Monday, October 3, 2016

Olympia's Tour: Rabobank bow out in style

From 2002 to 2009, Rabobank Continental won 9 consecutive Olympia's Tour. It should have been renamed the Rabobank Invitational at some point because they took out 16 of the 21 overall podium places during that time. While Taylor Phinney interrupted that run in 2010, Jetse Bol and Dylan van Baarle kept the name going through 2013. The talent that Rabobank put out year after year was loading the pro peloton (and the big Rabobank team) and seemed like a never ending pipeline.

Yet with all of the success and the huge amount of talent still present, Rabobank Development will cease to exist after this year. The orange kits that have been present for nearly 20 years will not be found in 2017. With many riders still figuring out their 2017 plans (or at least not announcing them yet), why not go out with a bang?

After taking some precious bonus seconds finishing 2nd on stage 5, Cees Bol (who is joining SEG Racing Academy for 2017) was finally in the yellow jersey after multiple days of chasing Pavel Sivakov. With the hilliest stage on tap for the final day, Bol was in defense mode as only a handful of riders could challenge his lead.

Riding from Margraten, multiple breakaways tried to get away from peloton including a move that included 3rd-place Harthijs De Vries (Rabobank Devo) along with Michael Storer (Australia) and Geoffrey Curran (USA) but was shut down in favor of a two-man move with Remi Cavagna (Klein Constantia) and Ole Forfang (Norway), which got a couple of minutes lead. Racing was fast with the first couple of hours around 41 km/h.

Rabobank went to the front to tap out tempo as another move went up the road with Julius Jelmer, Fridtjof Røinaas and Julien Van Den Brande making the junction but the freedom was short lived as the speed was picking up fast. Soon enough, it was in with the old and out with the new, who took off with about 20km to go.

Dewulf was the highest on GC but was over three minutes back and with only 20 kilometers, there wasn't enough road left unless Bol, Sivakov and the others pulled over and had lunch.

Going into the finish, another move of 10 riders split off the front of the GC-controlled peloton, again none of the fighting over GC. The groups were splintering on the uphill finish and after 170 kilometers in cold, rainy weather, everyone was ready for the end.

To make it a fitting end to a fitting run, Martijn Budding took the final win in the Olympia's Tour for Rabobank Development in a tight sprint over Piet Allegaert and Stan Dewulf. Dewulf and Curran jumped 4 places each to finish 8th and 9th overall, which made them the biggest movers on the GC board for the places that mattered.

To make it an even more sweet end to the bittersweet departure, Cees Bol hung onto the overall GC after coming across the line with Sivakov and 3rd place De Vries, which was the status quo from before. While the finish was a little anti-climactic as the previous stages were filled with tight racing, it capped off a great weekend of racing before heading off to Doha.

-This is by far Bol's biggest win as a U23 after coming close in races like the Paris-Arras Tour and the Ronde de l'Oise. Going to SEG next year is a big signal that he is on track for a big contract as they tend to move a lot of riders up if they do relatively well.

-This was also the final race for Klein Constantia, which started off life as Etixx-iHNed back in 2013 and was actually the subject of Espoirs Central's first ever article. Patrick Lefevere forever bitched about having to carve out money from his budget to support a healthy development team but this is a team that actually worked so it is a shame that it isn't continuing.

-Pavel Sivakov is the most versatile U23 rider at this time

-Edward Planckaert is quite deserving of his Topsport Vlaanderen contract after SO MANY top 10 finishes from February to October. Pretty incredible.

-For not being a Nations Cup and it being October now, the talent level here at the Olympia's Tour was pretty impressive. Sprints, breakaways and time trials...what is there not to like??

On to Doha...

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Olympia's Tour: Stages 1-4

The Olympia's Tour is halfway over and I have to say, the Olympia's Tour social media has been on-point for a U23 race. With no live video, they have provided a ton of updates, some small videos and  detailed previews on their website so kudos to them. Oh yes and the racing has been good too.

Stage 1 - TTT - Hardenberg

The Axeon-Hagens Berman filled American team put their team cohesion to good use by taking the opening team time trial ahead of some very strong teams from Australia, which was a mix of world class track talent and all arounders, home favorites Rabobank Development along with continental juggernauts in Klein Constantia, BMC Development and Lotto-Soudal. The USA was also unique out of the top 5 finishers as they finished with their whole team in tact.

Colin Joyce took the initial overall lead before the GC race exploded.

Stage 2 - Assen Loop

True to the Olympia's Tour, a windy day brought out a breakaway that ended up going to the line. To break up the monotony of twisting roads and crosswinds, a stretch of cobbles was used twice that shook everything up.

A large group of 22 got away from the peloton early and got nearly 2 minutes on the peloton. The breakaway had a large contingent of Dutch riders from Metec, Jo Piels, Rabobank as well as some composite teams plus overnight leader Colin Joyce, Mads Pedersen and BMC riders Lukas Spengler & Pavel Sivakov, among others. The first stretch of cobbles at Exloo saw some of the riders from the breakaway get splintered off and after the 2nd pass, they only had 11 riders left. Pavel Sivakov attacked in the final kilometers coming into the finish and only Jan Willem Van Schip, a U23 who was apart of the Dutch Team Pursuit team in Rio, was able to follow. Van Schip took the sprint from Sivakov but due to taking time from the rest of the breakaway, Sivakov slid into the 3M Yellow Jersey.

I have said it before but even as a first year, Pavel Sivakov is the most versatile rider in the U23 ranks. He was 2nd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, he was in sprints in the Tour de Berlin, competed in the mountains in Aosta and l'Avenir and now attacking through the windy roads of Holland.

Stage 3a - TT - Herenberg to Elten TT

Miles Scotson shot to the podium in the Espoirs Cetral virtual U23 World Championship TT after stomping on an otherwise tight top 10. Geoffrey Curran, who turned in a very fast time, was beating Mads Pedersen by a second and Espoirs Central pick for the win Remi Cavagna by another two while Neilson Powless and Nathan Van Hooydonck were close behind. Scotson proceeded to come in and beat Curran's time by 27 seconds.

Scotson has been bouncing around all year with road events and team pursuit commitments but has started to build form over the last month with this being an exclamation point before Doha.

Curran has been up and down the last few years but this year has by far been his best in the U23 ranks. His time trial game has been on point this year with top ten rides all over the place but this is by far his best ride. Definitely shooting for a top 10 ride at Worlds, with this current form.

Sivakov rode well for 15th however he lost time to Cees Bol and Harthijs De Vries (both Rabobank Development) to pull the GC within 8 seconds.

Stage 3b - Ulft to Gendringen

Due to starting too late, the stage had to be shortened due to the waining sunlight and even then, the stage didn't finish until early twilight.

Espoirs Central called a Kristoffer Halvorsen win and by god, did that Norwegian eat some herring. Obviously one of the best U23 sprinters this year after winning a fucking professional 1.1 race, the GP Isbergues, which wasn't stacked with talent but hell, it was a 1.1 event. He nearly won the Nokere Koerse only to be denied by continental wonder Timothy Dupont but beat out Dylan Groenewegen. A favorite for Doha, Halvorsen beat out Chris Latham by a nose, which could be a possible result in Doha as well.

Cees Bol grabbed a few bonus seconds to bring the lead down to 5 seconds overall on Sivakov

Stage 4 - Zutphen loop

I said it in my preview but because this stage was front loaded, there was nothing special about this except for Markus Faglum getting the KOM jersey before being sucked back into the breakaway along with his break mates. Not to make the race sound easy as it never is in the Olympia's Tour. If you feel like shit, good luck holding onto a peloton that is going 50km/h in a crosswind while you are riding in the gutter. Feeling good? You could miss a split in the peloton.

Once out of the hills, the race came back together as Rabobank Development leading the charge for the bonus sprints. Cees Bol came through on both of them and taking 1st and 2nd for 5 bonus seconds while Sivakov snagged 2nd one of the sprints. Bol finished up 2 seconds behind Sivakov at the end of the stage.

Coming into the finale, it was a familiar sight with Halvorsen again leading the sprint out and just barely holding off 2nd place Fabio Jakobsen, who was a tire length or two behind the Norwegian across the line while Van Schip finished up in a close 3rd. The tight finish didn't give anyone a ton of room so some other favorites like Latham, Lecrocq, Christopher Noppe didn't have the room to contend.

With two stages to go, Rabobank Development is ravenous to get their final Olympia's Tour win while Sivakov will not go down without a fight. Stage 5 should end in a sprint as the last two kilometers are more or less a runway for a fast sprint. I picked Ivan Garcia however if Halvorsen or Latham are around, it won't be a contest. Stage 6...well that is where the real fun begins.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Olympia's Tour Preview: Prelude to Doha

With the Doha World's being pushed back to beginning of October, the Olympia's Tour decided to make the move to the late season and serve as a tune-up race for the U23 ranks. Normally a race that was just a 2.2 that featured some big time non-U23 talent from the Netherlands (i.e. Wim Stroetinga, Jetse Bol, etc.), this year's event if going to a full U23 format that shuts out older riders but brings nearly all of the big teams for some hard nose, gutter-filled racing. Always hosted in Mid- to Late- May, the wind will still be a factor in the calendar switch however the chance of rain might subside slightly.

This race has been a staple of development racing for the last 60 years with Rabobank Continental using it as their training grounds for the last 15 years. Thomas Dekker, Thomas Berkhout, Lars Boom, Jetse Bol, Dylan van Baarle, Joost Poosthuma, Stef Clement...need I go on? In the 00s, Taylor Phinney is the only racer to break up the Dutch hegemony but this year looks as good as any to bring down the Dutch dominance. Seeing as Rabobank Development is ending its run as the leader in Dutch development this year, they will be hungry to get one last win here for the boys in Orange.

The 7-stage, 6-day race starts in Hardenberg with a team time trial. The course itself is fairly straight forward with nothing more than a handful of turns and no more than a 10 meter difference in elevation. It wouldn't be an Olympia's Tour without a team time trial.

Espoirs Central favorite: BMC Development

(I did write this before the TTT finished so being true to my word, I won't put in the USA just to save face. BMC didn't do too bad with a top 5 placing and only 22 seconds backs.)

Stage 2 begins and ends in Assen but does a big loop around Drenthe that has a few up and downs along with the ever present Dutch wind. Espoirs Central is thinking a reduced sprint or perhaps a small breakaway followed by a bigger peloton. If it plays out like the l'Avenir sprints, the smaller teams will not be able to hold the race together unless there is a very cohesive effort.

Espoirs Central favorite: Gabs Cullaigh

Stage 3 is a split day that features a morning time trial that finishes in Germany and an afternoon split stage, which should end in a sprint. The time trial is 15 kilometers, which isn't too long but for many U23 riders, this could be one of their only time trials of the season. It is also unique as it has a few kickers that are rather sharp that go up about 50 to 60 meters in elevation.

Espoirs Central favorite: Remi Cavagna

The afternoon stage is another loop circuit that finishes in Gendringen that is another prototypical Olympia's Tour stage with a mainly flat parcours filled with road furniture and a bit of a technical finish. Full blown sprint should be on tap.

Espoirs Central favorite: Kristofer Halvorsen

I'm a little dissappointed that Stage 4 has all of its hills in the first half of the race while the final half involves two laps around Zutphen, which are more or less flat. However, flat doesn't mean sprint in the U23 ranks so while I think it will come together as a sprint, it certainly could explode due to wind or tactics. If it does come to a sprint, the final kilometer is very tight with multiple turns and a 100 degree turn with less than 300 meters to go.

Espoirs Central favorite: Cees Bol over Chris Latham & Enzo Wouters

The Reuver stage has been a sprint stage in the Olympia's Tours of recent past but this year's stage 5, it looks to be the first key road stage for those with any GC ambitions. Wim Stroetinga won the last three Reuver stages but the old man won't be present. The first two big loops are bumpy but the final loops are going to be where any cracks appear. I don't think the race will go to bits but a reduced sprint should be in order. The last two kilometers are a dead straight shot into the finish line so any teams that can stay together will be whipping the pace up.

Espoirs Central favorite: Ivan Garcia

Smoke 'em if you get 'em. A twisty loop around the Dutch countryside that features climbs and descents at nearly every turn. The winner of this stage either be some no-name from a breakaway or more likely, will be on the GC podium as everything that comes before this will be baby steps compared to this. The finish itself is not an uphill one however there are some short, sharp climbs just before it that could serve as a launchpad for a sizzling attack.

Espoirs Central favorite: Michael Storer

Overall Prediction:

1. Neilson Powless (USA)
2. Michael Storer (Australia)
3. Lennard Hofstede (Rabobank Development)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Thoughts on the Tour de l'Avenir

It's been two weeks since the Tour de l'Avenir has ended and I am just getting around to writing this. I have been trying to think of something meaningful to say. With social media these days, it seems like many people only really care about the information that is slapped together and sent out rather than stuff that has some actual thought behind it.

The mountains really make the race at l'Avenir and they certainly didn't disappoint this year. David Gaudu and Edward Ravasi separated themselves with the attack on stage 6 and they seemed fairly even through the rest of the race, with Gaudu having a little bit more top end at the end of the climbs. It seems that Adrian Costa was just a little bit off his best form but in only his first U23 season that has been fairly big in terms of racing days, a podium here is exceptional as he separated himself from the others behind him.

Tao Geoghegan Hart was good but was another that didn't seem to be on his best form as he wasn't as sharp. Perhaps a chink in the armor that he could be limited in the higher mountains compared to some others like Gaudu, Costa and Ravasi? SKY will turn him into a robot next year and their track record with developing young talent is so-so at best really compared with some teams like Movistar and Etixx-OPQS. Geoghegan Hart should be put on a one-day/Ardennes track but seeing as SKY's focus on those races is middling at best, it is a shame he might not shine in those races doing forward.

Hot take - Pavel Sivakov is the most versatile rider in the U23 ranks. He can ride the classics very well as he was a contender in the Paris-Roubaix and was 2nd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He was up there in sprint stages in the Tour de Berlin. Now in both Valle d'Aosta and l'Avenir, he has shown that he is able to climb some big mountains fairly consistently for a rider that can also do the above as well. With a year under his belt, next year could be very interesting for Sivakov.

It was also announced that l'Avenir will again expand with a 9th stage being added, which will make it the first time since 2009 that the race will be this long. The race course is not finalized as a start in Bretagne is being tossed around, which would certainly be a nice change of pace. I am all in favor of adding some legitimate sprint stages to this race and see teams bring in their best sprinters along with their best climbers. Obviously with small teams, selections are pretty tight but if there were say, 4 stages that could be designated for sprinters and 2 or 3 big stages for climbers, we could see a rounded roster as opposed to the teams in recent years which have been more or less all climbers and perhaps a big engine time trial rider.

It just comes down to my point that sprinters need their chances too and that includes on the biggest stages. While some people might salivate for climbers showdowns, I really would love to see Pascal Ackermann go up against Enzo Wouters, Chris Latham, Kristoffer Halvorsen, Cees Bol, Consonni/Minali/Maronese along with some other pros that are still U23. Well that would basically be a preview for this year's Worlds in Doha but one or two stages in the U23 circuits biggest event doesn't seem like enough.

Anyways, I think it is high time that I start writing more on here...

Friday, August 26, 2016

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 6: Denz explodes; Gaudu bounces to victory in Tignes

On a day that saw a beautiful loop over 4 cols, the Tour de l'Avenir GC was basically put in a blender, pulsed for a few seconds and then dropped from a helicopter over the French Alps. Attacks went back and forth through the day but when riders such as Adrien Costa and Tao Geoghegan Hart didn't follow moves, riders further down on GC got a chance to move up.

From Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc, Nans Peters was the first to attack and drew out a rather large group from the peloton including Lennard Kamna, Miguel Florez (Colombia), Valentin Madouas (France), Giovanni Carboni (Italy), among many others. It was then Peters, Kamna and Florez who established themselves on the Col de Saisies.

The breakaway never really got over a minute for the vast majority of the stage. The trio made it down into Beaufort and started the Col du Pre together but then Florez went solo, dropping the other two, who were picked up shortly by the peloton, and went over the col du Pre solo. It was also here that Nico Denz said goodbye to any chance at GC as the yellow jersey was dropped like a stone.

Florez started the Cormet de Roseland solo but was soon joined by a quartet of riders including Michal Schlegel (Czech Republic), Max Schachmann (Germany), a recovered Lucas Hamilton (Australia) and stage 5 winner Jhon Rodriguez (Colombia). In the chasing peloton, France dominated with 4 riders while most other nations had either one or two.

On the descent of the Roseland, France decided to rip it. Even without their two best descenders in Aurelien Paret-Peintre & Nans Peters, it was Valentin Madouas, Mathias Le Turnier & Leo Vincent went out hard, which along with a crash by Artem Nych (Russia) got them a gap. The bad thing about this? They forgot their GC weapon David Gaudu. Whoops.

By the bottom of the climb, the trio got 50 seconds and were able to bridge up to the breakaway, which saw the group swell to 8 riders. Florez was the first rider to pop once the road started going up towards Tignes. Rodriguez and Hamilton were the next ones to attack, which brought out Schlegel with them. The trio worked well together while Schachmann & Vincent were forced to chase together.

At this point, the GC outlook was still normal and Tao Geoghegan Hart was in the main chasing pack along with other favorites. Then David Gaudu attacked with Edward Ravasi. Cue the blender. This duo, which needed to attack to get back much needed time on GC, lept away from the chasing group. In 7 kilometers, the duo got across a gap that was over 1 minute to join the leading trio while soon after Harm Vanhoucke, who is just 19 years old, would bridge as well to make it a sextet with 3 kilometers to go.

What does one do once they join the group they bridged up to? While attack of course. And who better to do it in front of than Romain Bardet, who was on course today on the climb to Tignes.

Good thing this jersey doesn't have sponsors David. Otherwise, 

David Gaudu put in another move that blew the front group apart. Ravasi and Vanhoucke trailed in his wake as Gaudu, the springy Frenchman who first showed his massive potential at the Ronde de l'Isard, bounced his way up through the ski resort and gave a mighty little roar over the line. Rodriguez came across in fourth, which lifted him to the overall lead thanks to his stage win yesterday.

Behind the attackers, it was Australia's Jai Hindley who came across first in 6th, at 1'43" down on Gaudu, while big favorite Adrien Costa came across shortly afterwards in 7th, 2 minutes down. While Egan Bernal was just another 15 seconds down, Geoghegan Hart lost over three minutes to Bernal.

May it be reminded that this was only the first of three big mountain stages so while the GC might have been put into a blender, it is by no means set. Just a day ago, Gaudu, Ravasi and Vanhoucke were 35th, 36th and 38th on GC over a minute down on Tao and nearly a minute on Costa. My how the tables can turn...

Here is GC as it stands:

1. Jhon Rodriguez (Colombia)
2. David Gaudu (France) +9
3. Edward Ravasi (Italy) +28
4. Harm Vanhoucke (Belgium) +29
5. Michal Schlegel (Czech Republic) +45
6. Adrien Costa (USA) +1:13
7. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GB) +1:58
8. Jai Hindley (Australia) +2:07
9. Michael Storer (Australia) +2:14
10. Egan Bernal (Colombia) +2:17

Unless there is a shocking move from a rider like Sivakov or Schachmann, I don't see anyone winning the Tour de l'Avenir outside of this top 10. Rodriguez has put in a lot of energy in the past two stages so if you are taking Espoirs Central's tip, look for him to slide on stage 7.

Costa has moved a few times so far this race but compared to others, he has been relatively quiet. Will Gaudu be able to follow up this performance with some more magic? Ravasi showed he can go big on late stages over the last few years but with this deep of a field? Does Tao still have something in the tank? Will Bernal supercede Rodriguez as the best Colombian in the field?

So many questions and only two stages to go...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 5: The Mountains Are Here

Following the time trial stage that saw Adrien Costa take the first American win in six years at the Tour de l'Avenir, the race was supposed to really begin. It sort of did today but the finish did not prove that decisive, somewhat due to the stage length and after the teams have a fairly lengthy transfer, they didn't want to stir up the pot with four mountains summits.

What is surprisingly not the races shortest stage, the 98 kilometer affair started fast with riders trying to form a breakaway before the only real climb on the course up to Carroz d'Araches. A fast start saw multiple attacks try to get up the road and fail until a large group got off the front including three Americans, three Germans plus some dribs and drabs of Belgians, French and other riders. What was notable about the breakaway was that 2nd through 4th overall (Nico Denz, Nathan Van Hooydonck and Jon Dibben) all were present along with GC contender Neilson Powless.

Great Britain was keen to not let this move going and with Dibben in the breakaway causing disruption, the Brits clawed the move back just a few kilometers before the final climb. Pryzemyslaw Kasperkiewicz tried multiple times to get away in the finale but was subsequently brought back every time. About halfway into the climb, Jhon Rodriguez (Colombia) attacked with Pavel Sivakov (Russia) & GP Poggiana winner Michael Storer (Australia) at a moment when everyone was looking around and got some distance. None of them were immediate GC threats so the chasing peloton didn't really need to pounce on them.

The trio was working well together while some counter attacks behind were launched including one by Aurelien Paret-Peintre, Nans Peters and Alexander Vlasov. The chasers ran out of room as Sivakov was the first to move up front by ran out of gas and Rodriguez accelerated around him. Storer was able to follow but was limited as he was not in the big chainring when the climb leveled off, which allowed Rodriguez to take the first Colombian win in l'Avenir since "Superman", Miguel Angel Lopez, in 2014 on stage 6 to La Rosière.

Vlasov came in for 4th behind Sivakov making it two Russians in the 3rd and 4th spots, which funnily enough happened on stage 6 to La Rosière in 2014 with Aleksey Rybalkin and Alexander Foliforov. Actually the top five from that stage and this were almost identical in terms of nationalities and their finishing orders except that Paret-Peintre ruined it and let Alex Aranburu finish 5th (Pierre Latour was 5th on the 2014 stage).

David Gaudu led the bunch home 29 seconds in arrears with all of the main GC players as well as a few jokers still in their same positions. With Amund Grøndahl Jansen finally succumbing to his stomach issues, the yellow jersey was passed onto German Nico Denz, who holds a 1'40" lead back to Tao Geoghegan Hart, 2'05" back to Storer, 2'10" to countryman Jan Tschernoster and 2'13" back to Adrien Costa.

Storer, Rodriguez and Sivakov were able to move up slightly in the GC rankings but the main question being is about Denz. Obviously he is a World Tour rider and given that he has some free reign here, how long will he be able to hold this lead? He is a competent climber with some good results in the mountains from his U23 days but will he succumb to the onslaught of attacks or perhaps will a diesel engine like Max Schachmann be able to pilot him to an overall lead?

After a bad crash a couple of days ago, Steff Cras was forced to abandon today. He will most likely be back next year ready to give it another go.

The race continues tomorrow with a absolutely beautiful ride from Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc to the ski resort at Tignes over 4 climbs including a final ascent that is 17 kilometers in length.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 3: Norway is the New Denmark

What is the hell do they think this is? 1524-1814 during the Dano-Norwegian union? Is Olaf II riding bikes now instead of eating some pickled herring? Norway has had a very good year on the U23 circuit, which is more of a culmination of the work Joker and other teams have been doing with young Norwegian talent. It remains to be seen if it all turns out a little bit Danish (see Thomas Vedel Kvist, Rasmus Guldhammer, Sebastian Lander) or if Norway is a new light in development cycling.

The stage started out of Bourg-en-Bresse and on the longest stage, David Per (Slovenia) really wanted to be alone. I don't know if he had an argument with his team or perhaps he didn't shower after the stage yesterday. Perhaps the race served some goulash that didn't sit well with him. In any case, the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 winner took over 6 minutes after the peloton hit the breaks. Even after a puncture by Per, the gap was still over 4'30".

He might not have wanted to be out on his lonesome but Per was able to gobble up the KOM points on offer, which vaulted him to the lead in the KOM competition, which he will hold headed into stage 5 after the TT.

When Per began to flag, Galym Akhmetov (Kazakhstan), a former Asian Junior MTB XC Champion, bridged up to him. Soon, Akhmetov dropped Per but a counter attack from Adrien Costa (USA) and Gonzalo Serrano (Spain) soon made it a trio. Any substantial moves were short lived as the peloton was, at least for once, set on a sprint finish.

The last substantial move was by Gab Cullaigh (GB). The former Peace Race stage winner set out for about 15 kilometers and dangled in front of the jaws of the peloton until 4 kilometers to go. Once the catch was made, the nervous energy in the peloton was ratcheted up until the uphill finish in Autun kicked in

In the final, it was Kristoffer Halvorsen who did a copy cat sprint from his efforts yesterday except that this time, there was no one in front of him. Even with the steep pitch, Halvorsen was able to hold off Vincenzo Albanese and Jon Dibben for the stage win, making it three in a row for Norge, coming close to Denmark's 4 out of the first 5 stage win haul from last year. Really, this sprint was a lot like Nokere Koerse this year, where Halvorsen was 2nd to the flavor of the season, Timothy Dupont, as the finish on that course is a straight power sprint that can tend to drag on a bit.

It was a shame that Pascal Ackermann couldn't make the finale as he could have potentially made it interesting against Halvorsen. Also good to note that this was a finish that Simone Consonni would usually devour however with his track legs from Rio, he was off the back as well with Ackermann.

The real GC hunt starts in a couple of hours as the Lugny TT will be the first test that will begin to sort the wheat from the chaff.