A neo-pro is a rider who is in the first year of their professional contract, experiencing life in WorldTour races for the first time and finding their feet on cycling’s biggest stages. Some neo-pros struggle to drop into the ebb and flow of the professional peloton, straining to keep up, or even position themselves in the bunch. Others, however, take to it like a duck to water. With the growing trend of young riders performing at the highest level, neo-pros are getting better than ever, both on the men’s and women’s side of the sport. Here are the neo-pros who stuck out to us in the 2022 season, riding with maturity beyond their years.
Arnaud de Lie, Lotto-Soudal
Easily the most prolific winner of this year’s take of neo-pros, Arnaud De Lie racked up a whole nine wins, a total bettered by only a select few in the pro peloton. Despite only turning 20 in March, his sprinting success in the Belgian semi-classics made him Lotto-Soudal’s most important rider in their fight for World Tour survival, even more so than the team’s established stars Philippe Gilbert, Tim Wellens and the injury-beset Caleb Ewan. His efforts weren't quite enough to retain the team’s World Tour status, but a bright future surely awaits.
Tobias Halland Johannessen, Uno-X
Delivering on the promise shown by winning the Tour de l’Avenir in 2022, Johannessen was one of the breakthrough stage racers of the year. The Norwegian first caught the eye by placing third overall and winning a stage at Etoile de Bessèges, then competed alongside the very best at WorldTour level with top-ten finishes at the Volta a Catalunya and the Critérium du Dauphiné. Along with hi brother Anders, the Johannessens look poised to become the best pair of cycling twins since Simon and Adam Yates.
Charlotte Kool, DSM
The NXTG Racing development squad has proven to be a fertile environment for promising talent to emerge, and of the 2021 graduates, both Shari Bossuyt and Charlotte Kool successfully stepped up to the elite level this year for Canyon-SRAM and DSM respectively. Kool mostly impressed as a lead-out rider for her team’s star sprinter Lorena Wiebes, but, when given the opportunity, flourished herself in the sprint finishes, winning the GP Eco-Struct, a stage of the Simac Ladies Tour, and registering a couple of runner-up finishes at the Giro Donne. She’s earned the right for more opportunities next year. Image: Getty
Ben Turner, Ineos Grenadiers
In a fruitful year for both new British talent like Lewis Askey and sprinter Ethan Vernon, and Ineos Grenadiers, where Magnus Sheffield and Luke Plapp were among those to emerge, Ben Turner rode both waves. It was during the spring that the versatile 23-year-old really made a name for himself, when his tall frame became a familiar sight in the business end of the classics, where he played a key role as a domestique, helping Dylan van Baarle win Paris-Roubaix. He also enjoyed success for himself, making the top-ten at Dwars door Vlaanderen, the top-five at Brabantse Pijl, and coming close to a stage win on Grand Tour debut with fourth on stage 19 of the Vuelta.
Ruby Roseman-Gannon, BikeExchange-Jayco
An explosive start to the season saw Australian rider Ruby Roseman-Gannon star on home roads with multiple victories on the domestic scene during January, then sprint for second-place behind Elisa Balsamo in her first race in Europe at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. Things cooled off a little after that, but she still put herself in the mix of the big classics, with top 20s at Strade Bianche and Het Nieuwsblad, and top-tens at the May-time Spanish classics. Then amid the competitive field of the Tour de France Femmes, she sprinted for an eighth-place finish on stage four (as well as featuring in an illustrious breakaway two days later), before later registering her first ever top-five at WorldTour level at the Simac Ladies Tour.
Luke Plapp, Ineos Grenadiers
In the space of just one year, Luke Plapp has already established himself as a key part of Ineos Grenadiers support squad in the mountains. The Australian was Adam Yates’ best performing domestique during his second-place finish at the UAE Tour, managing fifth-place on the final stage of the race atop Jebel Hafeet, and was even the team’s highest finisher at the Tour de Romandie where he finished ninth. Image: Getty
That was enough to earn him a spot on their Vuelta a España line-up; and now, with that Grand Tour in his legs, plus a seriously impressive time trial evidenced by twelfth place at the senior race at the Wollongong World Championships, he could already be ready to ride for a high GC placing in a stage race next year.
Zoe Bäckstedt, EF Education-TIBCO-SVB
The latest member of the Bäckstedt cycling dynasty to become a pro might just be the best yet. Daughter of Magnus and Megan [Hughes] and younger sister of Elynor, Zoe Bäckstedt signed a professional contract with EF Education-TIBCO-SVB this summer at the age of just 17. She immediately looked at home at this level, forming part of the team time trial line-up that won the opening stage of CIC-Tour Féminin International des Pyrénées, and placing fifth at the Konvert Kortrijk Koerse classics. It was in the junior races that she showed her exceptional talent, though, doubling up at the World Championships in Wollongong with gold medals in both the road race and the time trial.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix