The racing here at the Tour de Bretagne has been on par with some of the best racing in Europe that is not on the World Tour level. Attacks going every day and nobody on the GC is ever safe.
Here are a few of my takes from Bretagne:
Where were all of the Pro Continental teams?
If you were to look at the start list for this race, you saw a list that included the likes of Androni, Vital Concept, Fortuneo - Samsic, Wilier Triestina and Hagens Bermans Axeon.
In all honesty outside of the first couple of stages, Hagens Bermans Axeon was the best represented out of the bunch but they were mainly represented by Zeke Mostov (before he abandoned on the final stage) and Rui Oliveira, whose one bad stage took him out of the overall contention but snagged 5 top 10 stage placings.
The other teams have no excuse really. Androni did get a stage win with Malucelli on stage 2 but otherwise, they were insignificant and only finished with 3 riders. Wilier only had 2 finish. Fortuneo ran into bad lunch when their sprinter Bram Welten crashed multiple times on the first day but still managed to get through the race. The rest of the team was absent for the majority of the race. Vital Concept got into a lot of attacks so they get some points there but Tanguy Turgis was their best rider overall as he managed 10th in the final standings and he is only 19 years old.
Overall it seems like these teams brought their B/C teams and got their head kicked (except for Hagens Berman Axeon, who was pretty decemt). Step it up! This race isn't for the faint of heart.
When Stan DeWulf is on good form, he is not afraid to show it. The Lotto-Soudal U23 rider was all over the place this past week with attacks on nearly every stage. This aggression saw him nearly pull off the overall win but was pulled back by Fabien Schmidt, who took the sprint ahead of him to take valuable bonus seconds.
DeWulf has had a brilliant spring but there were a couple of opportunities here where he could have taken time to help his overall cause. On stage 2, he missed a split in the peloton and lost 9 seconds, which would have had him one second ahead of Schmidt in the overall coming into the final stage and made the final sprint for 2nd and 3rd places even more important. What if DeWulf beat Edoardo Affini for the sprint for 3rd place on stage 3 to get a few more seconds? It is little things like this that could propel him to overall victory but overall, he rode a very good race.
Cees Bol & Julius van den Berg
2016 saw Cees Bol win the Olympia's Tour overall and looked poised for a big 2017. After suffering a bad concussion early on in 2017, Bol's season was wrecked and only got in a handful of races before the end of the year. This year has been the complete opposite as Bol continues to build and build with every race. After losing the Arno Wallard Memorial by the width of a tire to Joshua Huppertz, Cees sprinted to 6th on the two opening stages and then bided his time until the 5th stage, where he got into a 5-man move including future race winner Fabien Schmidt. Bol attacked with 4 km to go and solo'ed to the line for his first UCI win since the Olympia's Tour in 2016.
Bol even got into a move late in the final stage and was solo at one point but ran out of gas with about 10 km to go and ended up 7th on the final day, which moved him up to 4th overall. Bol isn't a U23 anymore so this is a vital year for him to get results and so far, he is proving his worth in spades.
Speaking of van den Berg, the Dutchman took a stage win on Stage 6 that was nearly identical to his stage win in the Tour de Normandie. After being in the breakaway the entire day, van den Berg make a final move with Johan Le Bon and eventual overall winner Schmidt. Van den Berg played a wily card and made nice with the others to make it to the line however he was the first to jump for the line and the tall Dutchman was able to make it a SEG Racing 2-peat.
After some impressive results in the beginning of the season including a win in the Giro del Belvedere among other podium places. Stannard got close on the 4th stage with 4th place and after laying low, he followed the key moves on the final stage before attacking the lead group including DeWulf and Schmidt on the penultimate climb up to the finish in Dinan. After soloing for over a lap, Stannard was able to hold on through to take another impressive victory.
With the Baby Giro coming up later on in June, Stannard is looking like a favorite to bag a stage win or two.
Some other races could take a note or two from the Tour de Bretagne for their very good coverage on their Twitter feed and then live coverage of the final two stages, which showed how nuanced the racing is and how things change on a moment's notice.
Stay tuned for the best U23s of the first part of the season...