Going into the final stage of the Ronde de l'Isard, Louis Vervaeke (Lotto-Belisol U23) would have to have about 4 flat tires and bonk on the final climb twice to be in any danger to lose his lead over Maxime Le Lavandier (Chambery CF). The duo of Vervaeke and Tiesj Benoot, along with teammates like Brecht Ruyters, were cruising through the Pyrenean race and just needed to get through the final day that included 3 big climbs in the Col de Port, the Col d'Agnes and the Col de la Core before a descent into the finish. Piece of cake, right?
On the Col de Port, a group of 4 including probably one of the race's more aggressive riders Quentin Pacher, Romain Guyot (Vendee U), Romain Campistrous (Occitane CF) and stage 1 winner Alexander Foliforov (Itera-Katusha). The four were able to hit the summit of the Col de Port ahead of the peloton with Pacher leading them over the peloton. On the descent, they were joined by Jean-Albert Carnevali (Verandas Willems) and Florian Dumourier (CR4C Roanne) and the breakaway, which was down to a scant 20 seconds previously, got some fresh legs and the gap went out to over 1 minute. Juan Felipe Osorio (4-72 Colombia) attacked out of the peloton and 500 meters before the summit of the Col d'Agnes, he joined the breakaway. Foliforov led the break over the summit with Osorio 2nd and it was another long descent down into the valley. As soon as Osorio joined the break, he was gapped on the descent. You can take the Colombian out of Colombia but sometimes they leave their descending skills at home.
Foliforov attacked on the Col de la Core and struck out solo; trying to make amends for his implosion on stage 2 where he lost over 5 minutes and the yellow jersey. Foliforov was being pursued by Guyot and Campustrous for the majority of the climb until those two were re-absorbed by the peloton. The Russian was going along at a steady clip and was no danger to Louis Vervaeke's overall lead so the peloton was not in a rush to bring him back. Near the summit, Spaniard Jaime Roson (Team Ecuador) attacked the yellow jersey group and was pursuing the Russian solo and when Foliforov crossed the Col de la Core summit, Roson was just 50 seconds behind while the yellow jersey group was over 2 minutes behind. On the descent, Valentin Dufour (Vendee U) and Carnevali attacked to try and get some time on the yellow jersey group but the long descent didn't give them the chance to get any substantial time. With 4km to go, everyone sans Foliforov had been swept up with the Russian out front by nearly a minute in the final kilometers. Foliforov came into the final kilometer ecstatic, taking his 2nd stage win of the week and finding some solace after losing the GC lead. Pierre-Roger Latour (Chambery CF) lead the leading group to the line ahead of Tiesj Benoot and Carnevali 56 seconds in arrears. Vervaeke and nearly every rider high on the GC arrived without difficulty in the leading group and the Belgian was finally able to take his first major win as a U23 after knocking on the door for a few years.
This was a confirmation for Vervaeke as a climbing talent for the future and justifies his move to Italy to focus on his climbing. He and Tiesj Benoot were riding like freight-trains on the 2nd stage in the rain and snow on the Hospice du France climb with the duo nearly closing a 2 minute gap on the leader Lilian Calmejane in roughly 6 kilometers. Vervaeke will most likely try to target the Tour des Pays de Savoie, the Giro Ciclistico della Valle d'Aosta as well as the Tour de l'Avenir later this summer. I wouldn't be surprised if he podiumed all three races.
Maxime Le Lavandier put in his 2nd straight 2nd place overall at the Ronde de l'Isard for Chambery CF and while he struggled with injury last year, he should be on track to have a good year with Pays de Savoie coming up and perhaps Valle d'Aosta this summer.
Tiesj Benoot is an animal. He can seemingly ride on most terrain save the highest of mountains and he proved on the Hospice du France climb that he can hit a higher gear than most on steep climbs.
Team USA had a great with Jeff Perrin going 8th overall and Chris Putt, in his first European race, going 11th overall. The team was quite young but they are damn strong. Fine job by Mike Sayers and the whole USA National team.
So Alexander Foliforov isn't the best GC man. He made up for it with 2 stage wins and the points and mountains jerseys. I think Itera will be pleased with the final outcome but it would be better he if could have at least limited his losses on the final climb on stage 2 instead of just collapsing entirely. Something for the future
A couple of riders to really watch for include Bernado Suaza, Jaime Roson and Patrick Olesen. Suaza is new to the 4-72 Colombia team this year but really came out to play for l'Isard, finishing 5th on GC. Suaza just began riding UCI races this year and is an unknown quantity but can definitely ride the high mountains. Jaime Roson was present on nearly all of the big mountain stages and the Spaniard on Team Ecuador has been riding well this year. Patrick Olesen is a young Dane at just 19 years old currently and is made for the high mountains. He confirmed his 13th on Monte Matajur in last year's Giro del Friuli Venezia Giulia by going 7th overall here and 2nd in the young riders classification.