Pages

Friday, July 22, 2016

European U23 Track Championships

It has been 10 days since Italian maestro Filippo Ganna laid down incredible individual pursuit times at the European Junior & U23 Track Championships with nary a ripple in the broader cycling community due to the Tour de France casting a gigantic shadow over every other event and discipline.

While Ganna's performance was one for the record books, there were others that certainly shouldn't be overshadowed. While I am a little late on this, you should thank me for giving you light reading during the time between 100 kilometers and 50 kilometers to go in the tour stages coming this weekend. You're welcome. Also, go to your local velodrome and support the racing.

Ivo Oliveira

If you haven't followed Iberia or track cycling closely, you are remiss in your duties to know everything about the cycling development world. Shame. Shame. Shame. Anywho, Ivo Oliveira is 1/2 of a very good twin brother combination with the other half being Rui Oliveira. Rui got himself quite banged up due to a pretty bad accident so Ivo has been carrying the weight and quite well actually.

While Ganna was setting his incredible times, Ivo was setting some scorching times himself and lowering personal bests by a healthy margin. In qualifying, Ivo put down a 4'18"671" and proceeded to lower than in the finals by riding a 4'17"448", which would have put him in 2nd place in the World Championships behind who else but Ganna.

Ivo then competed in the Kilo time trial and placed 7th, posting up a 1'02"497". Then the points race, where he was also 7th place. Enough? Nope. Ivo then rode the Omnium, placing 3rd behind Direct Energie's Thomas Boudat and Pole Szymon Sajnok. Ivo is pretty good in bunch events but he got worked over in the points race by only taking a lap (along with 5 others) and scoring in only 4 lap sprints.

So that you aren't shamed again, you need to put Ivo down on your list for Omnium favorites for Tokyo 2020.

Team Pursuit

With Italy's resurgence in the team pursuit on all levels (to my absolute joy), the French have showed continued progress in the team event. What I mean by continued progress is taking a huge chunk off of their last performance at the World Championships. At London Worlds, France rode a 4'05", which is fast but way off a medal times.

In Montichiari, France came out with 3/4 of their Worlds Team (Florian Maitre, Ben Thomas and Thomas Denis) but came with Corentin Ermenault, who is basically a two-cylinder engine. In qualifying, Italy took the top placing by running a 3'58"745", which was better than last year's European U23 TP winning time by Great Britain. France was close behind in 3'59"353, which is very fast but could have been even faster as France had a horrific opening kilometer that was 2.5 seconds slower than Italy's opener and only 9th fastest. They followed that horrible opening by three sub 58 kilometers to close out the race and end up six tenths slower than Italy.

In the finals, France started slower than Italy but much faster than their qualifying.  Then they ripped a sub 57 second kilometer, which is just leg melting. That is 63.5 kilometers per hour or 39.45 miles per hour for a whole kilometer. This was followed by a 57 second kilometer and a 57.5 second final kilometer. They took a 1.6 second deficit after the opening kilometer to a stacked Italian team and turned it into a win by .1 seconds.

France ended up with a 3'56"277" over Italy's 3'56"393", which is definitely getting into bronze medal territory. The encouraging thing is that theoretically both teams could get better. Italy has Viviani or even Liam Bertazzo that could replace Plebiani while with France, they have Boudat or with more slim chances, Bryan Coquard and Damian Gaudin.

While Italy is going to Rio and France is not, France is certainly looking healthy going forward to 2020.

Elsewhere...

Thomas Boudat and Jon Dibben rode very well with wins in the Omnium and Points Race, respectively. Boudat dominated the Omnium with wins in the Individual Pursuit and Elimination along with getting a massive 94 points in the Points Race after taking 3 laps along with eating up point sprints.

Dibben on the other hand is dealing with the kick in the gut that was missing out on the Rio Olympics due to Mark Cavendish's gold medal orgasm along with Ed Clancy coming back from injury but making the team pursuit squad. He proceeded to take 5 laps on the decent field of riders and show that he is on an Olympic level but will be most likely be left out until Tokyo 2020.

I was a bit surprised to see Xhuliano Kamberaj (Albania) here in the Scratch and Points Race, where he finished next to last and dead last. Good on him for trying something new as he hasn't been racing much with SkyDive Dubai (nothing since the Giro del Trentino) so this is something, I guess.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Valle d'Aosta Wrap Up, pt 2: Living on the Edge

The most exciting race in Europe continued on with a two-banger set of climbs on stage 4 that rivals anything in any pro race with the Champremier climb followed by a wicked descent along with the Clavalite climb, which features an eye-popping max gradient of 19% as well as the final three kilometers averaging 11%.

After a breakaway got away early in the race, the Clavalite climb was the decisive part of the race. While race leader Mark Padun was climbing well early on, his efforts had finally caught up with him once Enric Mas and Kilian Frankiny hit the gas on the early parts of the climb. The Spanish/Swiss duo soon caught up to the last breakaway rider, Norway's Anders Skaarseth, and spit him out accordingly. A cut above the rest on the steepest climb of the day, the duo began to extend their lead on the chasers, which were led by Manzana teammates Hernan Aguirre, The Wrath of God and Aldemar Reyes along with Edward Ravasi (Colpack) and a struggling Padun.


Mas had put in an acceleration mid-way up the climb but after Frankiny slowly brought him back, the Swiss rider launched an attack within the last two kilometers and summited the Clavalite climb solo and pressed home the advantage, which ended up being 23 seconds by the time that Mas crossed the chalk line. It seemed as if the GC was set between the two heavy favorites as race leader Padun ceded nearly 5 minutes and would begin the final day down a few seconds shy of 2 minutes. It would take a miracle for this to happen but the sirens of the mountains have their way of working things.

There is something that results sheets do not tell you or no metric in cycling can really tell you. There are riders that would see they are 2 minutes down on GC with one stage to go and with the group of Colombians climbing well behind them, they would play it conservatively and try to protect their placing. Then there are others that would do what got them there in the first place by attacking the race, riding with panache beyond their years and scaring the living hell out of the race's heavy favorites.

Racing to the base of the Matterhorn at Breuil Cervinia, a large breakaway got away early but once Dan Pearson (Wiggins) was away on the Col de St. Pantaléon, the touch paper was lit behind. Pearson was caught and passed by Filippo Zaccanti (Colpack), who went over the climb alone. Just short of the KOM, Padun laid down a wicked attack that caught out many in the yellow jersey group and by the time that the race hit the bottom in Antey St. André, Padun caught up to his teammate Zaccanti and drew out Ravasi along with Frankiny. While it is unclear where it happened, Enric Mas had a flat tire that put him way behind the action and had him chasing all of the way.


On the climb to Breuil Cervinia, Zaccanti had done his job and left it to the Padun/Ravasi to deal with Frankiny. Once on the final climb, Padun put in another acceleration that saw Ravasi follow him and Frankiny have to drop off the pace. Taking the race by the neck, Padun and Ravasi kept on the gas while Frankiny was in a tail spin. Ravasi was actually going a bit too quick for Padun at one point and probably could have gone ahead on his own but with the overall GC back in sight, it was all for one.

Meanwhile, Enric Mas was pulling back a deficit that was over two minutes at one point and was absolutely flying up the climb. With Frankiny suffering through the final kilometers of the climb, the Mallorcan sauntered up to him with roughly 4 kilometers to go and after a brief rest, proceeded to go by him.
Up front, the Colpack duo were proving my words to be right as the GC gap was growing very tenuous as the kilometers dwindled away. At one point, Padun was within 5 seconds of Frankiny's overall lead. Mas attacked the BMC Development rider with 3 kilometers to go and started to put time into the leader. As you can see above, Colpack got to celebrate with Ravasi and Padun going 1-2 on the final stage, which is where they also won in 2014 in a 1-2 with Manuel Senni (now BMC) and Giro stage winner Giulio Ciccone (Bardiani).

With DSs literally biting their nails down to the nubs waiting for Mas and Frankiny to come in, the BMC Development rider reached down deep to keep Mas in check and rolling in 1'46" down on Padun and just 7 seconds down on Enric Mas, Kilian Frankiny saved his overall win and took easily the biggest win of his U23 career in a beautiful way.


The gap back to Mas on the GC was only 8 paltry seconds, which coincidently was the gap between BMC Development and Klein Constantia in the opening stage TTT. While the flat tire Mas suffered drastically changed the game, it goes to show that a strong team can make all of the difference. Mas was certainly climbing better on the final stage but without that flat tire, the whole stage could have played out entirely differently. Frankiny used Swiss-like precision across the whole race and even with his final stage sputtering, it still worked.

Padun was a name on Espoirs Central radar that I was hoping would make a splash here but did much more than that. The big names made a mistake in giving him so much time on the 2nd stage breakaway and Padun & Colpack exploited that mistake to the fullest by nearly taking Colpack's first overall win here since Davide Villella's domination in 2013 edition. Ravasi proved that his climbing skills are lethal and while he might not be an overall threat in every race, he can kick the shit out of many riders in the mountains. The scariest thing about Padun? He only just turned 20 years old.

Aldemar Reyes and Hernan Aguirre, the Wrath of God certainly made their Manzana team proud and delivered home the best team prize by over 9 minutes on Klein Constantia and 24 minutes on Colpack. While this was a big target and Reyes was just off the mark on one stage, this is certainly a benchmark going forward to the Tour de l'Avenir.

It should be noted that the breakaway riders on stage 3 to Piani di Tavagnasco in Etixx-OPQS recruit Max Schachmann, Pavel Sivakov (BMC Development) and Jose Luis Rodriguez (UCI Cycling Centre) all hung on very well in the coming mountains to finish 7th through 9th on the GC. There is a strong feeling in Espoirs Central HQ that Schachmann could be a huge surprise in the Tour de l'Avenir and his performance here only underlines this hunch. Same for Rodriguez, who has had a breakthrough year this year and the Chilean could be the first from his nation to hit the top 10 overall at the Tour de l'Avenir if he plays his cards right.

If it wasn't for the breakaway riders in the top 10, Bjorg Lambrecht and Tobias Foss would have most likely made the top 10 overall, which would have been a fantastic result for the two first year U23 riders. Lambrecht made a splash earlier this year with his win in the Ronde de l'Isard and subsequent results but Foss is coming off much less and after promising results from Odd Eiking and Sindre Lunke here in recent years, Norway still has more to look forward to in the mountains in the coming years.

It should be mentioned that this race was 10 times more exciting that than Tour de France and if this had live television on every stage, people's jaws would be hitting the floor, especially with the scenery. Here is hoping to the next edition!

(Photos used come from girovalledaosta.it)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Valle d'Aosta Wrap-Up: The Rise of Mark Padun, Part 1

While trying to focus on work, I was scrolling through Twitter updates about the first stage from the Giro della Valle d'Aosta to see what the hell was happening. When I saw who was in the breakaway, I shook my head. Mark Padun (Colpack) got himself into the breakaway with a handful of others and I was wondering to myself if the riders behind knew who they were dealing with. Padun was 8th in the 2015 edition of the U23 Peace Race/Zavod Miru and while his international results this year haven't been as good as they could be, he has been riding very strongly in Italy and was just 2nd in the Medio Brenta the other day.


Without giving a verbatim re-telling of the ticker, Padun accelerated on the Saxonnex climb to separate himself from the breakaway while Zilio and Bagioli (both Zalf) came across on the descent along with Ben Brkic (Tirol). On the Saint-Gervais climb,  Padun accelerated with Bagioli and then in the final kilometers of the climb, Padun moved away from Bagioli and took a beautiful solo win.

From Espoirs Central preview:
Padun could certainly win a stage if he gets it right... 
Behind, the peloton was not taking any time out of Padun, as if they didn't know of the threat that they had. The group of favorites stayed together behind until finally accelerating towards the end with Enric Mas (Klein Constantia) coming across the line in 3rd on the same time as Aldemar Reyes (Manzana Postobon) and Edward Ravasi (Colpack) while Bjorg Lambrecht, Thomas Vereecken, Steff Cras (Lotto-Soudal U23), Killian Frankiny (BMC Development) Hernan Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Manzana Postobon), Markus Freiberger (Tirol) and Tobias Foss (Norway) coming across within 10 seconds of Mas.

With Padun in the yellow leader's jersey, stage 3 rolled out from Quincinetto on a flatter circuit with only a couple of climbs until Piani di Tavagnasco, the brutal ascent out of the Dora Baltea river valley that averages nearly 11.5% for almost 10 kilometers.



The day's breakaway had real power with U23 World TT medalist Max Schachmann (Klein Constantia) joined by Pavel Sivakov (BMC Development), Jose Luis Rodriguez (UCI) and Luca Raggio (Viris Maserati). Raggio was shed coming into Tavagnasco and the breakaway got a maximum advantage of 7 minutes. The trio kept moving while behind it was Scott Davies and Dan Pearson (both Wiggins) attacking the peloton and made it up to Raggio and quickly passed him but passed them but were unable to join the leaders up front before the climb started.



On the lower slopes of the climb, the breakaway moved well together but Schachmann soon distanced himself as the best climber in the group and toddled up the climb faster than Sivakov and Rodriguez but Sivakov was doing well to keep the gap manageable. While the yellow jersey group accelerated behind and whittled down to a group of just 5, Schachmann continued to stretch his advantage on the chasers.


In the end, Schachmann took the fantastic win on the very steep Tavagnasco with Sivakov coming in 40 seconds down and Rodriguez just making it ahead of the steaming chasers. The Balaeric rider Mas launched a flyer and took 11 seconds out of Kilian Frankiny with Hernan Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Padun and Reyes coming in just seconds behind him. Padun kept his grasp on the yellow jersey very strong while GC became more defined with Mas & Frankiny looking to be the next two in contention with Manzana having the strongest overall team.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Wrap-Up with steep climbs, dirt roads and more drama than the Tour de France has provided so far.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Filippo Ganna dominates; no one cares

Italian sensation Filippo Ganna set the track world alight at the European U23 & Junior Track Championships in Montichiari, Italy by setting two times that would put him in the top 10 fastest individual pursuit times of all time.

This year is the 20 year anniversary of Andrea Collinelli winning the gold medal in the individual pursuit in the Atlanta Olympics by riding a 4'20" in the superman position to beat out Philippe Ermenault to take the biggest win ever in Italian track cyling in the modern era before or since. Until this year that is.


Earlier this year, Filippo Ganna put a ripple through the track cycling world when he came into the World Championships this year in the London veldrome and in the individual pursuit, he went better than traditional nations such as Great Britain, New Zealand and Switzerland to set up a gold medal ride with Dominic Weinstein of Germany. What happened next? Well, you can see that below.


Ganna had ridden the pursuit as a junior but his first 4km pursuit in competition wasn't until 2015 European Championshps, where he rode a good time of 4'27" but nowhere near the medals. So what did he do? What your coaches tell you to do throughout your formative years...practice, practice, practice. Ganna obviously had the power from his road exploits but channeling that effort into a very regimented pursuit is the rub. He went from a 4'27" time in the European Championships to a 4'16" in the both the qualifications and finals (a mere tenth off one another) in the World Championships in less than a year. He had been riding with the Italian Team Pursuit team, which certainly helped matters but how far can he go?

We got a taste of it in Montichiari after Ganna blew the doors and roof off of the velodrome by riding a 4'14"746 in the qualifications to make the finals. Ivo Oliveira rode a very fast 4'18"671, which would have just been shy of a medal in the Worlds this year, but when you are 4 seconds slower than the top qualifier? It puts things in perspective. Ganna's time was the fastest in competition 4k pursuit since Stefan Küng's 4'14"992 in the European Championship finals and at that point, Ganna's time was the 6th best time ever in competition. He couldn't go any better, right?

Well Ivo Oliveira ran a 4'17"448 in the finals, which is just shy of 56 kilometers per hour. That was a very impressive ride. Too bad his opponent rode a 4'14"165.  Knocking six tenths of a second off his qualifying time, Ganna put in the 5th fastest time in history (to my knowledge) and if you discount Boardman's Superman position times, it would be the 3rd best time ever. Ever. Yes technology has come a long way along with training while track conditions play a big part but Ganna is just 19 years old.

Yet due to some wonderful timing, literally no one besides a couple of die hards will actually give a rat's ass about this incredible performance because of the god almighty Tour de France. Add in the fact that some imbeciles took the individual pursuit out of the Olympics and we get a perfect formula for the English speaking media to not write a single thing about Ganna and his achievement. When he leads Italy to a surprise result in Rio in the Team Pursuit, everyone will be going ga-ga over him just like they did at Worlds when they had no idea who he was even though if they did a little bit of digging, they would have known the immense talent was there and on the cusp all along.

4'14"165

Question on my mind is if he could break Bobridge's record of 4'10"534 if given time to train, the appropriate conditions and some incentive. Given his meteoric rise, I would say that he has a better shot than anyone currently riding now to do it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Giro della Valle d'Aosta: Eisenhart & BMC score

I started writing Espoirs Central three years ago now and I remember writing about the now-defunct Thüringen Rundfahrt, which was a major stage race at the point and bringing in all of the major development teams. I was under Herklotz fever as the first year U23 German was kicking ass but there were a lot of major names riding well there including Damien Howson, Caleb Ewan, Julian Alaphilippe, Magnus Cort, Lukasz Wisniowski, Lasse Norman Hansen and Dylan van Baarle. A rider that rode very well and was also a first year U23 was American TJ Eisenhart, who finished 6th overall. Eisenhart was coming off of a very strong junior season including overall wins in Pays de Vaud and l'Abitibi and was taking a strong step forward.

With this result, it looked like he could certainly continue to progress but it has been a harder road than many thought. Be it crashes, injuries or just not hitting expectations, Eisenhart has been one of those head scratchers as he has loads of talent but it wasn't always transferring. Today helped.

The 50th consecutive edition of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta (53rd overall) kicked off with a TTT from Pont-Saint-Martin and journeyed up the valley for 20 kilometers to the hamlet of Montjovet, home to some wonderfully historic castle ruins, among other things. Not necessarily a test that will ruin your race unless you really miss out, which one team in particular did just that.

Time trial write ups can be really...stupid, especially if you don't have video or a lot of specific details to back it up with. As I'm currently not in Aosta and we do not have much video, I will need to wait until I get some more specific details from some riders before elaborating.In terms of the results, there are definite winners and losers in this test.


BMC had a good strategy by protecting their GC favorite in Killian Frankiny and then having Eisenhart and Sivakov with him to drill it to the line. Everyone had a purpose and even with a lack of TTT events in the U23 ranks, they made it work.

The biggest surprise on the day had to be the UCI World Cycling Centre, who put on a strong display in the discipline and only ceding 5 seconds to BMC over 20 kilometers and putting both Caio Godoy and Jose Luis Rodriguez in good position for a good run at stealing the GC lead for a stage or two.

Espoirs Central pick for the win, Klein Constantia, came home in 3rd place just 8 seconds back to keep Enric Mas in a good spot overall heading into the mountains just behind Frankiny.

Other GC favorites had mixed results. Colpack rode well for 7th overall at 25 seconds back so Padun and Ravasi are sitting pretty currently. Cherkasov & Russia are down at 41 seconds, the Wiggins trio of Knox, Davies and Pearson came across 45 seconds back while Aldemar Reyes & Manzana had an alright ride that put them at 53 seconds back.

The biggest GC losers from today are definitely Lotto-Soudal U23, who lost a massive 1'26" to BMC and now Lambrecht and Cras are on the back foot going into the mountains. Astana City, Norway and Fundacion Contador also had sub-par tests that will make it harder for them going forward.

Now, the GC times could go from 2 seconds to 5 minutes in just one mountain pass so there could be a lot of change between now and then but as it stands now, Frankiny, Mas, Riabushenko & Ravasi are in a much better place than some.

Tomorrow, the race continues from Morillon in Haute Savoie for a rolling stage that finishes up on the climb to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc. GC will most likely be defined but by no means set.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Giro della Valle d'Aosta Preview: Il Sogno del Scalatore

The sirens are calling. Their cries reach down into the valleys but only a few answers their calls. To rise to the top and then scream back down before doing it all over again; to push until the body has to make a silent pact that it will need to either sacrifice the lungs before your capillaries burst or your legs before lactic acid sears them into a bowl of grits.

When people think of the most prolific Italian amateur stage race, which should be at least a couple of times a month if you are sane like I, many probably think of the now-defunct GiroBio. While the GiroBio did have a glittering start list filled with Soviets and the who's who of up and coming talent. However, the Giro della Valle d'Aosta had been going for nearly a decade before the first GiroBio edition and nearly 15 years before the Giro della Regioni, which was basically a training group for Eastern European talent. Starting in 1962, the race has been run consecutively since 1967 and is celebrating its 50th consecutive edition this year. While the race had a few big names, it didn't start to gain more traction until the late 80s and into the 90s when names such as Ivan Gotti, Wladimir Belli and Gilberto Simoni won 4 consecutive editions. In more recent years, it has seen its racing days fluctuate and has seen some of the brightest stars see glory before spectacularly burning out as professionals (think Marco Marzano). Dan Martin, Thibaut Pinot, Carlos Betancur, Fabio Aru, Joe Dombrowski, Sergey Chernetskiy, Bob Jungels, Davide Villella and many others made their present felt here in one way or another.

This years edition of the race slowly turns the screws until Breuil Cervinia is the straw that could break many proverbial backs on the final stage.

I've discussed the course before on Twitter so I will attempt to be brief, something I can struggle with, with the course description.

Stage 1 - Pont Saint Martin to Montjovet - 19.94 kilometers - Team Time Trial

In a bit of a new move, the race with start out with a team time trial, which can limit some teams as they can brought some of their best climbers to this race and some of those riders are not the best against the clock on a more or less flat course. Moving up the valley from Pont Saint Martin to Montjovet, some GC men could get a bit of a head start if they have a strong team. Some other teams like Manzana Postobon are bringing a host of climbers but could struggle in this event.

Espoirs Central Favorite: Klein Constantia

Fun Fact: The ruins of the Castello di Saint-Germain, built in the 11th to 12thcenturies, sit just north of Montjovet. Montjovet was a strategic spot dating back to the Neolithic times and brought in quite a draw through the 14th and 15th centuries as a destination for merchants.

Stage 2 - Morillon to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc - 138.4 kilometers

Just 8 days prior to when the Tour de France is climaxing in the Alps, the U23s will be getting their crack on the same finishing climb as the pros. Starting in the French town of Morillon, which has been a staple of this race the past 5 years, the race only features one climb before coming to the final 13 kilometer slog to the Le Bettex ski station, which sits in the shadow of Mont Blanc. The Saint-Gervais climb itself averages roughly 6% for the entirety but there are a few little ramps here that max out at 10% but they are brief. For riders that are big diesel engines, this is a good climb for them as the more lithe climbers will be saving their legs for the stepper climbs to come.

Espoirs Central Favorite: Bjorg Lambrecht

Fun Fact: Le Bettex feautred in the 2015 Criterium du Dauphine but the stage itself was an absolute brute as it included 6 climbs with five of them being category 1 ascents.

Stage 3 - Quincinetto to Piani di Tavagnasco - 159.1 kilometers

Just before joining Astana for what is going on 4 full years now, Fabio Aru gave one last gift to the U23 world by dominating the 2012 edition of Valle d'Aosta including an impressive solo victory on the Piani di Tavagnasco climb, which is arguably one of the hardest climbs in all of the Aosta Valley. Not even hitting 10 kilometers in length, the climb rises 1050 meters in elevation for an average, yes an average, gradient of 11.2% with max gradients of 15%. This is barely even a climb but more of a wall with a string of tarmac littered with burnt out clutches and broken dreams.

The stage itself is more or less a march to the Tavagnasco climb with only one small climb on the  docket before the 9.4 kilometers from the depths of hell. This will separate the men from boys and GC will become very defined.

Espoirs Central Favorite: Aldemar Reyes

Stage 4 - Pontey to Fenis-Clavalite

Featuring two 9% climbs back to back, the ending to this stage is absolutely brutal with the finish on the Clavalite, which throws in a bit of dirt road right at the end to mix things up a little bit. The Clavalite climb is unlike anything else that these riders will face this year. Featuring a maximum gradient for 19% as well as a final three kilometers that averages over 11%, the race's favorites will go from slim to very slim in a very quick fashion.

Espoirs Central Favorite: Mark Padun

Stage 5 - Valtournenche to Breuil Cervinia

Sound familiar? This is the 3rd time running that this climb is being used as a finish point. Last year, this stage was an absolute slog with an 160 kilometer stage taking nearly 5 and a ahalf hours. The final 60 kilometers of this particular stage mirror that of the 2015 Giro d'Italia where Fabio Aru won all by himself. You want to shake things up on the GC? You better come and bring it. The final climb itself isn't incredibly difficult as it just average 5% but it does go on for roughly 18 kilometers and has ramps nearing 10%. Combined with the St. Pantaléon climb just before it, it is going to be a brutish finale.

Espoirs Central Favorite: Jose Luis Rodriguez in a breakaway

The Contenders

The start list for this year's edition of Valle d'Aosta is a pretty good mix save for a few here and there. Most of the top teams are here bar Axeon-Hagens Berman and some of the stronger French teams like Chambery CF. For those hoping Adrien Costa would show up here, Mike Sayer's USA National Team is giving this race a pass to rest the young charge for an assault on the Tour de l'Avenir later this summer. Australia has also given the pass with their pivot from Italy to Belgium. Going down the start list by numbers, let's see the what's what...or who's who for that matter.

Lotto-Soudal probably has the revelation of the year with Bjorg Lambrecht, who won the Ronde de l'Isard in his first ever mountainous stage race and then went on to win a stage in the Zavod Miru/Peace Race U23 and 10th overall in Pays de Savoie. He might not be a man for the highest mountains like Aosta but still a good trial for him. He should be splitting leadership with Steff Cras, who has been consistently 8th overall in UCI stage races this year. Harm Vanhoucke is another good asset in the mountains and could be an outside bet to take a stage win here if a breakaway makes it to the line.

BMC Development comes in with one of the favorites for the overall win in Kilian Frankiny. 4th here last year after taking 5 minutes on the GC favorites on the final stage, Frankiny has become more consistent this year with 3rd in the Peace Race and 6th in Pays de Savoie. Patrick Müller is a force in one day racing but should be competent in the mountains along with TJ Eisenhart.

Zalf-Euromobil has a problem in that they can win any lumpy Italian one-day race but they have next to nothing for the high mountains currently. Bagioli is their best bet for a result or maybe Zilio. I would potentially say Lucca as he was a standout junior but hasn't done anything yet in the U23 level. Just seems like an okay roster for such a deep team.

Palazzago, led by Popovych's old director Olivano Locatelli,  is a shell of its former self. Riabushenko is touted as a climber but it remains to be seen what he can do in the high mountains. Ippolito made a breakaway here last year for a top 10 stage result so perhaps he can be the old man's saving grace.

Norway lost a lot of its punch after losing Odd Eiking and Sindre Lunke to the pro ranks but they bring some up and coming riders. Njal Kleiven and Øivind Lukkedal are probably the two best climbers on the team but they would be looking for maybe a top 10 overall? We will see if they get that lucky but a breakaway seems like a good bet.

Another one of the heavy favorites is the winner from Savoie, Enric Mas of Klein Constantia. The Spaniard went toe to toe with Tao Geoghegan Hart and came out on top thanks to consistent climbing and a strong time trial. Mas could replicate his victory here by gaining time in the team time trial and then following wheels in the mountains and covering any dangerous attacks. Now he has not been the best climber all season long and Savoie was his coming out party so could he falter? Certainly. He has diesel-powered Max Schachmann at his disposal for the dirty work of pulling back breakaways while Nuno Bico and Michal Schlegel will be there in the mountains for him.

The opposite of Zalf-Euromobil, Colpack brings a team with a potential overall GC favorite in Lampre-bound Edward Ravasi as well as a strong climber in Ukranian Mark Padun. Think of them as more of a two-pronged threat because if Ravasi loses time on a stage, we will then just go for stage wins and the KOM jersey while Padun has been loving the hard Italian one day races with a 2nd at the recent Medio Brenta to teammate Fausto Masnada. Padun could certainly win a stage if he gets it right and if Ravasi is consistent, they have a strong team behind them to make it work.

The Haute-Savoie team? Better be ready to hang on.

Flavio Zappi is bringing yet another young British team to the mountains but this year, they are probably the most green. I'm going to go with James Davey for their best chance at a result.

Alberto Contador's Foundation team gave us Enric Mas and this year, they bring a mixed bag. Alvaro Cuadros is a good rouleur but the big mountains can catch him out (see what happened last year). Any chance of a result will come from either Cuadros or Diego Noriega, who started to come alive on the horrible final stage of l'Isard this year.

Jose Luis Rodriguez has been dropping hints for a couple of years now and then he went to win the Tour du Pays de Roannais. He isn't the best climber but if he can show big improvement, he could be an outside shot for a top 10 overall at the Tour de l'Avenir this year. Andrej Petrovski apparently has had testing numbers off the scale but hasn't been able to put together a great performance. Caio Godoy is a competent climber as well that can make a breakaway.

VL Technics? Better be ready to hang on.

UC Monaco? Better be ready to hang on.

Russia begins and ends with Nikolay Cherkasov. Yeah, Aydar Zakarin might be a professional but he is a one-climb wonder; he might be a bit better with the pro miles in his legs but he won't be winning here.

Bringing one of the strongest team of climbers, Wiggins is bringing along the trio of Dan Pearson, James Knox and Scott Davies. Davies had a huge victory on the final stage of the Ronde de l'Isard and did very well in Croatia. He is similar to Pearson in that they are not flashy climbers but very consistent when they are on form. Knox is probably the best climber out of the trio as he is able to follow accelerations with the pure climbers.  Knowing the course, I would say that Knox is the best bet as long as he keeps up the consistency he showed earlier this year.

I'm excited to see the Dimension Data team as they have my favorite Rwandan rider, Valens Ndayisenga. I'm assuming his goal is to get through the race but good luck to him. Probably the best chance of a result comes down to Eritrean Amanuel Gebreigzabhier.

Colombia last won here in Aosta with Bernardo Suaza in 2014 and they could very well win it with his current trade team Manzana Postobon and Aldemar Reyes. Reyes was contending for the podium in the Vuelta a Colombia filled with scourges of the peloton before a bad day knocked him down to 10th overall. In a nearly two week race, Reyes performed beautifully and he after showing his form in Portugal this weekend, he could be primed for his first big win. He has a team behind him and in the name of clean cycling, he could be a beacon for Colombia.

Astana City...hmm...well...uhh...Akhmetov, I guess.

Former Euskaltel rider JJ Oroz brings the Lizarte team, which are juggernauts in the Spanish amateur circuit. Problem being is they very rarely compete on the UCI circuit so if they are looking for a result, I am thinking of Oscar Rodriguez.

EFC-Etixx bring a lot of talented riders but for the mountains? No, not really. Perhaps Declercq can get into a breakaway or two.

Daniel Savini is young but Hoopla doesn't have much else to hang their hopes on so hopefully Savini finds his climbing legs and fast.

You know those riders that are between places 9 and 17? Basically this is the majority of Tirol Cycling. So perhaps a top 10 overall with Dennis Paulus.

Gavardo-Tecmor? Better be ready to hang on.

Cycling Academy? Better be ready to hang on.

Vlasov can climb pretty well. So why not Viris-Maserati for the overall? Well, I guess you will see why not.

Espoirs Central Overall Picks

1. Aldemar Reyes
2. Kilian Frankiny
3. Enric Mas
4. James Knox
5. Bjorg Lambrecht

Friday, July 8, 2016

Mid-week Musings

With the Tour in full swing now, a lot of other, far more interesting news is being drowned out by Cavendish's favorite brand of corn flakes and how Geoffrey Soupe got his beard to be so impressive. I would usually take to Twitter with some of my musings however my phone is currently located in my car and with nerve pain shooting through my back, I'm content to pour my thoughts out onto a pixilated page. I think I would enjoy a typewriter...

Österreich Rundfahrt

Everyone's favorite July mountain race is back again with some fantastic uphill finishes as well as a great final stage into Vienna that features a steep finish into town.

Currently, the pure climber Jan Hirt seems poised to take the event after placing 3rd overall last year after a masterful ride in the fog to the top of the Edelweißspitze climb, which topped out at over 2500 meters in elevation.

This race has been proving well for young riders this week as well as a certain unknown rider. Lukas Schlemmer was a close 2nd in the crazy uphill prologue on the Kitzbühler Horn to Will Clarke. Daniel Auer had a nice sprint on stage 1 for 5th. Mr. Cyclocross Clement Venturini took his first pro win on stage 2 for Cofidis. Brendan Canty took his first pro win with Drapac in his first neo-pro year after separating himself from Markus Eibegger and a strong group of favorites.

While Hirt soared away on the Edelweißspitze, one name stood out to me among the list of professionals and former World Tour riders. He isn't a U23 either as Domen Novak was first U23 across the line in 15th. Hermann Pernsteiner is a name that I doubt anyone reading this outside of Austria knows. Hell I doubt many Austrians know him. I had no idea who he was other than we are the same age. He came across the line in 7th place after a 4th place behind Canty on stage 3. This impressive climbing performance was followed by a nice lead group finish into Dobratsch.

Pernsteiner currently sits in 6th overall on the GC but what makes this even more impressive is that this is only his 2nd UCI stage race on the road and only his first season riding on the road full-time with Amplatz-BMC. Pernsteiner comes from a mountain biking background that saw him take podium spots in the national championships in XC but last year, he was 2nd in the hillclimb national championships by just three seconds to Stephan Rabitsch, who recently won the Oberösterreichrundfahrt. This is only his 2nd UCI stage race after going top 20 in the Tour of Slovenia but he rides MTB stage races including the Cape Epic and the Alpentour, where he won a stage this year.

While incredibly new to the scene, he is certainly a name to watch, especially if a team like say perhaps Bora-Argon 18 gets curious for a climbing stagiaire.

Tour Alsace teams announced

After the race was neutered by the cancellation of the longest stage due to bickering between local councils and the organizers, the Tour Alsace will go on with a prologue and 4 stages with a very impressive list of teams though lacking in French teams as only a small handful of amateur teams were selected. These teams include...

Avanti-IsoWhey Sports
Beobank-Corendon
Dimension Data-Qhubeka Continental
GM Europa Ovini
Klein Constantia
Leopard Pro Cycling
LKT Team Brandenburg
Manzana-Postobon Team
Rabobank Development Team
SEG Racing Academy
Team Joker-Byggtorget
Team Wiggins
Tirol Cycling Team
Vérandas Willems
Aldro Cycling Team
BMC Development Team
Centre Mondial du Cyclisme
Lotto-Soudal U23

USA
Sweden
Switzerland

AVC Aix-en-Provence
CC Etupes
Vendée U
Remy Meder Haguenau

While I wish more French teams such as Chambery CF, Pays de Loudéac or BIC 2000 were there, I can understand the regionalism (sort of) and the lack of budget. That being said, that is nearly the who's who of the development world besides Axeon.

You can visit the race website for a lot of information as well as stage profiles. Stage 3 to Lac Blanc looks nice.

Speaking of Pays de Loudéac...

Tour de la Dordogne

Future Fortuneo-Vital Concept rider Elie Gesbert started the Tour de la Dordogne off with a bang as he went out solo in the opening stage of this little gem of a race set in the scenic southwestern department of France. Gesbert won his 7th race of the year for the up and coming VC Pays de Loudéac team, who have been dominating the Coupe de France DN1 rankings this year. The Bretagne squad is actually sponsored by Vital Concept so his move up to the big leagues certainly makes sense.

A big separation happened here that only has 33 riders left in contention for the overall including Bretagne and French amateur champion Valentin Madouas and Espoirs Central's favorite Ivory Coast rider, Issiaka Cisse.