Five British neo pros set to make their WorldTour bow in 2017
Tao Geoghegan Hart, Owain Doull, Jon Dibben, Hugh Carthy and James Shaw graduate to cycling's top tier
The UCI WorldTour will welcome five new British talents in 2017.
Tao Geoghegan Hart, Owain Doull and Jon Dibben will all roll out in the black and blue of Team Sky, while Hugh Carthy will don the green of Cannondale Pro Cycling and James Shaw will continue in the red and white of Lotto-Soudal, but now as a colleague of André Greipel in the Belgian squad’s professional team, rather than as a member of its under-23 development squad.
Their ascension to road cycling’s highest level represents the continued success of the two chief progenitors of young British talent – the British Cycling Academy (Dibben and Doull) and the Dave Rayner Fund (Shaw) – as well as confirming the rewards on offer to those with the fortitude to make their own luck (Carthy). Geoghegan Hart’s success has resulted from a mixture of all three.
The quintet will boost the number of British pros competing in the men’s WorldTour from 17 to 18, pushing Britain from 11th to eighth in the league of nations fielding professional riders (still some distance behind Italy and Belgium, whose WorldTour representation will extend next year to 59 and 50 riders respectively).
We run the rule over the latest British graduates to a tier in which three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Team Sky) and former world champion Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) continue to fly the Union flag highest of all.
Tao Geoghegan Hart
Tao Geoghegan Hart has long been regarded as a candidate for cycling’s top tier and his graduation to the WorldTour with Team Sky is not unexpected. Hackney born, and a former Saturday boy at Condor Cycles, supported variously by British Cycling and the Dave Rayner Fund, Geoghegan Hart’s rise through the ranks to Sky has had a decidedly British feel about it, with Sky seemingly his natural destination. Or has it?
Geoghegan Hart has spent the last two years with Axeon Hagens Berman (formerly known as Bissell), the US-registered Continental squad run by Axel Merckx, son of the great Eddy, and a finishing school (under the Livestrong banner) of Taylor Phinney and Alex Dowsett. Like Dowsett, Geoghegan Hart’s Stateside sojourn under Merckx’s tutelage shows a free spirit, in contrast to the team-for-life mentality of, say, Geraint Thomas.
A savvy 21-year-old, careful to thank sponsors and team-mates in his social media postings, Geoghegan Hart has fascinated the media from an early age, as much for his willingness to pursue his own path as his obvious talent. He finished the 2015 season as a stagiaire for Sky, and many expected him to turn pro with Sir Dave Brailsford’s squad in 2016. But his decision to continue the learning process in the States (where he rode impressively at the Tours of California and Utah) showed a rare patience self-confidence.
What might he achieve with Sir Dave Brailsford’s team next year? Turning professional with the biggest team in the sport is not an unmixed blessing, as Josh Edmondson will tell you. The prodigiously talented Yates twins reportedly turned down Sky for a chance to lead at Orica, with spectacular results (GrandTour stage wins and a victory at the Classica San Sebastian among them).
Compare and contrast the immediate impact made by the Yates twins with the slow grind to leadership experienced by Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard, the sporadic dissatisfaction of Pete Kennaugh, or the unfulfilled potential of Ben Swift, bound next season for TJ Sport. Will Geoghegan Hart buck the trend, or will he begin a largely anonymous apprenticeship in the style of Hackney neighbour Alex Peters? Time will tell.
If Geoghegan Hart was earmarked early as a candidate for the professional ranks, Hugh Carthy has toiled in comparative obscurity to reach a berth in the top tier with Cannondale Pro Cycling. The Lancastrian has spent the least two seasons in Spain with UCI Pro Continental team Caja Rural-Seguros RGA, moving from Rapha Condor JLT and from Preston to Pamplona without a word of Spanish. A new language is one of the many new skills he has gained.
Compare and contrast Carthy’s self-sufficiency with the carefully planned tuition of riders enrolled on British Cycling’s Olympic Academy programme. This is not to criticise those who benefit from such a successful system – who’s to say that Owain Doull might not be equally resourceful? – but Carthy’s tenacity has impressed many, not least his new DS Charly Wegelius, one of the earliest beneficiaries of the Dave Rayner Fund.
Resourcefulness is only a small part of Carthy’s appeal, however; talent accounts for most of it. John Herety, Carthy’s first DS at Britain’s long-established, Condor-backed, UCI Continental squad told this website that Carthy’s day-long break in the 2014 Tour d’Azerbaïdjandid more to arouse interest from professional squads than his overall victory the same year at the Tour de Korea. The boy had stamina.
Carthy is more than just an engine, however. His victory this year at the Vuelta Asturias, a 2.1 race previously won by Team Sky’s Benat Intxausti and therefore respected by those in the know, is his biggest to date. More significant, however, might be his top ten finish at this year’s Volta a Catalunya, one that saw him ride in close proximity with Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), and Daniel Martin (Etixx-QuickStep). His race craft is still developing but he has what it takes to mix it with the best.
How might he fare at the Slipstream Sports outfit (to be branded in 2017 as Cannondale-Drapac)? Increasingly youthful, and still searching for an identity following the departures of Millar, Hesjedal, Dan Martin et al, Carthy might be part of a tyro assault on the Grand Tours in support of Joe Dombrowski or Davide Formolo. Less excitingly, he might find himself put to work for the likes of Andrew Talansky or Pierre Rolland.
In any instance, Carthy has proved a willingness, at the very least, to do a job, and, when the opportunity arises, to shine. With Ireland’s rising star Ryan Mullen, a formidable time-trialing talent, and the aforementioned Dombrowski and Formolo, the Preston-born climber might forge a new identity for Jonathan Vaughters’ squad.
Like Carthy, 20-year-old James Shaw has largely made his own luck, even if his graduation to the professional ranks with Lotto-Soudal has been aided by the Dave Rayner Fund. It would be wrong, however, to characterise Shaw as a rider who gets by with a little help from his friends, even those as helpful as the DRF. He is level-headed and dedicated; a grafter as well as a talent.
Shaw announced himself on the international stage by winning the junior version of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in 2014, a race whose roster of senior victors includes Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen. Since then, he has served a useful apprenticeship with Lotto-Soudal’s under-23 team, and has clearly caught the attention of a vastly experienced managerial squad headed by Marc Sergeant, perhaps by finishing fifth at this year’s under-23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
It will be most interesting to see how Shaw fares in the Ardennes, assuming he is selected. Should he make the squad for such a critical series of engagements, then expect him to rise to the occasion. He is a student of the region’s biggest races, and likely to prove a useful ally to the likes of Tony Gallopin and Tiesj Benoot.
The latest protégé sent to Manchester from Darren Tudor’s increasingly gilded production line at Welsh Cycling, Owain Doull will begin his professional career as an Olympic champion. Having won gold in the men’s team pursuit, he will find a fellowship at Team Sky with Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh. Unlike his compatriot Thomas, however, the 23-year-old still has everything to prove.
Doull has been schooled for success from an early age, and, like young countrymen Scott Davis and Dan Pearson, served the most recent part of his apprenticeship with Team Wiggins. By combining such a promising road career (he finished third overall at the 2015 Tour of Britain), with the highest level of success on the track, Doull has thus far equaled the achievements of his illustrious forebears at British Cycling’s Olympic Academy.
As we have noted in our assessment of Geoghegan Hart, however, beginning a professional career with Team Sky is no guarantee of success. There is a necessary degree of ‘bench warming’ at such a large and successful squad. When even those as prodigiously talented as Kennaugh have struggled to secure a place in the Tour de France squad (even while wearing the stripes of British champion in 2014 and 2015). Doull and his fellow neo pros must be prepared to serve their time in Sky’s less prestigious engagements.
A rainbow jersey for Jon Dibben at the Track World Championships and the runners-up slot at the under-23 Ronde Van Vlaanderen presumably persuaded Team Sky that the 22-year-old Southampton native was worth a punt for 2017. Having learned his trade variously with British Cycling’s Olympic Academy and with Team Wiggins, he would scarcely have been unknown to Brailsford and co.
And yet perhaps it was the prospect of missing out to a WorldTour rival that encouraged them to move, late in the day, for Dibben, the last of the British team’s six signings for 2017. The youngster, who has raced against professional opposition this year in engagements as diverse as the Tour of Britain and the Abu Dhabi Tour, had signed on with Cannondale Pro Cycling as stagiaire from August to season’s end. Was it the prospect of missing out on a talent at least partly nurtured by the British Cycling system that clinched the deal for Dibben?
If so, it was a skillful piece of brinkmanship from a rider who once plied his trade with Hargroves Cycles. More likely is that the supply of top-drawer talent is, by definition, limited and that Dibben certainly fits the description of top-drawer talent. At this early stage, both Dibben and Team Sky look like winners – and Cannondale will console themselves with the signing of aforementioned Carthy – but, as already discussed, a berth with Team Sky is no guarantee of future success.
Dibben is due a break, if this is not an unfortunate term. A fractured elbow cost him the chance of selection for the Olympic Games in Rio, where he might have occupied the slot for the men’s omnium later claimed by Mark Cavendish. Victory in the points race at the World Championships in London at the beginning of the year proved his pedigree on the boards.
The disappointment of missing out on Rio is likely to have been banished long since. A ride with the under-23 squad at the road world championships in Qatar, where he bagged a top ten finish for Great Britain, and a contract with Sky represent as strong a finish to the season as might reasonably be expected.
Like Doull and Geoghegan Hart, Dibben will roll out into a vastly different sporting landscape in January, one in which the gains required, even after such decorated amateur careers, will be significantly greater than marginal.
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