With ever-younger riders achieving amazing results and more coverage of under-23 events like the Tour de l’Avenir, prospects don’t really stay under the radar for long these days. Teams – and journalists – have to really be on their game to identify talents that aren’t already in the headlines.
A full road season in the books means that we have another year of data to comb for insights on who the stars of tomorrow might be in the men’s WorldTour, and a handful of names stand out as candidates to enjoy breakthrough campaigns in 2024.
We here at Escape Collective are all about trying to make you look cool with your friends, so this seemed like a great opportunity to clue you in on which names to drop when talking prospects with your cycling buddies or over on our Discord. For clarity’s sake, we’re considering that your Ben Healys and your Cian Uijtdebroekses have already reached a level of notability where you won’t be impressing enough people by mentioning them as riders to watch. We’re digging even deeper.
Without further ado, here are five under-the-radar talents who could be poised for breakthrough seasons in 2024 …
It may be a bit ambitious to predict a breakthrough performance for anyone on Cofidis given the team’s relatively uninspiring track record, but Axel Zingle put together a heck of a 2023 campaign without actually winning many races. His sole victory on the year was at the UCI 1.1-rated Classic Loire Atlantique, but the 24-year-old Frenchman collected a bounty of top 10s all across the calendar in a very long season that started with a fifth place finish at the Trofeo Calvia in January and ended with a seventh place finish at the Japan Cup in October. In between were top-fives at Brabantse Pijl and the lumpy opening stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Zingle is a fast finisher with respectable climbing legs, the sort of rider who can win a reduced sprint at the end of a long day, and that skillset makes him a rider to watch in hilly one-days and intermediate stages in stage races. He had a pretty quiet run at his first ever Tour de France this year, but just having that in the bag should help either way. Riders often take steps forward in the form department once they get a big three-week effort under their belt.
Zingle’s consistency on Classics terrain at the Renewi Tour (that’s the event formerly known as the BinckBank Tour, formerly known as the Eneco Tour) was a good indication of what he brings to the table. He was third on the Geraardsbergen stage in some esteemed company, and ultimately finished eighth overall.
The question for Zingle in 2024 will be whether he can deliver with victories in top-division races. On the bright side, he won’t have all that much competition for race leadership roles at Cofidis.
Track cycling fans and New Zealanders will know Corbin Strong as the Kiwi who won a points race world title at just 19 years old back in 2020, and since then, he has started to compile some very promising results on the road. Really, he’s already done enough that he’s borderline too well-known for this list, especially considering our English-language audience, but he makes it just under the wire.
Still very much a youngster when he joined the WorldTour with Israel-Premier Tech in 2022, Strong nabbed a Tour of Britain stage that season at the Glenshee Ski Centre by exploding up a short finishing climb. He’s now a second-division rider thanks to his team’s demotion, but Strong continued to develop in 2023, making his presence felt in the Australian WorldTour races at the start of the season and getting into the mix on numerous occasions throughout the spring in mid-tier races with lumpy profiles.
He made his first career Grand Tour start this summer at the Tour de France, and he didn’t stop there, securing the best results of his season in September. He was one Arnaud De Lie away from winning the GP Québec, a race with a grinding uphill finish where you need both racecraft and a huge engine to be in contention. The fact that he bested two-time Québec champ Michael Matthews to runner-up honors there suggested that Strong is already more than capable of hunting for big results, and less than two weeks later, the New Zealander sprinted uphill to win the opening stage of the Tour Luxembourg ahead of Søren Kragh Andersen.
In other words, Strong already has some nice wins in the bag, and he seems poised to take another step forward with even bigger victories in 2024, especially considering the fact that he’s likely to have plenty of opportunities racing for Israel-Premier Tech. The team gets invites to all the big races but is in serious need of contenders to deliver results. Maybe Strong can be that rider for them next season.
Maxim Van Gils
If you Google the name Maxim Van Gils, you’re bound to find stories about the time he threw a punch in the finale of last year’s Japan Cup Criterium, but 2024 could be the year that the young Belgian picks up the sporting results necessary to send those less savory news results further down the page.
His skillset is best suited to punchy races (sorry, I couldn’t help myself, but it’s also true) where his strong climbing legs are at their best.
Van Gils has ridden his entire career so far within the Lotto Dstny organization, spending his first few years on their club-level development team before jumping up to the main pro squad in 2021. His win at the 2.1-rated Saudi Tour in 2022 was nothing to scoff at, and then he put together a longer list of strong showings – albeit without any wins – in 2023.
His consistent Ardennes campaign was probably the best indicator of what could be ahead for Van Gils. After starting April off with a runner-up ride at the Volta Limburg, he finished seventh at the Amstel Gold Race, eighth at La Fléche Wallonne, and 11th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. While Arnaud De Lie will likely get the leadership nod in any of the big punchy races that he wants to start in 2024, Van Gils could actually benefit if his rivals have their eyes fixed on his highly touted compatriot. As he showed en route to his second-place finish on the Grand Colombier stage at the Tour de France this summer, Van Gils knows how to roll the dice and try to get up the road when opportunities arise.
After three seasons with Burgos-BH, Pelayo Sánchez is heading to Movistar on the heels of a 2023 campaign that featured some very promising results on the Iberian peninsula. Over the course of the year, Sánchez nabbed one win and several high finishes in races that were sure to catch the eye of Spain’s lone WorldTour outfit – and also of commentators writing about prospects – even if they didn’t draw too much international attention.
Sánchez is a talented climber with enough time under his belt racing at the second division to make him a candidate to hit the ground running in 2024. The 23-year-old from Asturias in northwestern Spain got his 2023 campaign off to a strong start with a runner-up ride at the Trofeo Andratx Challenge Mallorca race, and he went on to nab his first pro win this season at his home race, the Vuelta a Asturias.
He then showed real strength on some very mountainous stages in his second career Grand Tour start at the Vuelta a España, finishing as highly as third on stage 20, where he was part of a breakaway of heavy hitters that included stage winner Wout Poels and king of the mountains Remco Evenepoel. Perhaps just as promising were his showings on the summit finishes of stages 17 and 18, where he did not join the break and thus tried to hang with the GC contenders. He finished a respectable 20th on the former and 14th on the latter, where he arrived ahead of Uijtdebroeks and some other notables.
Movistar didn’t exactly rack up big wins in 2023 (the team only scored three WorldTour victories), so a strong young climber who has experience going up the road despite his youth could be a major boon for 2024 and beyond.
A few years ago, I would have had a hard time feeling confident that any American youngsters were poised for a big breakthrough, but we’re living in strange times, where Americans can win Grand Tours. Luke Lamperti may be the next rider to watch coming out of the United States.
Those who follow the criterium scene will be familiar with multi-time US National Criterium Champion Luke Lamperti, but the wider world will get its chance to see him racing at the highest level in 2024 with Soudal-QuickStep. That seems like a good place for the American from Sebastopol, California, to take the next step.
Lamperti, who turns 21 at the end of next month, has a big engine and a fast kick, and he knows how to race in a bunch. That toolset makes him a solid Classics prospect, and there are few teams more focused on the spring one-days than the one he’ll be joining. Thus far in his career, Lamperti has shown quite a knack for winning lower-level events, and even if he remains largely unproven against top talent, there’s something to be said for knowing what it takes to cross a finish line first.
Lamperti raced with the Trinity Continental team the past three seasons as he has focused on his development, and that has meant plenty of time spent racing in Europe. That’s a crucial building block for any young pro and one that can sometimes stand in the way of American prospects transitioning to a different (read: harder) racing scene than what they’re used to back home. In other words, Lamperti should be better prepared than some who step up from the Continental ranks into the WorldTour, and given significant turnover at Soudal and the departure of a solid chunk of its sprint and classics core, it’s possible that we’ll see him getting a few opportunities even in 2024.
We decided on the aforementioned five names as our headliners here, but just in case you’re looking for more under-the-radar talents, we’d love to take credit for having them on our radar if they turn into the stars of tomorrow. Our list of honorable mentions includes Casper van Uden of DSM-Firmenich, Mathias Vaček of Lidl-Trek, Kévin Vaquelin of Arkéa-Samsic, and Laurence Pithie of Groupama-FDJ.
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