Over the years I've watched cycling, a number of riders have shown the promise that made me believe that I was watching a future champion. For some reason or the other, a number of these riders have failed to live up to that promise.
Here is a list of riders who I had the highest hopes for but somehow things didn't quite fall into place for them. I have considered riders from around the 2000 season onwards.
I don't consider the list to be exhaustive and look forward to your comments if you disagree with my selection or in adding to the list.
My greatest memory of Valverde is his victory on Stage 10 of the 2005 Tour when he out sprinted Lance Armstrong at the end of a grueling mountain stage. Like a lot of viewers at that time, I thought I was seeing a future winner of the Tour. But unfortunately, a combination of bad luck and other factors led to a less than successful career. While he was mathematically proclaimed the 2008 UCI ProTour winner and had the overall victory in the 2009 Vuelta a España, for a rider that promised so much, his success (or the lack of it) is sure to leave many disappointed.
Andreas Kloden shot to fame when he finished on the podium ahead of Jan Ullrich in the 2004 Tour de France. Much was expected of him and many experts even suggested his move to another team to as Team Leader. Unfortunately such a move never materialized and his fans are left to rue a lost opportunity. He has two second place finishes in the Tour de France and a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games. While he has consistently finished in the top 10 of the tour as well as won the German road race championships, at age 35 it does seem as though Kloden’s chance for Grand Tour greatness may have passed.
Popovych burst onto the scene in the 2000 /01 seasons when he finished second and won the Under-23 Men's road race in the UCI Road World Championships in 2000, 2001 respectively. He turned pro in 2002 and finished 3rd in the Giro d'Italia 2003 and fifth in 2004. In 2005, he won the White Jersey (Young Riders’) competition in the Tour de France and was considered to be a successor to Armstrong even inheriting the role of Team Leader. He suffered a series of crashes and pulled out of the 2007 Giro d'Italia. A loss of form led to a couple of less than impressive years in 2007 and 2008. More recently Popovych has played the role of a ‘super-domestique’ for team Astana in 2009 and RadioShack in 2010. This has led to finishes as low as 41st in 2009 and 85th in 2010. Every time during a mountain stage, the words Popvych has “popped” are heard too often for his fans’ liking.
Ivan Basso is easily one of the most talented riders of his generation. He won the Young Riders’ competition in 2002 (finishing 11th overall) in the Tour de France. The images of him winning stage 12 in the 2004 Tour are still fresh in my memory. His 2nd place finish in the Paris in 2005 was just a sign of things to come. In 2006 he won the Giro d'Italia riding for team CSC by a massive 9 minutes 18 seconds over the 2nd place rider José Gutiérrez. Unfortunately for Basso, things would start to go pear-shaped thereafter. He was excluded from the 2006 Tour de France along with Jan Ullrich. His contract with Team CSC was cancelled in 2006 and in 2007 the re-opening of the Puerto case led to him again parting company with his new team, Discovery Channel. Things would only get worse for Basso, as on June 15, 2007 he was banned for two years. He returned to cycling on October 26, 2008 after signing a contract with the Italian team Liquigas. Basso underlined his talent by finishing 5th in 2008 Giro d'Italia and 4th in the 2009 Vuelta a España. He followed this up with a win in the 2010 Giro d'Italia. At age 32, I sincerely hope that Basso can still regain the fitness and form needed to compete with Contador and Schleck.
Damino Cunego or “The Little Prince” has tremendous climbing ability as well as a sudden burst of acceleration. This unique combination led to raised expectations particularly from Italian Cycling fans who saw Cunego as a future champion in the Grand Tours. Cunego won the Giro d'Italia in 2004, the White Jersey competition in the 2006 edition of the Tour de France and the 2008 Amstel Gold Race. However in recent years, he has ‘cracked’ on a number of slopes of the Tour de France and has led to overall finishes far below what is expected from him. His lack of pace in the Time Trials has also been a cause for concern. Many experts in the sport now consider him to be best rider for “Classics”. However at age 28, I hope that Cunego can muster the form and power needed to win the Great Tours again and fulfill the promise showed earlier in his career.