In any given year, there is always someone who emerges from nowhere to establish himself as a rider of the highest order.
Nairo Quintana did it in 2013, the 23-year-old Colombian climbing specialist who justified a promising career with an explosive attack on Chris Froome’s Tour de France credentials.
In that same race, Marcel Kittel emerged as a serious contender to Mark Cavendish’s loosening claim to be the fastest man on two wheels, the German winning four stages to the Manx Missile’s two.
They were two men bubbling under the surface who used the greatest bike race on the planet to announce themselves to the world.
Who does likewise in the 101st Tour de France, which begins in Yorkshire in six months’ time, will be fascinating. What price that emerging talent being a Yorkshireman, who seizes his chance on the rolling hills of the Dales and the sprint finishes into Harrogate and Sheffield on July 5 and 6?
Leeds’s Josh Edmondson is on the cusp of breaking through with Team Sky, with the blueprint set by relentless domestique Pete Kennaugh in last year’s race giving him hope that team principal Dave Brailsford may want another hungry young upstart to support Froome’s bid for a second successive yellow jersey.
Or how about Scott Thwaites, a 23-year-old from Burley-in-Wharfedale, who, for more than half his lifetime, has cycled the very roads the best in the world will ride in six months’ time?
Thwaites has been back on familiar territory over the festive period – heading out of his front door in Headingley every morning, out into Ilkley and beyond into the Dales – after riding on the continent this past year following his move to fledgling team NetApp Endura.
He has done so because he has been inspired to pedal that little bit faster by the knowledge that he has a slither of hope of riding in a Tour de France that starts in his home city this summer.
“The Tour coming to Yorkshire is massive. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and to be at the level where I have a chance of being involved is incredible,” said Thwaites, a two-time winner of the Otley Grand Prix, who acquitted himself well in his first season with the German team.
“It’s come when I’m still young and it’s going to be a big ask, but it has given me that added motivation to work really hard this year.”
Impressing upon NetApp’s management his strengths is Thwaites’s mission over the coming months, with the classic races in Belgium and northern France, plus a few one-week stage races, at the top of his agenda.
While he has no grand tour experience to fall back on, he believes his ability over the punchy hills that highlight stage two’s run-in from Huddersfield to Sheffield, for instance, would serve his team well.
He said: “I’m not a high mountains man or a time-trialler, but the small climbs are where I usually go quite well.
“I’m not an out-and-out sprinter either, but on the uphill sprints and the rolling roads, like it is in the Yorkshire Dales, that’s where I’m most at home and where I get most of my results.”
Thwaites earned a handful of top-10 finishes in his debut year with NetApp, a team formed out of a merger involving his former employers, the British-based Endura Racing outfit.
He also contested a two-week race at altitude in China, all of which added up to invaluable experience in his apprentice year.
“I didn’t know how good I would be stepping up to that level but I think the extra training I put in with my coach (former pro Jeremy Hunt) really helped and I was happy I was able to compete at that level and not feel out of my depth,” said Thwaites, who finished eighth on a stage of the Tour of Britain last September.
“I was just a bit tired towards the end because it had been a long hard season, much harder than I’d ever experienced before, but I was still happy with how I did. I learned different ways how to save energy, nutrition, race craft and all the things you pick up over time from people who are more experienced.
“You learn more and a lot quicker when you’re thrown in at that level. I know that in a grand tour this year I would take so much from the experienced guys around me, how hard you have to go, when to rest etcetera. I feel as though I’m capable and I’d use the knowledge of my team-mates to help me get through.”
Transferring that knowledge into race wins between now and the start of his ‘home’ Tour de France is his mission over the coming months.
Any success he manages may have a knock-on effect for his team. Because as it stands, NetApp Endura are not a grand tour team. The fledgling operation rely on wild card selections to get into the three big races, something they missed out on at last year’s Tour, but benefitted from for the Vuelta a Espana.
Thwaites explained: “A couple of the world tour teams have lost sponsorship and Europcar, who are traditionally a rival of ours for the wild card spot have moved up, so that’s opened an opportunity for us.
“We showed in the Vuelta that we can ride a grand tour, win a stage, be competitive and get a guy (Leopold Konig) in the general classification hunt, so our profile has certainly been raised.
“We feel we deserve the chance.
“On a personal level, I want to win races. If I get the chance to ride the bigger races, hopefully, I can show what I can do.
“That’s why I’m training so hard in the Dales – because as well as there being no better place to train when the weather is good – I know I’ve got to get into the best condition that I can.”
Thwaites heads out for the Tour of Mallorca in February, his first scheduled race of the year, by which time he hopes to have done his first official reconnoitre of the two stages of the Yorkshire leg of the Tour de France.
Anything that will give him an advantage when the Tour de France teams are decided.