This is a race that can be somewhat sparsely attended by big teams due to its location. You won't see BMC Development or Axeon head to Central Europe nor will many of the bigger national teams go here as they save their pennies for the U23 Peace Race. This is a race that gets a lot of names that might scoot under the radar of many. In 2010, a seldom known Rafal Majka won an uphill time trial in the inagural edition of the race. 2014 saw Romanian Eduard Grosu blossom and take the final two stages, which was the first step onto his road to a budding pro career. For a fairly new race, it is one that should have scouts looking for that talent that might slip through the cracks.
The prologue took place in the medieval Hungarian city of Veszprem, which lies to the west of Budapest and just north of the largest lake in Central Europe, Lake Balaton. Schreurs won a tight prologue against a decent field of riders to take the inagural jersey.
I remember watching the European Championships last year on a flat course in Tartu and was a bit confused the tactics of the Belgian riders, who had two out of four riders but continued to have both ride on the front very hard. Pole Alan Banaszek took advantage of this and in a head-shaking sprint that would put John Degenkolb to shame, Banaszek took the Junior Men's European Championship.
On stage one into Papa, Hungary, Banaszek did something to a similar effect and took out a mass sprint win against 2015 stage winner Alexander Wachter (Austria) and fellow first year U23 Jonas Castrique (Belgium).
Following the spine of the Carpathian Mountains, the race transitioned to Slovakia for a few hills. In a day in time where analytics in sports is seemingly everywhere, it seems a bit strange that riders are still being brought to the pro ranks so young. While we see teenagers in basketball that could probably transition directly to the NBA, cycling requires progression for riders. Even Greg Lemond or Eddy Merckx came out of the junior ranks and win on the highest level against the best riders. So why in the hell do teams still take riders that are not the next heir apparent with just one or no U23 season(s) behind them? There will always be the rare exception but other than perhaps giving them a UCI minimum contract, why did CCC sign Michal Paluta last year? He didn't do anything profound in his first U23 season yet he joined the Pro Continental team and rode 5 .1 or higher races the entire season, finishing 3 of them. He did win the Polish U23 RR and finished top 20 in the U23 Worlds RR but couldn't he have done this on a continental team? CCC could have saved their coin and went after Mustafa Sayar or some other unrepentant doper. This year, Paluta started both the professional Ronde van Vlaanderen and the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 but was unable to finish either of them. Are they trying to turn Paluta into a packing peanut that just falls by the wayside anytime a race is unpacked for the public? This isn't an indictment of Paluta's talents more so than the incomprehensible minds that drive the shambolic system that is professional cycling.
Despite that lengthy rant, Paluta won stage two in a sprint finish ahead of LKT Brandenburg duo of Leon Rohde and first year U23 Max Kanter with Schreurs coming in safely in 4th.
The penultimate stage entered Poland. In yet another display of force, Schreurs made the selection and won the sprint ahead of Kanter and Latvian Krists Neilands, who has been on an incredible tear include top 10 finishes in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23. Paluta lost the race lead by missing the split and the time bonus Schreurs got for finishing 1st.
The last stage was probably going to be the most selective of the race yet for a race named after a fairly big mountain range, I would expect a parcours to match instead of it all coming down to a final stage. Jo Piels abandoned the race due to the tragic situation with Verdick while Team Wiggins, who had KOM leader James Knox, also left.
Since originally writing this at 2 a.m., I need to make an amendment. The leading group had whittled down to about 35 riders including all of the favorites however, they were misdirected down the wrong road and thusly, the chasing group ended up as the "lead" group, which saw quite a surprise win with the unheard of Ken-Levi Eikeland from Fixit.no, who went on a flyer and stuck it for his first ever win and what could be his only ever UCI win.
Hamish Schreuers and Klein Constantia capped off a strong week with the overall win and 6th overall with Enric Mas along with the point classification. Paluta held onto 2nd overall while Kanter grabbed 3rd ahead of Patrick Bosman by taking some bonus seconds on the final stage.
The race, while somewhat cut short, needs something that will set it apart. It has a wonderful location but why not try to get off the main roads and find some nice, brutal stretch of climbs that will make young men wimper and contemplate if a triple chain set could be added mid-race.