For every neo-pro with a UCI team (there were nearly 150 in 2003), the season will have been a new, difficult learning experience. Some have flourished and enjoyed their first years – those who have are celebrated in this article – whilst others have found it harder to break through. However, although only a very small minority of the 2003 neo-pros will be recognised, they are the future of the sport. Although the top three of this year is not quite as recognised as that of 2002 (Popovych, Boonen and Rasmussen), they could still go on to achieve more. There could very well be the next Lance Armstrong or the future Erik Zabel in the ‘class of 2003’…
The Top 10 Neo-Pros in 2003
1. Tomas Vaitkus (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, Lithuania) 250.00 points, 223rd in the UCI rankings.
2. Phillipe Gilbert (fdjeux.com, Belgium) 231.00 pts, 241st
3. Mark Scanlon (Ag2r Prevoyance, Ireland)) 229.00 pts, 243rd
4. Nick Nuyens (Quick Step-Davitamon, Belgium) 218.00 pts 251st
5. Joseba Albizu (Mercatone Uno, Spain) 215.00 pts, 255th
6. Maryan Hary (Brioches la Boulangere, France) 212.00 pts, 260th
7. Eric Baumann (Tean Wiesenhof, Germany) 198.00 pts, 282nd
8. David Blanco (Porta da Ravessa-Tavira, Spain) 182.00 pts, 307th
9. Mikhail Timochine (Lanbouwkrediet-Colnago, Russia) 166.00 pts, 336th
10. Frank Schleck (Team CSC, Luxembourg) 165.00 pts, 341st
Niels Scheuneman (Rabobank Espoirs, The Netherlands) 163.00 pts, 346th
The best neo-pro of 2003 was Landbouwkrediet-Colnago’s Lithuanian starlet Tomas Vaitkus. The 21 year old continued where he’d left off in 2002 (he won U23 TT gold at the Zolder Worlds), with two victories and a host of top ten placings. He won the Lithuanian time trial championship as well as the time trial stage in the Tour of Denmark. Vaitkus also finished 2nd overall to no less than Erik Dekker in the 2.3-rated GP Erik Breukink in March. He will be staying at one of pro cycling’s best development teams in Landbouwkrediet, for at least another year – watch out for Vaitkus in the coming years, his bike handling and time trailing attributes, which are already sound, will stand him in good stead.
Philippe Gilbert. Courtesy
Phillipe Gilbert Supporters Site
Phillipe Gilbert was one of the hottest prospects (or rather neo-prospects) in cycling this season, when fdjeux.com beat several other top Div I teams to a contract with him. The young Belgian has evidently been unphased by the pressure. He has been successful all year round, winning a stage in the Tour de l’Avenir and coming second to fellow young gun Samuel Dumoulin in the Tro Bro Leon, the gravel version of Paris-Roubaix. Gilbert in fact took a whole podium of placings in Tour de l’Avenir stages this year, and thus finished 4th overall. Gilbert, who has a good sprint, also picked up many top ten placings.
Mark Scanlon, courtesy Ag2r
Ag2r Prevoyance's resident Irishman Mark Scanlon is essentially a neo-pro – however he did spend a few months at the doomed Linda McCartney team until it folded, with him barely having had a chance to race. Since he became Junior World Champion at Valkenburg in 1998 , the Irishman has been plagued by injuries and bad luck (not just with Linda McCartney but subsequently in the French Elite-2 ranks, after he moved from VC Nantes to VC de la Pomme, but had to have all the prize money he won docked). However, he’s had a consistent and injury-free 2003. 23 year old Scanlon won the Irish National Championship as well as the first Tour of Denmark stage – he also finished an impressive fifth overall there. He also took sixth in the hors categorie GP Ploauy, which itself brought a lot of new names to the fore. Mark Scanlon could be the man who can bring Irish cycling back to the heights not seen since the days of Kelly, Roche, Earley and Kimmage.
Nick Nuyens, one of the several Quick Step youngsters, and Mercatone Uno Spanish neo-pro Joseba Albizu both had good late-season runs: Nuyens won the final race of the Belgian road season (the Sluitingprijs, 1.3) and also had top ten finishes in the GP Rik van Steenbergen and Milan-Vignola. The latter won the 1.3-rated Giro del Friuli, as well as impressing with seventh in the GP Ploauy – recently Albizu asked the UCI for permission to go to Euskaltel for 2004, as he still is contracted to Mercatone Uno. Brioches la Boulangere breakthrough boy Maryan Hary, who won a stage of the Tour de l’Ain, took second overall in the International Hessen Rundhfart (a 2.3 tour) and placed third in Paris-Brussels: he capped his season off with a shock ride in Hamilton for the French team.
Others in the top ten include last year’s top-ranked Espoir Mikhail Timochine, who had a solid if unspectacular year alongside fellow young stars Vaitkus and Popovych at Landbouwkrediet: his best result was sixth in a stage of the 2.3-ranked Ster Elektrotoer in the Netherlands. Congratulations must go to Niels Scheuneman of the Netherlands, who, although he's not in the top ten, rode for the Rabobank Espoir team in UCI Divison III this year; the 19 year old had an incredible season taking second in the Ster Elektrotoer and third in another 2.3 race, the International Niedersachsen-Rundhfart. He also impressed at the end of the season, in Hamilton, with a silver medal in the U23 men’s TT. It looks likely that he will go to the new Chocolate Jacques team for 2004.
Other English-Speaking Neo Pros in 2003
Allan Davis (ONCE-Eroski): winner of the Trofeo Alcudia (1.3) and a stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe et Pays de Loire (2.3)
Scott Davis (Ceramiche Panaria)
Dermot Nally (Paternina-Costa da Almeria)
Hayden Roulston (Cofidis): winner of a stage in the Tour of Poland (2.2)