Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ronde de l'Isard Roundup

Just like that, the Ronde de l'Isard is over and the roads of the Ariege will barely be touched by any bike race for another year. If it is one thing that I can really complain about this race is that it is so short and once the first stage is done, I'm already looking for more.

Regarding the race, I really do wish there was a stronger start list for this event. It is one of the best U23 stage races and yet half of the teams are French amateur squads. Why can't Axeon, BMC Development, Rabobank and all of the big national programs have a team here? If you want to see Rob Power go head to head with anyone on Plateau de Beille then why not? At the very least, this race should join an expanded U23 calendar that holds greater importance to development teams so we can see the best talent going up against one another. But I've discussed that ad nauseum before.

Simone Petilli

The Italian with Unieuro Wilier Trevigiani took the race by the throat after a dominating ride on stage 1 and proceeded to defend the next three stages. The only chink he showed was in stage 2 when Jeremy Maison and Laurens De Plus gained time on him on Plateau de Beille but he had a strong team behind him. This win in l'Isard was the first by an Italian since Graziano Gasparre in 1999 and it would be the first leg of a historic treble if Petilli starts the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and the Tour de l'Avenir.

Petilli was a strong junior with many results in Italy but at just 20, he won the KOM jersey in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. He joined Area Zero for 2014 and had a trial by fire. He was 11th overall and best youth in the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and after a solid first half of the year, he made it through the end of the Vuelta a Colombia, which is like trying to compete in a Moto GP on a 600cc engine.

Petilli joined the somewhat new Unieuro Wilier Trevigiani for this year and has been all over the top 10 this year in one day races and won the best youth in the Coppi e Bartali for the 2nd year running but his win on the first stage of the Ronde de l'Isard was his first ever UCI win. He definitely could be in line for a stagiaire role near the end of the season but watch him in Valle d'Aosta and l'Avenir but he definitely won't have a cake walk.

Laurens De Plus

The Lotto-Soudal U23 climber was perhaps the bigger revelation of the week as he was the only rider able to keep and sometimes make Petilli work for his win. De Plus won the points jersey and finished in 2nd place by just 10 seconds. While Petilli had some more experience on his side as well as more experienced teammates, De Plus had strongman Brecht Ruyters as well as two first year U23s in Steff Cras and Steff Hermans.

De Plus is still just 19 years old and as a junior, we was going against the likes of Rob Power, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Scott Davies and Mathieu van der Poel. After a quiet 2014 finding his feet, De Plus came out striking early with a solo win in the later winter race Gent-Staden. He followed this up with 11th in the Trofeo PIVA and 5th in the Fleche Ardennaise, which was less than a fortnight before l'Isard.

De Plus still has a couple of U23 years on him so this is only a primer of what he could potentially do. He seems to have a decent kick on him for a climber and could see more success this year depending on where his Lotto-Soudal team sends him to.

CC Etupes

While they are a French amateur team, they could go up against any continental development team. CC Etupes had a fantastic week in the Ariege. Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 winner Guillaume Martin flew the flag for the team on the first stage with a 3rd place finish on the summit finish at Goulier-Neige while teammate Jeremy Maison finished 7th. The following day, Maison flew away from everyone to take a brilliant win on Plateau de Beille while Martin finished 3rd again. They ended the race with Leo Vincent winning a two-up sprint to take the final stage.

The team won two stages, finished 3rd & 4th on the overall and was 3rd on the team GC. Not too shabby.

First year U23s

The class of '96 had a strong l'Isard performance that was headlined by Aurelien Paret-Peintre (Chambery CF). A standout junior that won the Tour of Istria last year, Paret-Peintre has already slotted in well with the Ag2r development team with 2 wins and strong performances in UCI one-day races such as the Trofeo PIVA and the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23. Paret-Peintre wasn't the strongest climber of the race but got better as the race progressed and on the final stage, he was hanging with Simone Petilli and Laurens De Plus on the Col de la Core. Paret-Peintre finished 6th overall but definitely underlined his bright future.

David Gaudu (Cotes d'Armor) came out swinging with a 4th on the opening stage to Goulier-Neige but that seemed to put him in a whole for the remainder of the race. He still hung on to 11th overall.

Will Barta (USA) got into breakaways on the first two stages and was pretty insastiable in his quest to make an impact.

Steff Cras and Steff Hermans (both Lotto-Soudal) were key helpers for De Plus' GC hopes. Cras ended up 10th overall for his troubles.

Vendee U

...was a bit disappointing. They were there but at the same time they weren't. This is probably the strongest overall French development team but they were fairly anonymous for such a big time French race. Loic Bouchereau put in a good ride for 8th overall and Paul Ourselin had a good ride on stage 3 but just seemed under expectations. Maybe it is just me.

Alexey Vermeulen

Vermeulen was an absolute wunderkind and has been trying to his niche in the U23 ranks. With 20 UCI racing days in the legs, Vermeulen went to the Ronde de l'Isard looking for a result after not having one yet in the 2015 season. While he was a bit back on the first stage to Goulier-Neige, he stayed steady on Plateau de Beille after attacking on the lower slopes and he finished 7th overall, which is the same as his overall finish.

I'll be interested to see where Vermeulen gets starts the rest of the year because he seems to get better with age. I would like to see him have a crack at the U23 Peace Race again this year to see if he can improve on his 6th overall from last year.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Ronde de l'Isard: Petilli secures overall

While the last stage of the 2015 Ronde de l'Isard appeared to be daunting with 3 big Pyreneean ascent, the cream of the crop stayed together for the most part and the podium remained status quo.

The day started off with a large breakaway that was spearheaded by American TJ Eisenhart, who was trying to make up for some off days earlier in the race. Eisenhart got away on the lower slopes of the Col de Port and was joined shortly after by Paul Sauvage (CR4C Roanne), who has shown himself to be a fiesty rider that was in and out of breakaways all week. Sauvage would take enough points to secure the KOM jersey.

The duo worked well together and made it up the majority of the Col d'Agnes until shortly before the summit, they were joined by a group of 4 others including Dries Van Gestel (Lotto-Soudal), Leo Vincent (CC Etupes), Loic Bouchereau (Vendee U) and Mathias Le Turnier (Oceane Top 16). The sextet went ovet the summit together and plunged back down into the valley in pursuit of the final climb, the Col de la Core.

At the bottom of the climb, Van Gestel started to push the pace and Eisenhart, fatigued from his early efforts, was distanced. The breakaway slowly broke apart as Van Gestel and Vincent showed themselves as the strongest two climbers. While the duo worked well together, riders were throwing in attacks in the yellow jersey group to try and break things up. David Gaudu (Cotes d'Armor) was trying to make up for an off stage 2 and did his best to attempt a bridge on the Col de la Core but was stuck in no man's land for the majority of the climb. Race leader Simone Petilli and 2nd place Laurens De Plus (Lotto-Soudal) were comfortably the best two climbers in the race as they distanced everyone else when the pace kicked up. The only exception here was impressive first year U23 Aurelien Paret-Peintre (Chambery CF), who made contact with the duo and stayed with them for the remained of the race.

Up front, it was Vincent who bombed the descent and put time into Van Gestel but the Belgian was able to claw his was back up front. Roughly a minute behind was Bouchereau, who was trying his best to come to terms but he would spend the remainder of his race in no-man's land. The two came into the sprint and it was Vincent who took out the sprint and capped off an impressive week for CC Etupes. Bouchereau clawed back nearly all of the deficit but came in 6 seconds down on the leading two. Laurens De Plus led in the yellow jersey group to wrap up the points jersey.

For more analysis, hold on for a Ronde de l'Isard wrap-up post that will be coming in the next day or so.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ronde de l'Isard Stages 2 & 3: Maison wins big on Plateau de Beille; Petilli clings to lead

The past two days have seen the GC battle get even closer with some spectacular rides in the mountains as well as a chance for outsiders to get a bit of glory.

Stage 2 - Salies du Salat to Plateau de Beille

The Break (via directvelo.com)

The stage itself was more or less flat for the first 100 something kilometers saw a lot of attacks with Will Barta (USA) getting into yet another attack with about 9 others after 50 kilometers. For about the next 70 kilometers, the break rode out front but once it got lumpy out on the road, Barta flew the coop with roughly 30 kilometers left to go. Thomas Alfonso (Midi-Pyrenees) briefly bridged up to Barta while Paul Sauvage (CR4C Roanne) hopped out of the peloton and bridged and then passed the duo and was the leader on the road once the race hit Plateau de Beille.

Just before the beginning of the climb, 2nd place Laurens De Plus had a mechanical and missed the split but once the lead group of 17 was formed on the lower slopes of the climb, the Lotto-Soudal Belgian was back in the fold. While the initial racing was controlled, an attack by Guillaume Martin (CC Etupes) lit the paper and soon after, his teammate Jeremy Maison attacked with roughly 9 kilometers to go. De Plus and leader Simone Petilli still had multiple riders around them initially but in only a few kilometers, it was De Plus, Petilli and Martin chasing the flying Maison, who had 30 seconds on them.

Maison flying up Plateau de Beille (via Ronde de l'Isard)
The chase behind was disorganized at best with Martin running cover for his teammate up the road while Petilli had to be concerned with every passing second that went by. The chase was so lackluster at one point that first year U23 rider Aurelien Paret-Peintre and Lucas Papillon were able to come back briefly before De Plus launched an attack to try and get some seconds back.

In the end, Maison just battered the chasers and even with a more concerted effort at the end, the CC Etupes rider pulled out 1'05" on the chasing trio that was led in by Laurens De Plus. Papillon and Paret-Peintre came in within 2 minutes while Pinckey, Michigan product Alexey Vermeulen (USA) put in a very impressive ride with 7th place after being stuck in no-man's land for a while on the climb.

The GC race got even tigher as Petilli's lead was reduced to just 10 seconds on De Plus while Maison's bravery got him within 23 seconds of the lead.

Stage 3 Auterive - Boulogne-sur-Gesse

After the GC turbulence on the big mountain on Friday, Petilli and his Unieuro-Wilier teammates were content to let a group go that would soak up the sprint bonuses and allow the big boys some rest. A breakaway of 5 got a gap within a few kilometers and that was all the race wrote.

The breakaway consisted of Xabier San Sebastian (Euskadi), Benoit Cosnefroy (Chambery CF), Paul Ourselin (Vendeé U), Stéphen Géuvel (Côtes d'Armor) and Valentin Deverchère (CR4C Roanne) and their gap went up to nearly 10 minutes within 30 kilometers. That would mean a combination of them having the accelerator jammed open and the peloton basically pulling over to get a gap that big in such a short period.

The action came quite late in the stage when San Sebastian and Cosnefroy attacked with roughly 3 kilometers to go and the others seemingly had no impetus to chase. Euskadi v. Chambery CF sprint showdown after 160 kilometers of lumpy terrain? Thrilling stuff for certain.

As you can see, Xabi San Sebastian was able to take a thrilling win ahead of Cosnefroy to give Euskadi a nice UCI win for the season. It was San Sebastian's 2nd win of the season with the other being a stunner in the 7th round of the Copa de Espana where he held off a speeding peloton to take the win. The remnants of the break came in 20 seconds later while the peloton, led it by Michael Bresciani (Roth-Skoda), didn't come in for another 4'30" minutes.

The GC situation stayed stagnant for the big showdown over 3 massive cols to the downhill finish in St. Girons. Simone Petilli is only up by 10 seconds on a very strong looking Laurens De Plus, who along with his team are leading every other classification, while Jeremy Maison lurks just 23 seconds back and is very dangerous after his exploits on Plateau de Beille. Can Guillaume Martin seemingly come back from a minute plus deficit to steal the jersey? Follow the live ticker on directvelo to see!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ronde de l'Isard Ariege: Petilli romps on Goulier-Neige

It has been 15 years since Graziano Gasparre went through his banner U23 year when he won the European U23 RR, the Giro della Regioni and the Ronde de l'Isard overall. An Italian hasn't been close to the Ariege region since and no Italians have been on the podium of the Ronde de l'Isard since Gasparre's triumph.

It looks like the long draught might be coming to an end soon. Simone Petilli (UniEuro-Wilier) is still a U23 but has been swinging with the pros this season with 15th overall in the Coppi e Bartali and top 20 finishes scattered all over his racing calendar. Petilli broke away from Belgian Laurens De Plus (Lotto-Soudal U23) roughly halfway up the finishing climb of Goulier-Neige and was able to keep a small lead on the fiesty Belgian all the way up the climb to take the opening stage win of the Ronde de l'Isard by 12 seconds.

The duo has broked away near the bottom of the climb but it was Petilli who separated from De Plus while riders such as Guillaume Martin (CC Etupes) and Lorenzo Rota (UniEuro) tried but failed to make any dent in the gap. Martin was able to come across 3rd but was 1'03" back at the finish. First year U23s David Gaudu and Aurelien Paret-Peintre came across together in 4th and 5th at 1'25" with Marco Tecchio (UniEuro).

More Later...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ronde de l'Isard Preview: Pyrenean Playground

In just one short week, riders will be descending on the Ariège department for what is one of the most consistently difficult U23 stage races on the calendar, the Ronde de l'Isard. Nestled in the heart of the Pyrenees, the Ariège is one of the most unspoiled regions of France with a fairly sparse population and with 40% of the region being dedicated as a national park. With plains, foothills and full blown mountains, the region is an incredible and demanding location for a bike race and the Ronde de l'Isard, which is in its 38th edition now, will see even the best riders crack and salivate for a ride in the team car.

The race itself first appeared in 1977 as a French regional race before slowly gaining prestige throughout the next few decades. In 1998, it became a race just for U23 racers and the palmares become a bit more familiar. '98 saw Denis Menchov win and he was followed by the likes of Jamie Burrow, Graziano Gasparre, Christophe Le Mevel and Markus Fothen. Names that many know dot the podiums from the 00s including a strong American contingent in Mike Creed (2x 3rd), Pat McCarty (1st in 2003), Saul Raisin (2nd and 3rd) and John Devine (2007) as well as others including Ignatas Konovalovas, Philip Deignan, Kevin Seeldraeyers, Ben Hermans, Francis De Greef, Blel Kadri, Maxime Bouet and more.

While in the 00s many of the winners varier between climbers and rouleurs, the majority of winners in the last few years have been pure climbers except for Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier. These winners include Alex Geniez, Yannick Eijssen, Kenny Elissonde, Juan Chamorro and Louis Vervaeke.

Perhaps the only thing holding this race back is its start list but because of the U23 requirement and the intense parcours, it is understandable that the majority of the teams are just French amateur teams with some foreign teams scattered in for good measure.

For the teams for the 2015 edition, visit the race website that includes all of the riders and numbers.

An interesting note is that just days before the race is beginning, it was announced that Team Ecuador would be participating. With no Colombian team in this year's edition, it is a good sight to see some South American participation.


Stage 1

Mirepoix to Goulier Neige (143 kilometers)

Kicking off the race is a swift kick in the pants. Starting from Mirepoix, situated in the Hers Valley, the race is fairly flat for the first 120 kilometers with only a small climb to handle during that time. I'm certain a breakaway will get time here because the last 25 kilometers will see all of the big hitters in the peloton going for it.

The climb to Goulier Neige doesn't start until the turn at Vicdessos and then for the next 9.5 kilometers, the climb averages a stout 8%. With 15 kilometers of false flat before the climb even begins, there will be some tired legs before the climb even starts.

This climb was used on the finish of stage 1 last year and only 3 riders finished within a minute of winner Alexander Foliforov. There is a good chance the race will be won or lost here so if anyone wants to have a shot, they better be on their A game.

Stage 2

Salies du Salat to Plateau de Beille (139.9 kilometers)

Nothing like having a mountain top finish one right after another. This stage is very similar to stage 1 in that for the first 100 kilometers, it is fairly straightforward with only 1 climb to speak of and the rest involving valley riding.

The climb itself is relentless with nearly 15 kilometers of 8%+ average gradient before leveling off at the end. If people were not hurting on Goulier Neige then they will be asking for their parents to take them home on Plateau de Beille. This isn't a climb that is necessarily steady either. They have kilometer long sections that go up to 9 or 10% average and the climb winds up at nearly 1800 meters in elevation.

Will over at cyclingchallenge.com cycled it so you can read his words on the climb. If GC isn't done and dusted by this stage then something is wrong.

Stage 3

Auterive to Boulogne-sur-Gesse (157.6 kilometers)

After two consecutive mountain top finishes, this will either result in a mass bunch sprint or a breakaway over the up and down terrain. Boulogne-sur-Gesse hosted a stage finish last year that saw Loic Chetout take a small group sprint out of a group of 6 and something very similar could happen on Saturday.

Stage 4

Foix to St. Girons (130.4 kilometers)

A carbon copy of the final stage from the 2014 edition. Following work on the Port de Lers, the race substituted the Col de Latrape for the Col de Port and just went with last year's stage. Within roughly 80 kilometers, the race takes on the Col de Port, the Col d'Agnes and the Col de la Core.

The peloton will be sorted at will be most likely a small group coming of the de la Core with 30 kilometers of downhill for the finish in St. Girons. If it is anything like last year, the group will be small but together perhaps a solo rider out front.

For the complete guide book with the full route, go here. I will try to get another post about the riders out before Thursday.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Olympia's Tour: Vermeulen wins the Belgian sojourn

Stepping out of the Netherlands, the Olympia's 3M Tour made a fairly unprecedented step by having a stage completely out of the country by hopping over the border to Diegem, Belgium for lord knows why. One reason that I can think of is that it is a halfway point between Reuver, where stage 3 was held, and Delft, which is hosting the split stage tomorrow. Another is that the race is sponsored by the Benelux arm of 3M, which would be looking to get more coverage of the race outside of the Netherlands.

In any case, it was a cut and dry affair. A break of 9 including names such as Floris Gerts (BMC Development), Martijn Budding (Rabobank Development) and James SHaw (Lotto-Belisol U23) got away early and got a couple of minutes advantage. Jochem Hoekstra (Jo Piels) grabbed the KOM jersey for his efforts but the breakaway was doomed.

In the sprint, it was the sames names that you have been hearing all week coming to the forefront. The two leadout men, Elmar Reinders (Jo Piels) and Marco Zanotti (Parkhotel Valkenburg), were battling for position while their respective leaders, Jeff Vermeulen and Wim Stroetinga, bidded their time. Reinders did a masterful leadout to spring Vermeulen and the Jo Piels rider was able to grab his 3rd win of the year while Stroetinga came in 2nd and Coen Vermeltfoort grabbed his 3rd podium of the week in 3rd.

No offense but this stage left much to be desired in terms of excitement. Hopefully going to Delft and the royal family, Johannas Vermeer and Delftware will inspire the race and see a thrilling conclusion.

The race will conclude with a split stage on Saturday in Delft with a TT in the morning and a afternoon road stage followed by a circuit in Rijswijk on Sunday.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Olympia's Tour: Stroetinga makes it twice as nice

Nearly two years to the day, Wim Stroetinga won the final stage of the 2013 Olympia's Tour on the Reuver circuit in a sprint ahead of Geert van der Weijst, Jeff Vermeulen and Johim Ariesen. Two years later, you just needed to substitute Coen Vermeltfoort for Geert van der Weijst in 2nd place and you would have the exact same result.

The stage itself was fairly no-descript with a breakaway going ahead, getting some time and being brought back. The only exciting bit of the stage was that Stroetinga had to come from far back to be able to get the win. He used the slipstream to jet past everyone including Jeff Vermeulen, who was passed in the final meters for the win. Stroetinga was matter-of-fact about his win as he said, "if you're almost thirty, you are no longer working to get there. I've done that happily again."

This is Stroetinga's 12th win in the Olympia's Tour or 14th if you count Vermeulen's DQs from 2013. The only change on GC came from 2nd place Arno Van der Zwet, who crashed out of the race. Bob Schoonbroodt is now in 2nd place overall followed by Piotr Havik.

The racing continues tomorrow with a sojourn into Belgium with a circuit around Diegem.