Pierre Rolland won the Young Rider Classification at the 2010 Tour de France
Cycling is not a sport which favors youth. It takes years to learn how to ride the large Alpine passes or when to start a sprint, and a rider does not physically mature until their mid-20s. Race organizers usually reward young riders by letting them compete for their own classification and jersey, usually called the Young Rider Classification. Cycling lore says that a rider will begin to show signs of their true potential around the age of 25, and rare is the rider who can win big races before 25.
Young riders can provide some of the most exciting racing because they are untested and able to produce unexpected results, such as with Pierre Rolland (pictured above) at the 2011 Tour de France. Here is a list of 10 riders who will be 25 or under at the start of the season who will animate 2012 and the years beyond. The first five riders are cyclists who have shown flashes of brilliance but not yet produced a significant result, and the last five are riders who have won a major race before the age of 25, and should continue to do so in 2012.
No mountain is too long or steep for Bauke Mollema
There is not a mountain that Bauke Mollema cannot climb. The lanky 24 year old Dutch rider finished 12th in his first grand tour, the 2010 Giro d’Italia, and then almost rode away with the one day classic Giro di Lombardia later in the season. Mollema continued his progression in 2011 placing fifth overall in the Tour de Suisse and second overall in the Vuelta a Castilla y León; but Mollema’s best ride to date has been a fourth place at the 2011 Vuelta a España where he also won the Points Classification.
Mollema has the consistency to place extremely well in grand tours, and the pairing of Mollema with Robert Gesink on team Rabobank will give many rival team managers nightmares in the coming years.
Comparison to a veteran rider: Ivan Basso
Yoann Offredo is an oddity in professional cycling, as he is not a fan of the Tour de France. The 24 year old Frenchman skips the Tour de France in favor of the one day classic races in the spring. This charismatic rider has been extremely active in the last two editions of Milan-San Remo and it is only a matter of time until he wins a major one day classic. Offredo has also provided excellent support for both his FDJ team and the French National Team in the past two years.
He was present in the major breakaway at the recent 2011 World Road Race Championships where he helped to set up his teammates Anthony Roux and Thomas Voeckler for attacks by doing much of the pacemaking. Offredo has a great chance at winning one of the early season races which feature a healthy dose of cobblestones as well as inclement weather, because he thrives at riding in adverse conditions and is able to stay competitive over hard terrain.
Comparison to a veteran rider: Juan Antonio Flecha
Robert Kiserlovski is best known for a crash in the 2011 edition of Paris-Nice where he slid beneath a parked car, but do not let that one incident cloud any perceptions of this Croatian rider. Kiserlovski provided excellent mountain support to Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali in the 2010 and 2011 editions of the Giro d’Italia, and finished an impressive 18 in the 2011 Vuelta a Espana.
Pro Team Astana will be in desperate need of riders to step up and take a leadership role with the impending departure of Alexander Vinokourov, and Kiserlovski is ready for the task. Kiserlovski will be supporting Roman Krueziger at the most important races of the year, but his aptitude for climbing and time trialing should earn him the role of protected rider at a few week long stage races in 2012.
Comparison to a veteran rider: Levi Leipheimer
Pierre Rolland during Stage 20 of the Tour de France
Pierre Rolland was the revelation of the 2011 Tour de France where he almost single-handidly pulled Thomas Voeckler through both the Pyrenees and the Alps en route to Voeckler’s fourth place finish. In addition to being the best domestique in the 2011 Tour de France, Rolland finished 11th overall, won the Best Young Rider classification, and won a summit finish on Alpe d’Huez, one of the most mythical climbs in cycling.
Voeckler has historically been Team Europcar’s only option in stage races, but Rolland gives the French team another card to play, which should result in more wins for both Vockler and Rolland in 2012.
Comparison to a veteran rider: Frank Schleck
Geraint Thomas at the 2011 Tour de France
Geraint Thomas will be well known to cycling fans who watch more than the last kilometer of a race. Thomas has developed into an invaluable teammate in the final 10 kilometers of a race, in large part due to his intelligence when it comes to bike racing. He seems to have a sixth sense of when something will happen in a bike race, and as a result he is almost always in the right place at the right time.
If Mark Cavendish signs with Team Sky, as is widely anticipated, Thomas will be integral to the sprint lead out of the "Manx Missile", so viewers will become quite familiar with the 25 year old Welsh rider; but Thomas should be expected to receive some leadership roles in races in 2012, particularly classics which feature cobblestones.
Comparison to a veteran rider: George Hincapie.
Edvald Boasson Hagen winning at the 2011 Tour de France
Edvald Boasson Hagen is recognized as a classics rider and a sprinter; however, he has the climbing and time trialing ability to be dangerous in certain stage races. The Norwegian has won the Vattenfall Cyclassics and Gent-Wevelgem, as well as two stages at the Tour de France. He races with pure talent and seems to be able to win in almost every discipline of the sport.
Injuries kept him from his best in the 2011 classics campaign, but expect to see the 24-year-old at the head of Paris Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, and Milan-San Remo in 2012. In addition to being a gifted classics rider, Boasson Hagen is a skilled time trialist who has won the Norwegian national time trial championships five times.
Comparison to a veteran rider: Fabian Cancellara
Peter Sagan is still young, both in age and in heart
Peter Sagan burst onto the road cycling scene in 2010 when he was a member of a breakaway containing Cadel Evans, Lance Armstrong, and Luis Leon Sanchez at the Tour Down Under. Sagan has not looked back once, taking wins at Paris-Nice, the Tour of California, Tour de Suisse, Tour de Pologne, GIro di Sardegna, and the Vuelta a España. Sagan will win many races in his career, including stages at the Tour de France, and a major classic win is surely in the future for this 21 year old Slovakian.
It is unknown exactly what type of rider Sagan will mature into; he has the sprinting ability to contend for Green Jerseys at the Tour de France, the strength and grit to win one day classics, and he has shown signs of decent climbing ability. Sagan will not have pressure put on him by his Liquigas team, and can spend the next few years developing into the rider that best suits his extensive skill set.
Comparison to a veteran rider: Phillippe Gilbert
Matt Goss won the 2011 edition of Milan-San Remo with a perfectly timed sprint by outkicking Fabian Cancellara and Phillippe Gilbert. Most riders will never win a race as prestigious as Milan-San Remo, but Matt Goss is not most riders. He has won stages at the Tour of California, Paris-Nice, Tour of Oman, Tour Down Under, and the Giro d’Italia, as well the one day classics Paris-Brussels and GP Ouest-France.
Goss will join the new Australian team GreenEdge, where he will be one of their prized riders. Goss will learn from two of the most successful Australian cyclists, Stuart O’Grady and Robbie McEwen, and his win total should rival that of Mark Cavendish or Phillippe Gilbert in the next few years.
Current rider who Matt Goss could mature into: Oscar Freire
Krueziger, on the right, climbing with Nibali at the 2011 Giro d'Italia
Roman Kreuziger has placed in the top 10 of the Giro d’Italia once and the Tour de France twice before the age of 25. Krueziger will be taking over sole-leadership of the Astana team in 2012, and expect him to feature prominently in hard stage races, and to perform decently in at least one Grand Tour. This 25-year-old has previously won the 2008 Tour de Suisse and the 2009 Tour de Romandie.
Krueziger has always been a strong time trialist, and in the 2011 Giro d’Italia he was one of the few riders who attempted to stand up to Alberto Contador. He should continue his steady progression towards the top of the sport, and will most surely be in the mix for the White Jersey for the Young Rider Classification at the 2012 Tour de France.
Current rider who Roman Kreuziger could mature into: Cadel Evans
Robert Gesink time trialing
Robert Gesink will win a Grand Tour in the next three years. He should have won the 2009 Vuelta España, but a crash derailed his chances, and crashes have ruined his 2009 and 2011 Tour de France campaigns. He rode as a super domestique for Denis Menchov in 2010 and placed sixth.
Gesink has a powerful sprint at the end of races, and therefore he is also a threat in hilly one day classics. Gesink is one of the most gifted climbers in the sport today, and has shown the ability to go toe-to-toe with both Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador. Gesink has the full backing of Rabobank and the Dutch fans for the next few years, and will be a protagonist at the largest races on the cycling calendar for many years to come.
Current rider who Robert Gesink could mature into: Gesink is already one of the premiere riders in the peleton, so it is hard to say he could mature into anyone; however he has similar style and results to Andy Schleck.