Four breakthrough riders to follow in 2018

Each season, young riders emerge from the peloton with breakthrough victories. Were they one-off blazes of glory? Are they simply prelude to even bigger successes? I picked four riders and neatly pigeonholed them into categories (for better or for worse): Cobblestone classics, Ardennes classics, sprints, and grand tour GC. We can expect big things from them in 2018.

Cobbled classics: Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors)

Yves Lampaert
Yves Lampaert is one of Quick-Step’s rising cobblestone stars. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

If you were sleeping on Yves Lampaert in 2017, I’ll give you a pass. After all, he was riding on Belgian superteam Quick-Step Floors, during the spring when Tom Boonen rode his farewell Paris-Roubaix and Philippe Gilbert returned to glory, winning Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race.

Now, it’s time to forget about those aging Belgians and look to Lampaert, 26, who had an incredible 2017. He won Dwars door Vlaanderen, his first maiden WorldTour victory. Then, he won Belgian national time trial championships. And finally, Lampaert finished the season with a flourish, winning stage 2 of the Vuelta. He appears to be quite versatile, but bet on him to prioritize the classics. He was fifth in the 2015 Paris-Roubaix and won a stage at Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen that season.

What to expect in 2018: Another spring classics win, but perhaps not a monument, a couple stage wins in one-week races.
Dream scenario in 2018: Two second-tier classics wins, the overall at De Panne-Koksijde, a stage win in a grand tour.

Ardennes classics: Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing)

Dylan Teuns
Dylan Teuns had an unbelievable run of victories in late July and early August. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Although Teuns is a Flandrien, it seems the Walloon hills are his destiny. The 25-year-old punched onto the podium in Fleche Wallonne, third to Dan Martin and winner Alejandro Valverde. He was quiet at the Giro d’Italia. Then, Teuns had a magical three weeks in late July and early August. He notched his first professional win at the HC-classified Tour de Wallonie, stage 3, and went on to win stage 5 as well as the overall. He went on to win three more stages and two overall titles in the Tour of Poland and Arctic Race of Norway, both WorldTour races.

What to expect in 2018: Another Ardennes podium, an overall win in an HC-classified stage race.
Dream scenario in 2018: Wins an Ardennes classic, wins a grand tour stage (but probably not the Tour), wins another week-long stage race.

Bunch sprints: Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo)

Dylan Groenewegen
Dylan Groenewegen won the crown jewel of sprinter races: The final stage of the Tour de France. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

He had us English-language headline writers groaning when he won the Tour’s final stage, but really, we’re excited to see a fresh sprinter come to the fore in Dylan Groenewegen. That victory on the Champs wasn’t a one-off, either. The 24-year-old Dutchman was third in stage 10 and second the next day in Pau.

Sure, Groenewegen wasn’t an unknown quantity this season, having won 2016 nationals and a stage at the Eneco Tour. However, his victory on the biggest stage in the world is on the next level.

What to expect in 2018: Wins a spring classic (likely Dwars door Vlaanderen or Scheldeprijs), wins another grand tour stage.
Dream scenario in 2018: Earns 10 victories — two spring classics, a Tour stage, and a handful of stages at major one-week races like Paris-Nice.

Grand tour GC: Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)

Miguel Angel Lopez
Miguel Angel Lopez won two stages at the Vuelta a Espana. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Like Groenewegen, Lopez showed his stuff in 2016. But the man who won Tour de Suisse and Milano-Torino that year is now a legitimate GC hopeful for the grand tours. The Colombian they call “Superman” won stages 11 and 15 at the Vuelta en route to an eighth-place overall result. If you’re keeping score at home, he was more than 10 minutes ahead of Astana teammate Fabio Aru, who was supposedly the team leader in that race.

If I were running the Astana squad, Lopez would be first in line to lead a grand tour squad — perhaps even at the Tour de France. After all, this year’s route will favor an aggressive climber like the 23-year-old. And wouldn’t Aru prefer to race the Giro anyway?

What to expect in 2018: A stage win and top-10 overall result at the Tour de France.
Dream scenario in 2018: Wins another one-week stage race, two Tour stages, and finishes top five at the Grande Boucle.

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Poland: Poels wins final stage; Teuns earns overall victory

After settling for second place Thursday, Sky’s Wout Poels won the final stage at Tour of Poland Friday. The Dutchman sprinted out of a group of five to win stage 7 ahead of Adam Yates (Orica-Scott). Poland’s Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) was third on the day.

Although Majka earned a four-second time bonus on the line, it wasn’t enough to beat BMC Racing’s Dylan Teuns on GC. Teuns was fifth in the sprint, but he kept the others close to avoid a time gap. It was the Belgian’s second stage race victory of the season after winning Tour de Wallonie in July. Majka ended up only two seconds behind the 25-year-old in the overall. Poels was another second behind to complete the GC podium.

Bora-Hansgrohe rode an aggressive race, aiming to help Majka pull back a six-second deficit to Teuns.

World champion Peter Sagan went off the front, descending fearlessly on the narrow, sinuous roads that went over six categorized climbs during the 132.5km race.

The chase group caught Sagan with about 10km to go, before the final climb to Bukowina Tatrzanska.

Majka stepped up the pace with about two kilometers remaining, drawing out a handful of top climbers. Teuns kept his cool and followed wheels on the gradual climb.

Into the final kilometer, Teuns’s BMC teammate Tejay van Garderen went to the front to drive the pace. This effectively prevented attacks until the last 200 meters. Then, Poels started his sprint, and only Yates, Majka, Teuns, and Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) could follow.

Majka tried to come past in the final meters, but he was on the outside of a gradual left-hand curve. If he could have passed Yates, he’d have earned a six-second time bonus. Instead, Teuns hung on to the yellow jersey by a narrow margin.

Stage 7, top five

1. Wout Poels (NED/SKY), in 3h26:20
2. Adam Yates (GBR/ORS), s.t.
3. Rafal Majka (POL/BOR), s.t.
4. Wilco Kelderman (NED/SUN), s.t.
5. Dylan Teuns (BEL/BMC), s.t.

Top-five overall

1. Dylan Teuns (BEL/BMC), in 27h07:47
2. Rafal Majka (POL/BOR), at 0:02.
3. Wout Poels (NED/SKY), at 0:03.
4. Wilco Kelderman (NED/SUN), at 00:10.
5 Adam Yates (GBR/ORS), at 00:13.

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Sagan back in yellow; Teuns wins stage 3 in Poland

SZCZYRK, Poland (AFP) — BMC’s Dylan Teuns won Monday’s hilly stage 3 of the Tour of Poland ahead of Peter Sagan and his Bora-Hansgrohe teammate, local rider Rafal Majka.

The result puts Sagan back in the overall lead six seconds ahead of Teuns and 12 seconds ahead of Majka. Overnight leader Danny van Poppel (Sky), a sprinter, dropped out of the top 10.

“Stage 3 of the Tour de Pologne was a tough one! I managed to stay in a good position in the first four climbs and I gave my all in the steep and hard final climb,” Sagan said. “It feels good to be back in yellow. As I said yesterday, my form is very good.”

Belgian rider Teuns launched a sudden attack on the final climb to a summit finish at Szczyrk, but world road race champion Sagan dug deep to limit the damage and retake the yellow jersey.

Teuns recently won Tour de Wallonie, a five-stage race in Belgium.

“We are very happy with our performance and result today,” said Majka. “It was a tough final climb but together with Peter we were in the final group, and were well positioned. Unfortunately, I accelerated a bit late in order to take the win. It was the first time I was riding here and I didn’t know the climb very well.”

The 161km stage featured four climbs, but there are more challenging mountain stages to come on the eight-day Tour.

Stage 3, top five

1. Dylan Teuns (BEL/BMC) in 3hrs 51min 41sec
2. Peter Sagan (SVK/BOH), s.t.
3. Rafal Majka (POL/BOH), s.t.
4. Wilco Kelderman (NED/SUN) s.t.
5. Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED/CPT) at 5sec.

Top-five overall

1. Peter Sagan (SVK/BOH) in 10hrs 03min 02sec
2. Dylan Teuns (BEL/BMC) at 6sec
3. Rafal Majka (POL/BOH) at 12
4. Wilco Kelderman (NED/SUN) at 16
5. Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED/CPT) at 21.

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