- Stage 4 was the key to the whole Tour de l'Avenir as Ruben Fernandez, a pro U23 rider from Caja Rural, put in a devilish attack with 7 kilometers to go that caught everyone off guard and the Murcian rider put time into a chasing Oskar Svendsen, who would later be absorbed by the leading group. Favorites were falling out as Clement Chevrier, Louis Vervaeke and Ever Rivera all lost chunks of time while pre-race favorite Juan Chamorro limped in with the grupetto. Fernandez continued to put time into the front group as no concerted chase effort could be organized on the slopes of the Col de Madeleine. Fernandez came in 1'38" over a chasing Patrick Konrad (Austria) and Adam Yates (Great Britain) with Mannion, Kudus, Formolo and others trickling in not too far behind.
Obviously Fernandez' performance was shocking but he definitely took advantage of the tactics and used the passive front group to his advantage. I was quite surprised at Svendsen's climbing ability as his season to date was definitely a learning one that was filled with DNFs and so-so performances. His huge Vo2 Max was the talk of the press after his Junior World TT Championships last year in Valkenburg and that helped him along.
- The obvious mission to the riders behind Fernandez was to gain time anywhere possible and the punchy parcours on stage 5 proved to be a good perfect ground for just that. Fernandez's Spanish Armada wasn't exactly the strongest squad in the race and while it wasn't the Battle of Trafalgar, the British took advantage of that fact and attacked with aplomb on the short 70km stage. A leading group of 8 including Davide Martinelli, Lasse Norman and American Jeffery Perrin lead the race on the lead into the Col des Gets when a counter attacked emerged out of the peloton including British twins Simon and Adam Yates, Latvian Toms Skujins and Alexis Gougeard among others. As the race climbed the Col des Gets, the group splintered and included just the Yates twins, Dutchman Derk Abel Beckeringh, Italian Simone Andreetta, KOM leader Dane Kristian Haugaard and Gougeard. Andreetta faltered, Beckeringh crashed and Haugaard suffered a mechanical all in the final 8 kilometers which left three for the final sprint. Gougeard was no match for the Brits and Simon took the win ahead of Adam, which was a repeat of his stage 5 win in the 2011 edition of the race.
Fernandez was isolated and finished 37 seconds behind Adam Yates with the leading peloton. Davide Formolo was unlucky and crashed in the finale, which saw him dropped an unneeded 25 seconds. Russia and Ukraine stunk up the race by not having one rider finish in the front group. In case anyone missed this good Cycling Weekly article, Adam Yates also rides for CC Etupes, one of the most historic French development teams (think Barguil, Elissonde, Chainel, Dessel, etc.), and has tested with FDJ and might turn pro next year or in 2015. Simon Yates has been linked to SKY
- Stage 6 of the race was quite similar to the finish of stage 3 of the Giro Valle d'Aosta, which also had finished with a gradual run-up to the mountain town of Châtel. Kristian Haugaard possessed a six point KOM lead on Adam Yates and uncomfortable with that close of gap, the Leopard-Trek Dane escaped with habitual attacker and prologue winner Alexis Gougeard and Swiss Gabriel Chavanne. Haugaard took full points on the first three climbs of the day and on the final categorized climb, the Col du Corbier, Haugaard dropped his companions and went for broke. The peloton kicked it up a gear and Heiner Parra leapt out of the bunch in pursuit of the wily Dane. Parra caught Haugaard just before the top but the Dane's KOM mission was done and Parra was solo on the small descent but was quickly passed by a strong quartet.
Said quartet included Stage 5 winner Simon Yates, Kazakh Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, French climber Clément Chevrier and reigning Junior World RR Champion Matej Mohoric. The group was working well together and on the run-up to Châtel, they had up to a minute gap at one point. A counter attack including Patrick Konrad, Jasha Sütterlin, Jasper Stuyven and others launched on the near 12% ramps just before the finale and put Fernandez on the ropes yet again as he was isolated yet again. Yates easily outdistanced his companions and won his 3rd Tour de l'Avenir stage ahead of Mohoric and Chevrier while Konrad took nearly 20 seconds out of Fernandez and finished 5th on the stage.
Juan Chamorro abandoned the stage and added to an under-expectations performance by the Colombians at l'Avenir.
- The final stage saw the race take the riders along a scenic route including two difficult Cat 1 climbs in La Salève and the Col des Glieres, site of one of the more memorable battles of the French Resistance in World War II. The break of the day included --among others-- Caleb Ewan, American Greg Daniel, Belgian Dieter Bouvry, Italian Manuel Senni and Russian Victor Manokov, who was trying to salvage a bad l'Avenir for the Russians. The break got over six minutes but the fun came in the final half of the stage. Ewan, Daniel and Bouvry led the remnants of the breakaway over Le Salève but behind in the peloton, Julian Alaphilippe and Matej Mohoric solemnly swore they were up to no good and attacked on the descent from the climb with attacking addict Alexis Gougeard. The trio made their way up to the breakaway and only Bouvry was able to join them. The quartet extended their lead to over two minutes on their way to the climb to the Plateau des Glieres. Soon it was just Alaphilippe and Mohoric at the head of affairs on the final climb while the peloton was being whittled down behind.
With around 7 kilometers to go, Alaphilippe took off from Mohoric and began to extend his lead while behind, leader Fernandez had to fight with some frisky attackers as he was isolated once again. Alaphilippe pulled away from Mohoric, who continued to hold tough in 2nd with under 5 kilometers to go. Attacks by Toms Skujins, Davide Formolo and Adam Yates were valiant attempts to shell Fernandez in the final kilometers but the Spaniard held tough. Alaphilippe took the solo victory in an impressive performance on a national monument while Mohoric came in for 2nd. Yates took 3rd and a few more seconds from Fernandez but it was too little, too late for the Brit and Spain took home its first Tour de l'Avenir title since Moises Duenas in 2006.
Final Top 10 GC
- Ruben Fernandez (Spain)
- Adam Yates (Great Britain) +55"
- Patrick Konrad (Austria) +1'07"
- Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Kazakhstan) +1'12"
- Oskar Svendsen (Norway) +1'40"
- Davide Formolo (Italy) +2'05"
- Heiner Parra (Colombia) +3'03"
- Gavin Mannion (USA) s.t.
- Toms Skujins (Latvia) +3'27"
- Simon Yates (Great Britain) +3'44"
Points: Julian Alaphilippe (France)
KOM: Kristian Haugaard (Denmark)
- I'm still struggling to classify Fernandez's win here at l'Avenir. He is obviously a talent seeing as Caja Rural had signed him before this season and his attack on stage 4 was impressive and tactically smart but was hampered by a weak team and looked in difficulty on other climbs throughout the week when thrown against guys such as Konrad, Adam Yates, etc. I know that many in the media will only look skin deep at this l'Avenir win and start to tout him as the next big Spanish Grand Tour talent, which I am hesitant to do seeing as this was a one-off result. I'm reserving judgement now and it will take some time to see if Fernandez will develop into a perennial contender.
- The Yates twins showed just how good they are on the climbs and both have very bright futures ahead. Simon has been one of the most consistent U23s on the circuit this season and in addition to being the Points Race World Champion on the track, he has attacked as nearly every opportunity on the road. Adam broke through this year and while he might not be as heralded as his brother, he has a bright future.
- Patrick Konrad has been lacking with consistency at times this year but he definitely put it all together for this l'Avenir and if Fernandez could have been controlled a bit better, he might have been able to close down the gap further. Kozhatayev continued his consistent year and marked himself as the next big Kazakh talent for some of the hillier races. L'Avenir was Kozhatayev's 4th top six placing on GC this year. As previously stated, I was shocked with Svendsen's climbing and I am curious if he can keep this type of riding up in the future, as he is just a first year U23. Speaking of consistency, Toms Skujins 9th place overall was yet another top 10 to go with the handful of others this year, including a win at the U23 Peace Race. After being dropped by La Pomme Marseille last year, Skujins came back in the best way possible and featured on a variety of terrains. Hopefully a contract offer will follow soon because he is a good clean racer that deserves a chance.
- This race wasn't without disappointments as some teams were left wanting much more. Russia came in with a decent squad but finished with just two riders and a whole lot of nothing on the results front save a few decent riders by Manakov early on. Ukraine, as stated in the l'Avenir preview, did not deserve this start and was one of the more invisible teams of the race. While Chamorro's early crash was a damper for Colombia, I couldn't help but be slightly disappointed with Ever Rivera and less so, Heiner Parra. Rivera had climbed well earlier this year but was limited in the mountains while Parra managed 7th overall, which is good but not spectacular for a team which has dominated the podiums of the last three editions. Parra was in contention for a top-5 placing but he ceded nearly 1'30" on the final stage alone. Others that were underwhelming were Clément Chevrier and Louis Vervaeke, two that struggled in the early mountains and then never recovered.
This brings me to the final piece of news, which is a pretty shitty article by CyclingNews about the "six best riders" from the Tour de l'Avenir. The laziness of this piece really gets to me because this is one of the biggest cycling journalism companies and they are simply taking the most recognizable names and churning out a bland story. These are supposed to be the six best riders in the race and all they did was look at the top 10, through out the names that might confuse people like Kozhatayev and then do some minor research and voilà, a piece read by hundreds, if not thousands, of people who take them at their word. While these guys are all good are they really the six best from the race? Simon Yates gets one sentence in the piece and they mention his two stage wins like they were two rolls at breakfast when this was yet another impressive performance by Yates in an overall impressive year. No real mention of Kozhatayev's performance either, who has been consistent in the hills and mountains this year and has been on fire in the last month. There were many riders that were attacking all the time such as Alexis Gougeard that get nothing from them even though they were all over the front. Kristian Haugaard could have gotten a higher overall GC placing but he targeted the KOM jersey and held it from stage 1 to the end. Oskar Svendsen's turn around was one of the stories of the race. Of course that piece had no byline because it was just a lot of generic bullshit. The main point of this rant is that much of the U23 coverage in the mainstream cycling media is a lot of fluff and not much of it cuts through the bullshit. We will still be inundated with articles in a few year's time about how such and such rider "came out of nowhere" when, in most cases, his talent has been evident for a while and it is just laziness on the major media's part not to be more vigilant about up-and-coming riders.