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.
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.
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.
...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.
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.