Teams will be keen to keep the race together as once the hills begin to come, the chances for sprints will go out the window. Remember last year? Obviously you would if you were following Espoirs Central but a bunch sprint wasn't even contested as breakaways were the name of the game.
Small note about the finishing town of Veauche is that former World Hour Record holder and World Pursuit champion Roger Riviere was married in the town and lived there. He has a small back street named after him.
The race takes off from Motrond-les-Bains and after a short northeast journey over another shallow category 4 climb, the race hits a few circuits in the Lyonnaise suburb of Trévoux, which is situated on a cliff overlooking the Saône river.
The finishing circuit is fairly flat but does have a few bumps in it, including a nice little kick up to the finish line that looks like it could shake things up a bit including the expected bunch sprint.
|The Pyramid of Couhard, which sits near Autun and dates back to the first century A.D.|
Transitioning into the Saône-et-Loire department, the race takes in three small climbs early on in the stage as well as an uncategorized 4th climb between Charmoy and La Tagnière. The race itself flattens out again after this climb and then it has another short, sharp uphill finish at Autun.
This stage could play to a breakaway as many of the GC favorites will be looking to protect themselves going into the time trial.
For the first time since 2010, a time trial of actual consequence will appear here in the Tour de l'Avenir. As I said above, it is a rare treat to see a time trial, even of only 16 kilometers, appear in a U23 race usually as they stretch teams equipment wise as well as they can be a bit more costly for races.
|Lugny from above|
25 years ago, Lugny was the launch point for the penultimate stage of the 1991 Tour de France, which funnily enough was also a time trial; a massive 57 kilometer test to Macon. Miguel Indurain won the stage on the way to his first overall win.
The race itself goes out and around Lugny on a rolling course that has a number of turns in it but it isn't too hard so time trial specialists should be licking their chops.
After a fairly long transfer that is 200+ kilometers from Lugny to Scionzier, the race finally gets its first uphill finish with the race going up the stair step climb at Le Carroz d'Arâches, a nice little ski resort. The stage itself is quite short by being only 98 kilometers and while there is a climb nearly right out of the gate, there is about 70 kilometers in the middle that are nice and flat, which will give the proverbial breakaway time to get some distance.
The gradient on the final climb isn't like a deep Alpine climb but at 5.5% for the last 3 kilometers up to the finish, it could definitely cause some separation. This stage could go one of two ways in that a breakaway could succeed as there are still three more mountain stages after this for GC men OR a GC favorite will lay it down to set the standard much like Marc Soler did on this stage last year.
Much like last year's stage 6, the race will first go over the Col des Saisies, which is only an average of 5% but hits ramps of up to 10% and certainly isn't a very steady climb. After 17 kilometers of descent down to the village of Beaufort, the race will deviate from last year's stage by taking in the Col du Pré instead of going up the long way on the Cormet de Roseland. The Pré climb is steep with an average gradient over 7% that jumps around in gradient but sees sustained gradients of 10 to 11% before the summit. After a short descent, brings the race up to the Lac de Roseland resevoir.
|Lac de Roseland on the Cormet de Roseland pass|
For most races, this would see a race defining event but for l'Avenir, there are still two more stages to go...
Moving just a stone's throw away from Tignes to Val d'Isere, which together form the Espace Killy ski area, which is one of the big three ski areas in the Tarentaise Valley. From the end of the neutral rollout, the riders go 300 meters before going straight uphill on the Col de l'Iseran, the highest mountain pass in the Alps that tops out at 2746 meters (9'086 feet), which is almost home for some riders from Colorado or perhaps Quito, Ecuador.
Once everyone is close to blacking out, the race tips downward for nearly 40 kilometers with only a couple of brief climbs upward. They go over the short and sweet Cote de Sardieres, which is easy compared with everything else on tap, before continuing downhill to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, which is over 2000 meters lower than where they were 72 kilometers prior (a 2.78% downhill gradient).
|The Col de Beaune, which is the third climb on tap for the day.|
(photo: cyclingchallenge.com by the fantastic WillJ)
|Making it back to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, the race goes along the valley to St. Martin d'Arc, where the climb to Valmeinier begins.|
There is no place to rest once the race hits Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne so if you are a racer, you will need to be on point if you have any business being up front.
This stage is short, sweet and direct to the point. Two climbs. Once the first 15 kilometers of flat riding are out of the way, there are 57 kilometers of either up or down. The race is basically the opposite of last year's final stage finale as it is La Toussuire up first followed by a summit finish on the Col de la Croix-de-Fer.
|The Saint-Roch chapel at Varcinières, just outside of Jarrier.|
Once off the descent, the course follows the l'Arvan river, which forms the Arves Valley to the feet of the Croix de Fer climb. The ride down the river valley is uphill for the most part and half of it is uncategorized, at least by the race, until they hit the Saint-Sorlin-D'Arves. From here, the race will be blown apart. The final 7 kilometers never fall under 7.5% gradient with one kilometer averaging nearly 10%. Topping out at 2057 meters, the 52nd Tour de l'Avenir comes to a close.
Last year, I said it was one of the best editions yet. This year's race look like it could even go past that.
**Unless otherwise noted, all photos are used via WikiCommons
In terms of favorites, the official start list has not been confirmed so if you are looking for a breakdown, you might want to head over to @EspoirsCentral on Twitter for more later on today.