• Julian Alaphilippe of Etixx-QuickStep (Sirotti)Source: Sirotti
Every season throws up a surprise or two for fans but 2015 was a particularly rich one in terms of revealing talent. Here are six of the best.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Source:
Cycling Central
9 Nov 2015 - 11:55 AM  UPDATED 9 Nov 2015 - 12:04 PM

Julien Alaphillipe (Etixx-QuickStep) has emerged as one of the most exciting riders in the peleton after displaying superb climbing and sprinting skills in both the classics and the short stage races. He had a promising start to the season with some good results in the Volta a Catalunya, before going to the classics, where he helped Michal Kwiatkowski win the Amstel Gold Race. He created huge surprises in the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, taking second behind Alejandro Valverde in each, then showed off his climbing ability in the Tour of California, taking the win on the Queen stage, and just missing out on the overall win to Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo). After that fast start his late season was plagued with poor form, later explained after a diagnosis of glandular fever. At just 23, he should be a major player for years to come in classics and stage races.

Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) may not be regarded as a true revelation given his superb time trialling skills and earlier displays of climbing ability in stage races like the Eneco Tour, but he was never expected to go with the best in the high mountains. Dumoulin defied expectations in the Tour de Suisse to almost sneak a win, which contained one of the hardest climbs of the season up the Rettenbachferner. That should have served as enough notice for his later Vuelta a Espana performance, but he still surprised (including his own team, which was set up for the flat stages) with his staying power over the climbs. He was one mountain stage away from winning the race, and has perhaps confirmed his potential as a future Grand Tour winner.

 

Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) has been on the radar ever since he won the 2011 Tour L’Avenir, but a horrendous injury snuffed out the early fires of his career. You would be forgiven for thinking the smiling Colombian is still in his teens, but his injury took at least a year and a half off his career progression and it is only now, as a 25 year old, that he is coming to prominence. He had a quiet first half of his 2015 season and his returns in the Giro d’Italia were particularly disappointing after showing some fight at the start to briefly stay with the leaders. However, Vuelta a Espana performance was at another level, with two dazzling wins, a long stint in the red jersey and a fifth place overall. He then backed it up with a win in the inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour, then signed with Orica-GreenEDGE through to the end of 2018, ensuring he’ll be poised to be a major player in the Australian outfit's transition to a Grand Tour player.

Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) is one of the few neo-pros to make an impression on the WorldTour, showcasing his versatile ability across a number of races. His early season was comprised of the cobbled classics taking a number of top-ten finishes before the highlight of his season, a strong fifth in the Tour of Flanders. He went on to prove that he isn’t restricted to the cobbles, taking top-ten finishes in sprints at the Ctritérium du Dauphiné, and then supported his teammate Tim Wellens to the win at the Eneco Tour, where he also managed eight overall. His end to the season was quiet, but a fourth in Paris-Tours, leading the second group home in a sprint, reminded everyone that he is going to be a future force to be reckoned with. He will have to deal with that weight of expectation of the Belgian public after achieving such great results as a 21-year-old, and is already drawing comparisons to legendary figures Tom Boonen and Phillipe Gilbert.

Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) created waves when his transfer away from MTN-Qhubeka to Lampre-Merida for the 2016 season was announced. The climbing promise that he had shown in his early career with the team, and seemingly perfect fit between the young South African climber and the ambitious African team suggested a lon term collaboration. Meintjes has already served three years in the professional peleton as a 23-year-old - significantly more than most at his age. He started the season with good results, winning the African Road Race and the Coppi e Bartali. But his best performances have been in the races where he has gone head-to-head with the big climbers in races like the Ctritérium du Dauphiné and Tour de France. He has proved himself no fluke, and showed the necessary recovery and consistency to ride a Grand Tour with a 10th place finish in the Vuelta.

Simon and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) have established themselves as two of the most exciting young riders in the sport with their performances at this early stage of their respective careers. Both took different paths to reach the top level of the sport, with Simon involved in the British track program while Adam went to France to develop his road racing skills. Nonetheless, at 23, both have emerged with very similar styles of riding - excellent climbers with the flexibility to be effective in both classics and stage races - with years of progression ahead of them. Simon took the results early in the season with fifth in the Vuelta al País Vasco, sixth in the Tour of Romandie and fifth in the Ctritérium du Dauphiné , where he was second on the Queen stage behind Chris Froome (Sky). Adam fractured his finger in the Volta a Catalunya, and got off to a slower start on the season, but he arguably ended up with the superior results sheet, winning the Clasica San Sebastian, taking second in the GP Montreal and finishing ninth in Tirreno-Adriatico. Both are phenomenal talents, and 2016 will be about improving on those results and putting them in position for high placings in a Grand Tour general classification.

Honourable mentions to Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE), Stefan Küng (BMC), Niccolò bonifazio (Lampre-Merida), Danny Van Poppel (Trek Factory Racing) and Alexis Gougeard (AG2R) who all took very good results.