Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Valle d'Aosta Wrap Up, pt 2: Living on the Edge

The most exciting race in Europe continued on with a two-banger set of climbs on stage 4 that rivals anything in any pro race with the Champremier climb followed by a wicked descent along with the Clavalite climb, which features an eye-popping max gradient of 19% as well as the final three kilometers averaging 11%.

After a breakaway got away early in the race, the Clavalite climb was the decisive part of the race. While race leader Mark Padun was climbing well early on, his efforts had finally caught up with him once Enric Mas and Kilian Frankiny hit the gas on the early parts of the climb. The Spanish/Swiss duo soon caught up to the last breakaway rider, Norway's Anders Skaarseth, and spit him out accordingly. A cut above the rest on the steepest climb of the day, the duo began to extend their lead on the chasers, which were led by Manzana teammates Hernan Aguirre, The Wrath of God and Aldemar Reyes along with Edward Ravasi (Colpack) and a struggling Padun.

Mas had put in an acceleration mid-way up the climb but after Frankiny slowly brought him back, the Swiss rider launched an attack within the last two kilometers and summited the Clavalite climb solo and pressed home the advantage, which ended up being 23 seconds by the time that Mas crossed the chalk line. It seemed as if the GC was set between the two heavy favorites as race leader Padun ceded nearly 5 minutes and would begin the final day down a few seconds shy of 2 minutes. It would take a miracle for this to happen but the sirens of the mountains have their way of working things.

There is something that results sheets do not tell you or no metric in cycling can really tell you. There are riders that would see they are 2 minutes down on GC with one stage to go and with the group of Colombians climbing well behind them, they would play it conservatively and try to protect their placing. Then there are others that would do what got them there in the first place by attacking the race, riding with panache beyond their years and scaring the living hell out of the race's heavy favorites.

Racing to the base of the Matterhorn at Breuil Cervinia, a large breakaway got away early but once Dan Pearson (Wiggins) was away on the Col de St. Pantaléon, the touch paper was lit behind. Pearson was caught and passed by Filippo Zaccanti (Colpack), who went over the climb alone. Just short of the KOM, Padun laid down a wicked attack that caught out many in the yellow jersey group and by the time that the race hit the bottom in Antey St. André, Padun caught up to his teammate Zaccanti and drew out Ravasi along with Frankiny. While it is unclear where it happened, Enric Mas had a flat tire that put him way behind the action and had him chasing all of the way.

On the climb to Breuil Cervinia, Zaccanti had done his job and left it to the Padun/Ravasi to deal with Frankiny. Once on the final climb, Padun put in another acceleration that saw Ravasi follow him and Frankiny have to drop off the pace. Taking the race by the neck, Padun and Ravasi kept on the gas while Frankiny was in a tail spin. Ravasi was actually going a bit too quick for Padun at one point and probably could have gone ahead on his own but with the overall GC back in sight, it was all for one.

Meanwhile, Enric Mas was pulling back a deficit that was over two minutes at one point and was absolutely flying up the climb. With Frankiny suffering through the final kilometers of the climb, the Mallorcan sauntered up to him with roughly 4 kilometers to go and after a brief rest, proceeded to go by him.
Up front, the Colpack duo were proving my words to be right as the GC gap was growing very tenuous as the kilometers dwindled away. At one point, Padun was within 5 seconds of Frankiny's overall lead. Mas attacked the BMC Development rider with 3 kilometers to go and started to put time into the leader. As you can see above, Colpack got to celebrate with Ravasi and Padun going 1-2 on the final stage, which is where they also won in 2014 in a 1-2 with Manuel Senni (now BMC) and Giro stage winner Giulio Ciccone (Bardiani).

With DSs literally biting their nails down to the nubs waiting for Mas and Frankiny to come in, the BMC Development rider reached down deep to keep Mas in check and rolling in 1'46" down on Padun and just 7 seconds down on Enric Mas, Kilian Frankiny saved his overall win and took easily the biggest win of his U23 career in a beautiful way.

The gap back to Mas on the GC was only 8 paltry seconds, which coincidently was the gap between BMC Development and Klein Constantia in the opening stage TTT. While the flat tire Mas suffered drastically changed the game, it goes to show that a strong team can make all of the difference. Mas was certainly climbing better on the final stage but without that flat tire, the whole stage could have played out entirely differently. Frankiny used Swiss-like precision across the whole race and even with his final stage sputtering, it still worked.

Padun was a name on Espoirs Central radar that I was hoping would make a splash here but did much more than that. The big names made a mistake in giving him so much time on the 2nd stage breakaway and Padun & Colpack exploited that mistake to the fullest by nearly taking Colpack's first overall win here since Davide Villella's domination in 2013 edition. Ravasi proved that his climbing skills are lethal and while he might not be an overall threat in every race, he can kick the shit out of many riders in the mountains. The scariest thing about Padun? He only just turned 20 years old.

Aldemar Reyes and Hernan Aguirre, the Wrath of God certainly made their Manzana team proud and delivered home the best team prize by over 9 minutes on Klein Constantia and 24 minutes on Colpack. While this was a big target and Reyes was just off the mark on one stage, this is certainly a benchmark going forward to the Tour de l'Avenir.

It should be noted that the breakaway riders on stage 3 to Piani di Tavagnasco in Etixx-OPQS recruit Max Schachmann, Pavel Sivakov (BMC Development) and Jose Luis Rodriguez (UCI Cycling Centre) all hung on very well in the coming mountains to finish 7th through 9th on the GC. There is a strong feeling in Espoirs Central HQ that Schachmann could be a huge surprise in the Tour de l'Avenir and his performance here only underlines this hunch. Same for Rodriguez, who has had a breakthrough year this year and the Chilean could be the first from his nation to hit the top 10 overall at the Tour de l'Avenir if he plays his cards right.

If it wasn't for the breakaway riders in the top 10, Bjorg Lambrecht and Tobias Foss would have most likely made the top 10 overall, which would have been a fantastic result for the two first year U23 riders. Lambrecht made a splash earlier this year with his win in the Ronde de l'Isard and subsequent results but Foss is coming off much less and after promising results from Odd Eiking and Sindre Lunke here in recent years, Norway still has more to look forward to in the mountains in the coming years.

It should be mentioned that this race was 10 times more exciting that than Tour de France and if this had live television on every stage, people's jaws would be hitting the floor, especially with the scenery. Here is hoping to the next edition!

(Photos used come from

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