Jumbo-Visma excels at developing riders: besides Roglic, the team has helped produce top field sprinter Dylan Groenewegen, who won Stage 7, and is also home to two young Americans, Neilsen Powless and Sepp Kuss.
Maybe the most intriguing young rider at the Tour besides Bernal is Mas, a Spanish climber on a Belgian team. Mas is in his third year on the WorldTour and drew notice with a stunning sophomore season that included a stage win at the highly regarded Tour of the Basque Country and second overall at the Vuelta España, the third of the Grand Tours.
While he’s done well in a few time trials, Mas is not a specialist in the discipline like a Chris Froome or Tom Dumoulin. But his excellent ride in a late time trial at last year’s Vuelta suggests that he does have a gift for recovery, which you absolutely need to be a Grand Tours racer. Better recovery means that, as the race goes on, you become better relative to your competition, which means you do better in those crucial final-week time trials. That’s what we saw in his Vuelta results last year, where he not only climbed well but turned in that top-ten finish in the Stage 16 time trial. Mas is under the radar at the Tour so far, partly because his team isn’t here to contend for the overall, and partly because it’s so stocked with other talent that he can fade into the background. But that might be to his advantage if he’s among the elite climbers in week three and gunning for a stage win or a podium placing.
Wout van Aert
Even though Van Aert is in his first year on the WorldTour, it’s hard to call him an undiscovered talent. After all, in cyclocross, he’s already a three-time world champion. But even in his first full road season at the sport’s highest level, he’s turned in impressive results. Despite racing a full slate of cyclocross events over the winter, Van Aert showed little sign of fatigue in the spring, promptly ripping off a series of top finishes in prestigious races like Milan–San Remo, a monstrous, 181-mile ordeal that is one of cycling’s most prized crowns.
Then he won back-to-back stages at June’s Criterium du Dauphine, a key Tour tune-up. More to the point, it’s what he won there and how: first, the Stage 4 time trial, beating out 2017 world time-trial champion and Giro d’Italia winner Dumoulin. The next day, he dusted a few top sprinters to win a field sprint in Stage 5. So far at the Tour, he narrowly lost one sprint (Stage 5) to the peerless Peter Sagan. Then, in Monday’s Stage 10, he got revenge by stomping Sagan and three of the world’s best sprinters for the victory. He also spent four days in the white jersey of the race’s best-placed young rider. Not bad for a guy who’s just getting the feel of this Tour de France stuff.
Two Rising Women Stars You Should Know
Friday also marks the running of La Course, the one-day women’s race that Tour organizers put on alongside the men’s event. While it’s nice that women get a showcase race paired to the biggest men’s race in the world, the Amaury Sport Organisation has historically been aloof about developing women’s stage racing (compared to the recently concluded, ten-stage women’s Giro d’Italia, or Giro Rosa). That said, it’s worth waking up early to watch the 75-mile circuit around the city of Pau, which starts at 4 A.M. EST.
The favorites will be a mix of all-around riders like Annemiek van Vleuten, who took a dominating win at the Giro Rosa, current world champion Anna van der Breggen, and the legendary Marianne Vos, who won four stages at the Giro, plus fast finishers who can climb, like Elisa Longo Borghini and Lucinda Brand. Here are two other rising young stars you should keep an eye on.
Katarzyna “Kasia” Niewiadoma
Niewiadoma has been racing pro since she was just 18, so she’s already got tons of experience despite being only 24. She’s a versatile racer who thrives on difficult courses, with top finishes in one-day classics (she won the women’s Amstel Gold Race last spring and was sixth at last year’s La Course) and stage races alike.
After Canyon-SRAM won the opening team time trial at the 2019 Giro Rosa, she held the leader’s jersey until Stage 5 and finished fifth overall. Just prior to that, she won a stage and the best climber competition and finished second overall at the Ovo Energy Women’s Tour.
Niewiadoma’s hallmark in both one-day and stage races is an aggressive, almost improvisational racing style. She’s not afraid to take risks and come up short in search of the win. She normally favors hilly stages and races, and La Course this year doesn’t quite fit that; it’s five circuits totalling 75 kilometers, peppered with short, moderately steep climbs. Still, we’d be totally unsurprised to see her make one (or several) of her trademark spontaneous attacks, and she’ll likely be one of the race’s key animators.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
Team: Bigla Pro Cycling
Cycling fans have been predicting great things for Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig for several years now (like Niewadoma, she’s been racing pro since she was 18). The Danish rider’s big breakthrough came in 2017, when she notched several top finishes in stage races, including best young rider at the Giro Rosa. Her 2018 campaign was uncharacteristically light on results. (“The spring campaign did not go great, to put it mildly,” she said.) But there was a surprising culprit: an infected wisdom tooth. She had it removed in June, and then promptly won the Danish national time-trial championship and ripped off a string of top-five results to end the season.
While Uttrup Ludwig has solid stage-racing chops, she may be best known as a one-day classics-style racer, which makes her ideally suited for La Course. Last year she attacked on the second-to-last climb and was caught just shy of the final summit by Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen, the two biggest stars of women’s racing right now (she ultimately finished fourth overall).
This year’s La Course route may not be quite as selective as the 2018 edition, but we’d still expect Uttrup Ludwig to be in the thick of things. Whatever happens, don’t miss her postrace interviews. At both La Course last year and after her third-place finish this spring at the women’s Tour of Flanders, her honest, emotional, often hilarious answers to questions are one of the best things about racing, men’s or women’s.