Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 3: Valgren trumps the peloton in breakaway win

Michael Valgren (@PictaNews)

Who called a breakaway win? Who? ME. Damn right I called a breakaway for this stage. Well I'm sure many others would have guessed something similar it if they were following the race instead of covering the shoes of the peloton. Just Saying. Anyways, enough of my racing genius or lack there of and back to the actual race, which was a shorter but brutal affair.

The day started off fast with the bunch averaging around 50 km/h in the run out from the starting town of Aix-les-Bains. An early attack involving Mike Teunissen (Netherlands), Maxat Ayazbayev (Kazakhstan), Jure Bitenc (Slovenia) and Gabriel Chavanne (Switzerland) but the move lasted a little over 10 kilometers as the road started to tilt uphill. No one was getting much inroads on the uphill to the proper climb to Col du Frène but there were riders popping off the back of the group left and right. Caleb Ewan was among some that lost contact on the climb.

I wish I could say more about the stage but many were holding their load until the climb and then the race blew open. After a break of six including Nick van der Lijke and Simon Yates was pulled in with 35 kilometers left in the race, the Danes went fucking nuts to try and bust up a sprint finish. With Kristian Haugaard keen on defending his KOM jersey, he struck out with teammates Michael Valgren and Magnus Cort along with Gavin Mannion. Haugaard took the maximum points at the top of the Col du Frène and the quarter was rewarded with a 30 second gap as they began their plunge to Albertville.

Gavin and the Danes, which is also an unlikely band name, were quickly joined by Julian Alaphilippe (France) and Stefan Küng and eventually joined by Ever Rivera, Heiner Parra (both Colombia), Kirill Sveshnikov (Russia) and Lukas Pöstlberger (Austria). As an Australia led peloton were bearing down on the breakaway, Mannion, Valgren and Küng went out on their own solo act with approximately 15 kilometers to go. The trio worked well together and held a 40 second gap over a small hill and on the flat finish into Albertville. With 6 kilometers to go, Stefan Küng flatted out of the breakaway and it was down to Valgren and Mannion to get to the finish and fight it out.

While Australia was going at a breakneck pace in the peloton behind, Valgren and Mannion were able to hold a gap and Valgren was the fresher of the two and easily outpaced Mannion to take the stage win. Caleb Ewan sped in for 3rd just a second behind Mannion with Rick Zabel and Liam Bertazzo trailing directly in his wake. While Valgren took the flowers on the stage, overall leader Alexis Gougeard nearly lost his lead to Victor Manakov because the French was among many that was stuck behind a crash with two kilometers to go. Initially reported as Manakov took yellow, the decision was overturned because of the three kilometer rule and with Gougeard not taking chances and getting back up into the front of the peloton.

  1. Michael Valgren (Denmark)
  2. Gavin Mannion (USA)
  3. Caleb Ewan (Australia)
  4. Rick Zabel (Germany)
  5. Liam Bertazzo (Italy)
  6. Davide Martinelli (Italy)
  7. Victor Manakov (Russia)
  8. Jasper Stuyven (Belgium)
  9. Mykhaylo Polikarpov (Ukraine)
  10. Damien Howson (Australia)
Overall: Alexis Gougeard (France)
Points: Caleb Ewan (Australia)
KOM: Kristian Haugaard (Denmark)
Teams: Denmark

The mountains are looming on stage four and it starts off with a doozy at St-Francis-Longchamp.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 2: Ewan does it again

While Sunday's stage featured a bit more exciting parcours, Monday wasn't totally boring. Alright, maybe it was for some but I rarely ever get bored with this stuff. The title might say it all but a little more happened than a small Korean-Australian unleashing a hellacious sprint.

Some of the biggest news on the day happened before a pedal was turned. German wunderkind Silvio Herklotz was a DNS after suffering from an illness overnight. Herklotz will have to wait for another year to test himself against the best U23 riders in the Alps. Once the flag dropped and the pedals started to turn, an attack was launched that would last the majority of the day. Prologue runner-up Lasse Norman (Denmark) set out with TT specialist Oleksandr Golovash (Ukraine) and Krists Neilands (Latvia) and the trio easily gained a big advantage. There were a few quibbles from the peloton such as Spain's Carlos Barbero flatting twice but other than that, the French- and Australian-controlled peloton rode tempo as the gap went over 5 minutes.

Norman defended his teammate Kristian Haugaard's lead in the KOM competition by taking the only KOM spot on the map and also took the only sprint point on the map. Norman and Golovash rid themselves of Neilands and up the tempo with 90 kilometers left in the stage, knowing full well that the sprinter's teams would be hitting top gear in the finale. With 64 km to go, the two man TT got the gap back up to nearly 6 minutes but it would be short lived. Over the next 30 kilometers, there gap would fall to just two and a half minutes. The chasing peloton saw GC contender Alexander Foliforov have derailleur problems while Rick Zabel took a little tumble.

From 25 kilometers, it only took the peloton 6 kilometers more to catch the breakaway as the platoon hit speeds of 60 km/h. The pace was kept high into the final 10 kilometers but that didn't stop probing attacks from Andzs Flaksis and Cesar Paredes, both of which were short-lived sojourns. In the final three kilometers, there was a crash that went through the peloton that took out multiple riders including Australian Sam Spokes but that did not derail the Aussie Express.

Caleb Ewan moved up after the last turn in the final kilometer and launched his sprint in the final quarter kilometer and trounced everyone in the run to the line, with Norwegian Sondre Enger coming in 2nd at a few bike lengths back.

  1. Caleb Ewan (Australia)
  2. Sondre Enger (Norway)
  3. Julian Alaphilippe (France)
  4. Liam Bertazzo (Italy)
  5. Nick van der Lijke (Netherlands)
  6. Rick Zabel (Germany)
  7. Mike Teunissen (Netherlands)
  8. Davide Martinelli (Italy)
  9. Carlos Barbero (Spain)
  10. Jasper Stuyven (Belgium)
Overall: Alexis Gougeard (France)
Points: Caleb Ewan (Australia)
Mountains: Kristian Haugaard (Denmark)
Team: Great Britain

Why I am very impressed with Caleb Ewan's performance, I wonder what it would be like if Italy brought a team that actually had a power sprinter such as Andrea Zordan or Niccolò Bonifazio, who both might be able to go head to head with Ewan. While that might seem like a bit of hyperbole but when you look at the facts, you will see that Zordan has won 9 times and neither of them have truly gone head to head. While they have gone head to head this year, it was never for the win and I really hope that one more time this year they both go head to head because it could give a preview for years to come. 

Stage 3 features a real mountain so it will be interesting to see if Australia can control the pace or if France, the Netherlands and others will be keen on drilling it.

Tour de l'Avenir Weekend Roundup: Gougeard and Ewan take early honors

The opening weekend for the Tour de l'Avenir featured some surprises along with some 1-1 bets. Beginning in Louhans, the Tour of the Future saw a few contenders fall back.

Gougeard take prologue in Louhans

Gougeard and Alaphilippe (source: @alafpolak)
On a overcast day in the extreme southeast of Bourgogne, it came down to the last rider on the day to produce a small upset. Starting at 1800 local time, Eritrean Merhawi Kudus (UCI Mixed) was the first rider to take on the technical 5.1 kilometer course and laid down a time of 6'22", which turned out to be a pretty respectable time for a non-specialist. While Calvin Watson (Australia) and Magnus Cort (Denmark) went marginally faster than Kudus, the next rider to lower the bar was Bjørn Hoem (Norway), who blitzed the course with a time of 6'13". Sam Spokes (Australia) took advantage of the technical course and became the new provisional leader with a time of 6'11". While riders are on national teams for this race, it was Spokes' trade teammate Julian Alaphilippe (France) who would lay down a time of 6'09", which would be the benchmark for the rest of the race.

After Alaphilippe's quick run, some rain started to fall on the course and the Frenchman's time could not be approached. While Alaphilippe is no TT specialist, he was able to use his fast-twitch burst developed from years of cyclocross to his advantage on the tight parcours. The effect of the rain became evident when American Greg Daniel fell in the first turn on some slick road paint. British rider Joseph Perrett was the next rider to come close to Alaphilippe and finished an agonizing .77 seconds off of the OmegaPharma-QuickStep signing.

More riders came and Alaphilippe stayed on the hot seat. Juan Chamorro got off to a bad start for his overall campaign and set a time that was 43 seconds slower than Alaphilippe and would eventually net him 113th (out of 120th) on the day. Riders such as Sean de Bie and Viktor Manakov set quick times but if they were on a dry course, they might have topped Alaphilippe. Prologue favorite Damien Howson was on track to take the lead but with two kilometers to go, the Australian crashed and got a load of road rash for his efforts.

Second before impact for Howson (via @damien_howson)

While it the rain was wreaking havoc on the some of the favorites, Olympic Omnium champion and prologue favorite Lasse Norman broke through and topped Alaphilippe by just a tenth of a second. Norman looked clear to take the win after Jasha Sütterlin came in 2 seconds down and Dylan van Baarle (Netherlands) was hampered by chain problems but it wasn't over yet. Ag2r-La Mondiale signing Alexis Gougeard was the last to set off and when he went one second quicker than Alaphilippe with two kilometer to go, his confidence in a win grew. When it was all said and done, Gougeard had blitzed the course and topped Norman by 4 seconds.

While Gougeard usually prefers a longer time trial course, it wasn't a huge shock that he took top honors. Gougeard was 2nd in the Tour of Normandie prologue, spent the majority of the day solo at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and was 3rd at the French U23 National TT Championships just two days before the prologue. While Gougeard isn't necessarily a climber, he proclaimed that he will defend his yellow jersey as long as he can.
  1. Alexis Gougeard (France)
  2. Lasse Norman (Denmark)
  3. Julian Alaphilippe (France)
  4. Joe Perrett (Great Britain)
  5. Victor Manakov (Russia)
  6. Simon Yates (Great Britain)
  7. Sam Spokes (Australia)
  8. Jasha Sütterlin (Germany)
  9. Stefan Küng (Switzerland)
  10. Bjørn Tore Hoem (Norway)

Ewan takes sprint victory into Arbois

Perrett and Pellaud taking off (@PictaNews)

Within minutes of the flag dropping, Joe Perrett and Simon Pellaud took off and signaled the start to the first road stage of the 2013 Tour de l'Avenir. Perrett and Pellaud quickly got a big gap as both of them had something to prove. Pellaud had a horrible prologue where he finished next to last and wanted to show his strength. Perrett, who was 4th in the prologue, was the European Junior TT Champion in 2009 and is the current British 40km TT champion and will be wanting to keep performing on a high level to try and gain a bigger contract from his current IG-Sigma Sport squad. Another fun fact about Perrett is that his cousin, Megan Hughes, is married to Magnus Backstedt and she was one of the factors that got him into cycling.

After Tim Mikelj (Slovenia) and Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Kazakhstan) tried and failed to bridge to the leading duo, Perrett and Pellaud extended their gap to over six minutes on the mainly flat parcours. After 65 kilometers, the peloton finally woke up after a couple attacks from Andzs Flaksis and Lasse Norman. The gap continued to fall steadily and coming into the finale, the speed was turned up to 11 and chaos erupted. The peloton experienced two crashes on the day which saw riders such as GC favorite Juan Chamorro and Owain Doull hitting the deck. With Belgium and Australia reducing the gap, the race swallowed up the breakaway and hit the only climb of the day with 4 kilometers to go.

Kristian Haugaard tried an attack on the climb but thanks to Sam Spokes and Damien Howson, it was shutdown and Australia was in the driver's seat for a sprint finish for Caleb Ewan. For his efforts, Haugaard would take over the mountains jersey. Ewan was piloted in the final kilometer by Howson and with 200 meters to go, Ewan launched to the line. Ewan had a clear line to the finish and Julian Alaphilippe and Rick Zabel had to fight each other for optimum position as the line was positioned just feet before a left hand bend. Zabel was blocked by Alaphilippe but was able to squeak by for 2nd as Ewan raised his arms in victory for the 6th time this year in a UCI race. Belgium, who did a lot of work heading into the finale, was rueing a missed opportunity as Jasper Stuyven was leading out Sean de Bie before  de Bie lost his wheel on the descent and Stuyven had to scrounge 8th place. Behind, Silvio Herklotz and TJ Eisenhart lost 36 seconds after losing contact in the chaos that was during the descent. Juan Chamorro came in at one minute down, which essentially ended his Tour de l'Avenir GC ambitions.
  1. Caleb Ewan (Australia)
  2. Rick Zabel (Germany)
  3. Julian Alaphilippe (France)
  4. Nick van der Lijke (Netherlands)
  5. Victor Manakov (Russia)
  6. Sven Erik Bystrom (Norway)
  7. Davide Martinelli (Italy)
  8. Jasper Stuyven (Belgium)
  9. Carlos Barbero (Spain)
  10. Martijn Tusveld (Netherlands)

GC: Alexis Gougeard (France)
Points: Julian Alaphilippe (France)
Mountains: Kristian Haugaard (Denmark)
Team: Great Britain

One note to the organizers...who the fuck decided to put the sprint finish right before a tight left-hand bend? Seriously, were you trying to cause a crash? Unless it is uphill, there is no reason to have the finish line on a bend when you have guys going 40+ mph. Caleb Ewan almost crashed after celebrating his victory because of the road cutting left and leaving him on a trajectory for the barriers. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tour de l'Avenir Preview

Tour de l'Avenir is one of the few races that can make or break a rider's future career. Guys have performances here that get them contracts while other guys, who hedge their bets on a good performance here, will falter and eventually fade into anonymity.

Except for the most diehard of fans, who would have known Nairo Quintana before he stole the Tour de l'Avenir away from Yannick Eijssen in 2010 with two storming mountain riders? Romain Sicard went from promising French amateur to the next French climber after his dominating 2009 ride. Andrey Amador was an amazing rider on the Spanish amateur circuit but his prologue win in the 2008 edition really put him on the map. Tyler Farrar got his first major international win in the 2004 edition of the race with a sprint win over now-teammate Koldo Fernandez, Sebastian Chavanel, Matti Breschel and Marcel Sieberg.

l'Avenir is also the place where guys can find their moment in the sun before fading into anonymity. Sergej Fuchs was 3rd place in the 2009 race and where is he now? Riding on NSP-Ghost and still trying to chase a dream gone by. Troels Vinther was a Danish promise who won a stage in l'Avenir but after one year with Saxo Bank, he is back with CULT Energy. There are more...Hans Dekkers, Rafaa Chtioui, Alexander Gottfried and Oleg Opryshko are just a few in recent years that saw some of their brighter days in the Race of the Future.

The 50th edition of the race will be once again, as in most recent years, taking in the regions of Bourgogne and Frânche-Comte and mainly Rhône-Alpes, where the races will be decided on some of the more scenic climbs that the French Alp (and PreAlps) has to offer.

The route map and stage profiles can be seen in their entirety at the race website

Prologue Louhans - Louhans 5.1 km

The race begins with a flat prologue in the town of Louhans, which is known for next to nothing. Really, it is a town with not much going on other than a pretty large market. In recent years, the prologue of the Tour de l'Avenir has been dominated by English speakers with Taylor Phinney, Michael Hepburn and Jay McCarthy winning the last three prologues. I would be more surprised to see a non-Aussie win the prologue this year because of the presence of Damien Howson and Adam Phelan. The closest challengers should be Lasse Norman, Rasmus Sterobo, Jasha Sütterlin and Dylan van Baarle.

Stage 1 Louhans - Arbois 145.8 km

The race begins proper with an interesting stage that is a mainly flat affair except for a very late category 4 climb and descent into Arbois, a commune nestled in the Jura mountains. The first 90% of the stage is rather boring because of a flat parcours in a part of the country that isn't known for crazy wind or other meteorological obstacles. Where the race gets interesting is in the final final ten kilometers. Passing the finish line, the course goes up the Côte des Planches, a 1.7 kilometer climb that summits with just four kilometers to go. Following the climb is a fast descent and a flat finish in Arbois, which will most likely see a reduced sprint.

The key to this stage is whether any sprint oriented squads will be focused on keeping it together on the final climb or if the attacks will be too much for riders such as Caleb Ewan. To me, this is a stage that screams Silvio Herklotz but other riders that could do well include Mike Teunissen, Julian Alaphilippe, Michael Valgren and Simon Yates among others. I would personally like to see American Gregory Daniel try something. GC should not be too shaken up but a new rider could end up in the maillot jaune when the dust settles.

Stage 2 Champagnole - Saint-Vulbas 178.9 km

Another flat to rolling stage starting from the Jura town of Champagnole, known affectionately as the "Pearl of the Jura", which is a bit of a misnomer seeing as the town is known mainly for its raw materials production with such clean products as coal, iron ore and charcoal. The route travels south east to the sleepy town of Saint-Vulbas, which is situated on the Rhône in Ain. The only difficulty on the day is a climb at 51 kilometers to go, the Côte de Gévrieux, but after that there is nothing difficult to speak of. The race should be heading into the finish at full tilt for the first sprint finish of the race.

Australian Caleb Ewan will be the huge favorite heading in but there are plenty of other speedsters that will be salivating. Behind Ewan is Slovene Luka Pibernik, Simon Yates, Basque Carlos Barbero, Dane Magnus Cort, Belgian Jasper Stuyven, Norwegian Sondre Enger and Germans Jan Dieteren and Rick Zabel. The small teams lead to no big leadout trains and relative chaos, which is good if you like to see surprise winners.

Stage 3 Aix-les-Bains - Albertville 125.8 km

The mountains are looming. This is your last chance. There is no turning back. The race enters the Rhône-Alpes region and the riders get a small taste of what is to come for the rest of the week. Following the intermediate sprint at Valliéres, the course begins its long gradual pitch upwards. There is only one categorized climb on the course but there are some uncategorized pitches that will definitely sting the legs. The race tops out at 955 meters on the category 3 Col du Fréne before making a descent to Freterive. The race has one more small pitch before a flat finish into the 1992 Winter Olympic town of Albertville. While the finish might be flat, this could be a good chance for a breakaway to take the spoils.

Interesting picks for a breakaway win include 2012 stage winner Lukas Pöstlberger of Austria, France's Alexis Gougeard, Latvian Andzs Flaksis and Slovenian Mark Dzamastagic.

Stage 4 Albertville - Saint François-Longchamp 106.3 km

They're heeeeeere. Hide your kids, hide your wife...the mountains are coming in full force. There is no light intro to them either this year as the first mountain stage features a category 1 and a hors categorie uphill finish at the ski station of Saint-François-Longchamp, which is partway up the Col de Madeleine. The start from Albertville is rather uneventful but since the stage is just 106 kilometers, it isn't long until the race heads uphill. The road begins to rise at La Rochette and for the next 20 kilometers the road continues to rise to the summit of the Col du Grand Cucheron. While the categorized climb only begins 5 kilometers from the summit, there will be a pain train all the way up to that point. On a side note, the Grand Cucheron was featured on the 12th stage of the 2012 Tour de France but it was climbed from the opposite side, the side the Tour de l'Avenir will be descending.

At the summit of the Grand Cucheron, the race will descend the switchback-laden backside of the mountain to the village of Epierre. The riders will take on some last minute energy in the valley road along the Arc river until they hit the commune of La Chambre and go exit stage left. From La Chambre, the road pitches up for the next 13.9 kilometers at an average of nearly 8%. The climb edges off ever so slightly at the finish but the gaps will be evident.

Now for the favorites, which will most likely be the GC favorites as well but we will go down the whole list of those guys later. For this stage, I definitely see Merhawi Kudus (Eritrea/UCI) pushing the pace along with guys like Clement Chevrier, Herklotz, Juan Chamorro, Ever Rivera, Heiner Parra, Davide Formolo, TJ Eisenhart, Alexander Foliforov, Dylan van Baarle and the list goes on.

Stage 5 Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains - Morzine 71 kilometers

Most likely a breakaway will succeed because of the difficult final two stages and no one in a shout of GC contention will want to expend too much energy. Two climbs feature in the quick stage with the last one, the Col des Gets, summiting just 7.5 kilometers from the finish. Riders that could possibly go for it include American Gavin Mannion, either of the British Yates brothers, Toms Skujins, Simone Andreetta or the like. It is a stage that could go any way.

Stage 6 Morzine - Châtel 126 kilometers

I have to applaud the ASO and the Tour de l'Avenir for their route planning this year. Short and actioned packed is the way to go for most mountain stages and the final two stages are two great examples of that. While stage 6 is just 126 kilometers long, the route packs in four categorized climbs in the final 72 kilometers including an non-categorized uphill to the finish in Châtel. The stage rolls out of Morzine and takes a slightly downhill route all the way to Thonon les Bains, which sits along the southern shores of Lake Geneva. From there, the route begins to make a loop that will eventually double back on itself and takes in the category 2 Col de Saxel, which is not much in the way of difficulty, and the category 2 Col de Terramont. The route climbs the category 3 Côte de la Vernaz but that is merely an appetizer for the finale.

At nearly 8 kilometers in length and averaging over 8%, the Col du Corbier will separate the wheat from the chaff but even though the climb is difficult, there is still 22 kilometers from the summit until the finish in Châtel. While the final 13 kilometers are uphill, it is in the last 2.5 kilometers into Châtel that ramp up and average 5.5%.

The climbers will once again feast though a non-dangerous breakaway could sneak out in from depending on how the stage is raced.

Stage 7 Châtel - Plateu des Glieres 

It's over already? What the hell? While I'm sad the race will be ending so soon, the final stage will be one of the best stages that the Tour de l'Avenir has seen on paper in a long time. According to a local informant (Hi Will), the organizers did right by including both the final two climbs, Le Salève and the Col de Glieres, because of a combination of history and originality.

Le Salève is a tough nut that includes about two kilometers of 10% gradient near the middle of the 12.5 kilometer climb. Salève is known as the "balcony of Geneva" as it sits just south of the city and gives a panoramic view of the whole region. It is featured in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, where the monster escapes over the Swiss border and climbs the Salève, which only adds to his frightening lore. After a small descent and a short, sharp rise to the summit of the Col de Pitons before taking a longer descent to the foot of the Col de Glieres.

At Thorens-Glières, the reported birthplace of St. Francis de Sales, the route turns upward to the Plateau des Glières. The Plateau is one of the symbols of the French Resistance during World War II. The Free French resistance fighters chose the plateau as the ideal location to orchestrate a weapons drop with the British in 1944 because, at the time, it was inaccessible by roads but still a clear spot for Allied pilots. The plateau was a base of command against the Nazi/Vichy France forces and in March of '44, there was the "Battle of Glières" where 121 Free French fighters lost their lives against nearly 5000 Nazi and Vichy militia and even though it was a defeat on paper, it was a psychological turning point in the French Resistance.

In terms of the climb up to the plateau, it is an absolute beast. There is a uphill run-up to the climb but the climb proper has a 6 kilometer stretch that averages over 11% until it levels off in the final kilometer. There is no faking up that. Kudus, Chamorro, Rivera, Chevrier and the whole lot will be laying it all on the line. Speaking of which, we need to run down the favorites for l'Avenir.

The Riders

-Merhawi Kudus is the Eritrean sensation and he is the next big African to enter into the professional peloton. Kudus is riding with the all-African UCI Mixed team and will be licking his chops at the mountains. Kudus was just behind Clement Chevrier for the best amateur at Tour de l'Ain and he was 2nd at the Vuelta a Leon. Something holding Kudus back could be his team, which is a conglomeration of African talents that have been developing in the UCI system. Will they be able to cope with the pressure if Kudus does get into the leader's jersey?

-Then we come to Colombia, the home of the lithe, dream-like climbers. The team comes with three powerhouse climbers that could flip the race on its head simply because they are all on the same team. Juan Ernesto Chamorro is the reigning 2nd place here and lost out by just 1 second to Warren Barguil last year. The course is much tougher this year and Chamorro has had difficulties. Chamorro won the Ronde de l'Isard this year but was just 9th in the Vuelta a Leon and 40th in l'Ain, well behind other contenders. Chamorro comes with two strong teammates in Heiner Parra and Ever Rivera, who have both shown brightly this year. Parra won a stage at the Ronde de l'Isard, 2nd on the queen stage at Tour Alsace and was 4th in the young rider's competition in l'Ain. Rivera climbed with Kudus in the Vuelta a Leon, won the Coupe des Nations Saguenay mountains competition and is a big darkhorse for the mountains. If the Colombians are on form then it could be pain town for the others.

-Frenchman Clement Chevrier was 3rd in Valle d'Aosta, 2nd in Pays de Savoie and was top 20 GC in Tour de l'Ain, his first professional race. He is training partners with Romain Bardet when they are together and he will be keen to show his progession. Chevrier was told rather bluntly by Ag2r-La Mondiale (Chevrier normally rides for their feeder squad Chambery CF) thanks but no thanks and is on the hunt for a contract for next season, even though he still has one year of U23 racing eligibility. Beyond Chevrier, Julain Alaphilippe is always good for some excitement and I can get 5 dollars that Alexis Gougeard will attack at some point.

-Germany's Silvio Herklotz has been one of the sensations of the year and will be looking to continue his string of impressive performances. He has not raced a climbs like this before but after his win on Grand Ballon in Tour Alsace, he should be up near the front. I don't know of any concrete team plans for the sprints but Rick Zabel or Jan Dieteren will be taking up the German cause. Zabel has the name recognition for his U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen win but Dieteren beat Zabel straight up at the Thüringen Rundfahrt. Jasha Sütterlin will be going for the prologue.

-Australia will be focusing on the prologue and the early sprints. Caleb Ewan will be trying for one stage win while Howson and Phelan are good bets for the prologue. Past that, it is really up in the air about what they can do. They do not have a climber that can cope with the best ones Sam Spokes is here for Australia and he has been going well with Etixx-iHNed this year. He has been going well as of late and is climbing better than ever but he is another that is unproven in the big mountains. The others will have to try breakaways to get some more glory.

-Austria brings Patrick Konrad was 9th last year here and while his year hasn't been over the top, he should be near the top 10. Lukas Pöstlberger is a former stage winner from last year and has a huge engine, which will suit him in breakaways. One rider I am interested in seeing is Gregor Muhlberger, who is a first year U23 that has performed consistently this year and mainly in the service of others.

-Belgium's Louis Vervaeke was 4th overall in both Pays de Savoie and Valle d'Aosta and loves the steep stuff. Belgium has other good climbers like Dylan Teuns but look for Vervaeke to be the one to perform. Obviously, there is Sean de Bie and Jasper Stuyven, both of whom are capable of a stage victory.

-Denmark is a team I can't quite figure out. Without a doubt, they bring a squad that is super strong but where can they shine on a parcours such as this one? Lasse Norman and Rasmus Sterobo will be all over the prologue and Michael Valgren is an animal on shorter hills but he is untested on longer climbs. I really like Magnus Cort, the double stage winner from the Tour of Denmark, and he could definitely win from a breakaway, ala his Thüringen Rundfahrt stage win, and he has a good turn of speed on him.

-Italian Davide Formolo was 2nd overall in Valle d'Aosta and won the Peaches and Nectarines overall and his climbing skills are near the top of the U23 class. One drawback to Formolo is that he is not the best at reading a race. Simone Andreetta is an option for a breakaway while Manuel Senni will be Formolo's helper in the mountains.

-TJ Eisenhart has been one of the best young American climbers on the European circuit and he will be up there in the fray. The American squad here has been more or less together through the majority of races that the USA National team has done and seems to be a cohesive unit. Gavin Mannion climbs well and sprints well and could pull off something big. Gregory Daniel has been going well with results in Belgium and Germany in the last month.

-Dylan van Baarle is the best U23 of the season so far but has not shown himself on any big mountains so far and l'Avenir is where he could show himself. Mike Teunissen as been on fire as of late and a stage win would not surprise me in the slightest but the mountains could be too much for him.

-Russian Alexander Foliforov was 5th in Valle d'Aosta and was climbing pretty well lately but his consistency is something I doubt. Tatarinov was 7th last year but he has shown no form as of late and he shouldn't be anywhere near the front.

-Carlos Barbero will be Spain's best chance at any glory as the Basque sprinter has been the best U23 they have to offer. Beñat Txoperena was 6th at the Vuelta a Leon and 2nd in the Spanish U23 RR. Watch for him on some of the hillier terrain.

-The Yates twins (Simon and Adam) will be leading a GB team that could get some nice stage results in the flatter to rolling stages.

-Latvia has two options in Toms Skujins and Andzs Flaksis. Skujins won the U23 Peace Race with a last stage attack and has been on some great form this summer that has included a bronze in the U23 Euro RR and buckets of top 10s in Tour de Guadeloupe. Flaksis will have to attack and could be a candidate for the mountains classification as he goes uphill well and is a good TTer.

-Norway is lighter than in previous years but they still bring Sondre Enger, the wünderkind from Tour of Norway, where he was 3rd overall, and Coupe des Nations Saguenay, where he won the overall. Enger has cooled off as of late and he has no history of climbing big mountains so Norway will have to fight for results.

-Slovenia has a few riders that could produce. Luka Pibernik is the obvious choice and he could do well in a selective sprint and can get over some hills. Matej Mohoric is the reigning junior World Champion and his climbing has been improving over the season. Mark Dzamastagic could be apart of a breakaway that takes it to the line and he does have a decent turn of speed on him.

-Kazakhstan has a good rouleur in Maxat Ayazbayev who I am predicting will target the mountains jersey and a bonafide climber in Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, who has been on a hot streak as of late where he has been finishing in every front group. If there is a chance that a breakaway can go the distance on a mountain stage, Kozhatayev could be a good candidate and he has a pretty good sprint on him if need be.

-I haven't talked about Switzerland or Ukraine for two good reasons. Neither of them have brought much in terms of riders that will do anything. Switzerland has guys that were on their U23 European Champion team pursuit squad but Adrian Chenaux was 3rd in the Valle d'Aosta prologue and could pull a nice result here. Ukraine...well they didn't bring Marlen Zmorka so they will do nothing. They should not even be at this race and both Switzerland and Ukraine are filling a spot that should belong to Petr Vakoc and the Czech Republic.

If for some reason you don't know, follow me on twitter @Vlaanderen90 and I'll be twittering about the race. Check back here for stage reports and coverage.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Tour de l'Avenir is right around the corner but the racing didn't hit a lull by any means. While some national teams took a quieter approach in the lead-up to the grandaddy of them all, the Italians and others were out in full force.

Busato wins GP Capodarco

In one of the better organized U27 Italian races of the season, Matteo Busato went on a late solo flier to take an impressive solo win at last Friday's 42nd GP Capodarco. The Trevigiani Dyanmon Bottoli broke away from Mario Sgrinziato (Petroi Firenze) in the final 15 kilometers and the seasoned Venetian rider dropped his companion on the final climb at 4 kilometers to go. Bringing home the chasing group in 3rd was last year's Capodarco champion Gianfranco Zilioli, who will be going to the Pro Continental Androni squad for the rest of the season, starting at the Trittico Lombardo.

Busato has been a perennial favorite in the Italian amateur ranks over the last few years and it is a bit of a mystery as to why he hasn't turned professional given that he has a long list of palmares. He did start a full contract with Italian Team Idea halfway through last year but after the team folded, he returned to the amateur ranks with Trevigiani. Thanks to a late December birthday, this is Busato's last year to ride on the lucrative Italian U27 calendar and he will need to find a professional gig somewhere or head out into another country seeing as his sell-by date for the amateur ranks will be up in Italy (they like them young there).

Zilioli and Zmorka get boosts of confidence

While Gianfranco Zilioli had to settle for 3rd in Capodarco, the Colpack rider was able to get revenge in Saturday's GP Valdaso in a small group sprint of 5 ahead of Alexander Foliforov (Russia) and Alessio Mischianti (Nuova Futura). Bradley Linfield (Australia) led home the chasing group in 7th, just behind teammate Adam Phelan, who was dropped from the leading group in the final sprint. Zilioli has been on a tear of late and the man with the biggest nose in Italian amateur cycling is taking his talents to Androni on a stagiaire role for the rest of the year as he is 23 and not eligible for any U23 shenanigans.

On the opposite end of the boot, Marlen Zmorka took his 2nd win of the year for his Palazzago squad at the Circuito Guazzorese. Ukrainian Zmorka broke away from peloton and bridged up to a leading trio of riders in the finale and used his vaunted TT skills to start his "sprint" from 300 meters to go and was able to take the win. While the win was in a more low-key event, Zmorka is keying towards big goals at the end of the season with Tour de l'Avenir and the U23 World TT championships on his horizons. Zmorka lives in Italy during the season but is also a kinesiology student at the University of Nikolaev, which is the hometown of Ukrainian World Tour riders Andrey Grivko and Vitaly Buts. An interesting fact about Zmorka is that, apparently, his first name is a compound of Marx and Lenin, which is a bit strange coming seeing as he is Ukrainian and born after the wall came down.

Zalf-Euromobil goes ape at Trofeo Citta di Conegliano

Zalf-Euromobil has had quite a successful year with riders such as Andrea Zordan, Federico Zurlo, Paolo Simion and others taking multiple wins. In the week leading up to the Trofeo Citta di Conegliano, Zalf was denied two wins, which is a made worse by the fact that they had numbers going into the finale. Sitting at 39 wins for the season, the Treviso-based green-red-blue squad was brimming with fuel after suffering, as the team management called it, two humiliations in a row.

Zalf went on the cream the race after they were able to put Gianluca Leonardi and Simone Andreetta up the road and their gap was unassailable eventually; to the point where Andrei Nechita was able to breakaway from the peloton. At this point, Zalf had the podium locked in but they were not done. As Leonardi crossed the like for his 4th win of the year ahead of Andreetta and Nechita crossed the line solo in 3rd, Zalf went 1-2-3 in the field sprint with soon-to-depart Andrea Zordan taking 4th ahead of Enrico Salvador and Daniel Casavin. An impressive way to get a 40th win.

Teunissen wins Top Continental in Tour des Fjords

Mike Teunissen put in a consistent performance at the inaugural Tour des Fjords in Norway. Getting past my annoyance of another race using the Tour de(s) title (Thanks ASO), Teunissen had three top 10 performances and an 11th place and finished the race 8th overall. The U23 cyclocross World Champion was sitting pretty in the standings after a sterling 2nd place in the opening stage behind eventual winner Sergey Chernetskiy but thanks to a good but not great team time trial performance, Teunissen slipped behind multiple Belkin and Katusha riders. The young Dutchman now heads to the Tour de l'Avenir where he will be licking his chops at the first few days of flat to rolling terrain.

Other news and notes:

-Watch out for a Tour de l'Avenir preview as the race starts this Friday! Team rosters are trickling out and Pro Cycling Stats is doing their usual job of aggregating them.

-BMC Development's Silvan Dillier went 2nd at GP des Marbriers to Benoit Daeninck in a small uphill sprint. Dillier is coming off a Tour of Norway with the BMC World Tour team and with his performance in Marbriers, he should continue to perform in more WT races. Also in the top 10 were U23 riders including Gerry Druyts (7th), Tiesj Benoot (8th) and Floris De Tier (9th).

-With the Czech National team not being selected for Tour de l'Avenir, Etixx-iHNed's Petr Vakoc took out some pent up anger at the GP Kralovehradeckeho kraje by kicking the shit out of his competition on the hilly circuits. Vakoc dropped breakaway mate Josef Hosek (Bauknecht-Author) late to win by 5 seconds but behind them the gaps were huge, with a half of the mere 20 finishers coming in at nearly 8 minutes down.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Ramblings

T-minus 10 days till the Tour de l'Avenir launches in Louhans, U23 riders are getting their final preparations done and getting tuned up for their biggest event of the year. Tour des Fjords and GP Capodarco are the two big events of the weekeend. Tour des Fjords will have all of the big Scandanavian development teams along with Rabobank Development and Etixx-iHNed. GP Capodarco is one of the best one-day courses in Italy (and Europe) for U23s and is again and again one of the favorite races of the riders.

Tour de l'Avenir teams

Teams for the 50th edition of the Tour de l'Avenir were announced earlier this week. I tweeted about it earlier this week but there definitely was one major oversight. While the Czech Republic might not have the name recognition of some other countries, riders such as Petr Vakoc and Josef Cerny were robbed of a chance at the race after it was announced that the Central European country was robbed blind and defenestrated in favored of lower ranked Spain, Austria and Switzerland, who had not participated in any U23 Nations Cup races this year. Vakoc was ablaze in July after winning the Vuelta a Madrid, going 4th in the Czech Cycling Tour and 2nd in the European Championships RR and now he is screwed out of showing himself on a higher level.

Bontrager on the edge

Bontrager is facing demise after it was announced by DS Axel Merckx that the team would have to shutter if a new sponsor was not found. (Cyclingnews was late as ever in picking up the story but they are also the same people who called Lawson Craddock a "climbing specialist" so it doesn't surprise me. CN does some good work but they are off the pace sometimes.) Bontrager, which was formerly the official feeder team to Radioshack, has been an independent development squad for the last few years and has been one of the best U23 teams on the circuit; sending a good portion of riders to the World Tour. They are also at a major crossroad because if they do continue, they will be losing 8 out of their current roster of 13. Jasper Stuyven has signed with Trek while Lawson Craddock is rumored with Argos-Shimano. Past those two, Nate Brown, Antoine Duchesne, Andsz Flaksis, Gavin Mannion, Connor O'Leary and Nate Wilson are all in their last year of the U23s and would have to find new teams for 2014.

The UCI has been pushing teams to have an official development program and with Leopard-Trek shuttering after this year, the Trek WT team will be without an affiliate. These teams are not cheap either as Patrick Lefevere had to spend close to 1.5 million euro investing in Etixx-iHNed for this season after substansial UCI prodding. As of this year, there are 8 WT squads that had official development teams and the UCI wants that number grow.

Transfer news

-- In another unsurprising transfer and one that was called by me on EC, Nick van der Lijke is heading to Belkin for a neo-pro deal. While three of his Rabobank Development teammates were scooped up early, van der Lijke was still able to secure a WT ride with his home team after putting in strong GC performances all over the place including a recent win in the Kreiz Breihz Elites.

-- In an interview with Directvelo, Clement Chevrier announced that he was told a big fat NO by Ag2r La Mondiale and that they wouldn't be seeking his services for 2014. Chevrier, who has ridden for the Ag2r feeder team Chambery CF for the last three years,  is looking for a pro ride for 2014 even though he has another year of eligibility in the U23s. After struggling with low body fat issues in the offseason, Chevrier has announced himself as the next big French climber this year with podium GC finishes in Ronde de l'Isard and Giro della Valle d'Aosta along with a strong ride in the Tour de l'Ain, which was his first UCI .1 race. Chevrier is good friends and training partner with current Ag2r wunderkind Romain Bardet and has been, as he puts it, learning a lot about the rigors of the professional life and what it takes to be on the pro scene. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

2013-2014 transfers


All (well as many as possible) transfers for U23 and young amateur riders heading in 2014.

Rider - Team for 2014 (rumors in italics)

-Ag2r-La Mondiale:
Alexis Gougeard

Daan Olivier
Lawson Craddock
Chad Haga

Daniil Fominykh
Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev

Rick Zabel
Silvan Dillier

Nick van der Lijke

Davide Villella
Matej Mohoric
Davide Formolo
Alberto Bettiol

Romain Guillemois
Bryan Nauleau

Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier
Olivier Le Gac (Starting 8/01)

Dylan van Baarle
Lasse Norman
Nate Brown
Phil Gaimon

Jan Polanc
Niccoló Bonifazio
Valerio Conti

Sean de Bie
Stig Broeckx
Boris Vallee
Vegard Breen

Jasha Sütterlin
Dayer Quintana

Julian Alaphilippe
Petr Vakoc

Damien Howson
Adam Yates
Simon Yates

-Saxo Bank
Michael Valgren (3 year deal)

Nathan Earle
Sebastian Henao

Jasper Stuyven
Fabio Silvestre
Eugenio Alafaci
Julian Arredondo
Riccardo Zoidl

Pro Continental

Andrea Zordan
Yonder Godoy
Gianfranco Zilioli

-Bardiani CSF Valvole:
Nicola Ruffoni
Andrea Manfredi

-Caja Rural:
Antonio Molina
Fernando Grijalba

Clement Venturini
Christophe Laporte
Louis Verhelst
Florian Senechal

Wouter Wippert
Jordan Kerby

Merhawi Kudus

Ivan Balykin

-Topsport Vlaanderen:
Edward Theuns
Victor Campenaerts
Moreno De Pauw
Jonas Rickaert

Isaac Bolivar

Development Teams

-Argos-Shimano Development:
Kristian Haugaard
Mathias Rask

-Bissell (Formerly Bontrager)
Chris Putt
Ruben Zepuntke
Clément Chevrier
Nathan Van Hooydonck

-BMC Development:
Dylan Teuns
Johan Hemroulle

Piet Allegaert
Edward Planckaert
Joachim Vanreyten
Davy Gunst
Brent Luyckx
Christophe Noppe
Bert Van Lerberghe

Josip Rumac
Jan Hirt
Paco Ghistelinck
Tim Kerkhof
Alvaro Cuadros

Lotto-Belisol U23:
Ruben Pols
Brecht Ruyters
Matthias Van Gompel
Laurens De Plus
Dieter Verwilst

-Rabobank Development:
Derk Abel Beckeringh
Cees Bol
Martijn Budding
Nino Honigh
Andre Looij
Jeroen Meijers
Sam Oomen
Timo Roosen
Piotr Havik

Cannondale smash n' grab job nabs top U23 talents

Davide Villella

While the announcement of Davide Villella has been known for sometime, Cannondale was not done with their 2014 signings by any means. While the Milanese Villella is one of the gems of the 2013 class, three more riders will be suiting up in the green and white kit of the American-Italian team.
Also joining the team for 2014 will be... (drum roll please) Davide Formolo, Matej Mohoric and Alberto Bettiol

Villella has been talked about at length here for his early season exploits, mainly his fondness for 2nd place, and his sensational ride at the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, where he took two stages and the overall victory. By some standards, you can say Villella is having a down year. While he has had great performances this year, he has only won four times compared to the 11 last year. Villella has made up for this slip in wins by having greater consistency in the mountains, where he shined in Valle d'Aosta. Villella will have his eyes firmly on the Florence World Championships, where he will be looking to make something happen for himself and his Italian teammates on home soil.

Davide Formolo is perhaps the best pure Italian climber in the U23 ranks at this moment. Over the past two seasons, Formolo has shown himself on the toughest climbs in Italy but he seems to have a little bit more room to grow. Double winner of the Peaches and Nectarines stage race and multiple top 10 finisher in the Giro Bio and Valle d'Aosta, Formolo's climbing and all-around skills have developed well but he still seems to lack a little bit a of top end speed (see four 2nd place finishes this year alone).

Mohoric has only spent one (non-complete) year in the U23 ranks and is best remembered for his junior racing results rather than anything he has done as an espoir. Mohoric was the superstar of the 2012 junior class after winning three general classifications along with the World RR Championship in Valkenburg with a superb final kilometer attack to hold off the charging pack. Mohoric has had some growing pains in the U23 class but it was reported that he had signed a contract with Cannondale back in March. With the pressure lifted, Mohoric put in two fourth place results in the elite Slovenian Championships before heading to the Tour of Qinghai, where he placed a respectable 18th overall in the UCI's 2nd highest stage race.

Bettiol is only 20 years old this year but could turn out to be quite a steal in a few years if Cannondale can develop him well. Bettiol was European junior champion in the TT in 2011 and won the Giro della Lunigiana overall over riders such as Simone Andreetta, Lampre signing Valerio Conti and Silvio Herklotz. Consistentcy would be the word to describe Bettiol and his 2013 campaign. The Tuscan has four wins to his credit this year, including his win in the Giro della Due Province, which gained him the Tuscan Championship. Bettiol has also had top placings at other big races such as Coupe des Nations Ville de Saguenay (4th overall), Italian U23 National RR (3rd), GP Liberazione (3rd), U23 European Championship RR (7th) and Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (10th). He has skills on a variety of terrain but his success in one day races and short, difficult stage races could be the seeds for success in the pro ranks.

While Cannondale has scored big with these signings, I would not say that all of these guys will make it big. While statistically, it is plain to see that not every successful U23 will make it big in the pro ranks. I have a problem with the Cannondale (and formerly Liquigas system) and what this will mean for these particular rider's development. While Peter Sagan is the face of Cannondale, this team has signed a slew of talent in the past years and a good number of them have either left the team or underperformed.

Going back to the Liquigas days, we can go to the obvious example of Roman Kreuizger. Kreuziger reached big heights with the squad and won the Tour de Suisse at just 22 but Kreuziger hit a wall eventually and when big goals were set and not met (Vincenzo Nibali's emergence also helped) saw Kreuziger abandon ship to Astana and then Saxo, where he has once again emerged as the talent that many saw in the junior ranks. Jacopo Guarnieri was touted as a sprinter in the U23 ranks and then joined Liquigas. After three seasons that saw early success and then a decline, Guarnieri left for Astana where he has developed into a sprinter/classics role.

Gianni De Ros? Well he turned out to be a dope pedaler. Dario Cataldo? Left after just two season to bigger and better things with Quick Step and now SKY. Daniel Oss? He spent four years on the squad but his results peaked in 2010 and while he had good seasons in 2011 and '12, he bolted to BMC when the squad formed around Sagan and has flourished. It isn't just talent that has bolted that is the problem either. Let's look at the Cannondale roster this year.

Stefano Agostini was 3rd place in the GiroBio in 2011 but since then, he has not shown a whole lot to back up that result. Some recent rides in Austria and Tour of Utah are encouraging but he is a work in progress still. Macej Bodnar is is 28 this year but has been riding with Liquigas since he was 22. Bodnar is a big TT talent but his results have not been consistent and while he has been riding a lot as a domestique, it seems like he could get more results for himself in a better environment. Kristjan Koren has be stagnate after turning pro with Liquigas and now in his 4th year with the team, he is nowhere near the level he should be after blowing up the U23 scene in 2008. While Koren has been a workhorse for the team, he still hasn't burst out of his shell. Cayetano Sarmiento won the GiroBio in 2009 but in his fourth pro year, he is another rider that is not reaching his potential. My whole point is that Cannondale is not the number one team for developing young riders and the four new signings are not guaranteed to produce anything.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Weekend Roundup

In the weeks leading into the Tour de l'Avenir, many race hopefuls are tapering their form; some by riding race-heavy schedules and others relying on more training and low-key events.

Zordan wins GP di Poggiana

Zordan dedicated his win to his girlfriend Jessica, who is pregnant with their son and due in September

Androni signing Andrea Zordan continued his red-hot season by gaining his 8th victory of the year in a small group sprint over good friend and rival Davide Villella (Colpack) and Trevigiani's Daniele Dall'Oste. The Italian U23 champion was apart of a group of fourteen, including four Zalf-Euromobil teammates, that separated from the peloton on the final ascent of the Mostacin climb before the final run-in to Riese Pio X. With 400 meters to go, Zordan launched his sprint and for the 5th time this season, the Venetian Zordan relegated Villella to 2nd place. Zordan starts his stagiaire role with Androni next week with the Trittico Lombardo while Villella joins Cannondale for USA Pro Challenge.
  1. Andrea Zordan (Zalf-Euromobil)
  2. Davide Villella (Colpack)
  3. Daniele Dall'Oste (Trevigiani)
  4. Luka Pibernik (Radenska)
  5. Simone Andreetta (Zalf-Euromobil)
  6. Maxat Ayazbayev (Astana CT)
  7. Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Astana CT)
  8. Roberto Giacobazzi (General Store)
  9. Stefano Nardelli (Tecmor)
  10. Davide Formolo (Petroli Firenze)

Other races include...

  • Sebastian Henao, cousin of Sergio Henao of SKY, won the Clasica de Funza stage race in Colombia. Henao, the best young rider from the Vuelta a Colombia, is rumored to be joining his cousin at SKY.

  • Jan-Niklas Droste (Heizomat) won the Grosser Silber-Pils over USA U23 National rider Gregory Daniel and Simon Nuber (Edelweiß Roschbach).
  • European U23 TT Champion Victor Campenaerts won the Belgian U23 National TT title. The U23 Lotto-Belisol rider beat teammate Frederik Frison by a scant five seconds on the 30 kilometer course and VL Techniks rider Edward Theuns by 26 seconds. 
  • Report from Monday morning says that Norwegian Vegard Breen (Joker-Merida) will join Lotto-Belisol next year. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Let's Catch Up, Shall We?

With interviewing Marc Garby, keeping up on transfers and with trying to keep my life in some type of order, there are a lot of results that I haven't talked about that need to be talked about.

Cort takes two Tour of Denmark stages

Photo: @BritSorensen

Un-fucking-real. Sitting at my desk on Wednesday, boredom had set in and I opened up twitter to try and get a reprieve from my data entry purgatory. Within 5 seconds, I see Magnus Cort's name. I assume that he was in the breakaway and got the sprint or KOM jersey. Scrolled down further and I see more congratulations. Then I see...

In the biggest U23 win against the pro peloton this year, Magnus Cort (CULT Energy) survived a whole day in the breakaway and even after Lars Bak (Lotto-Belisol) bridged up to Cort and Nikola Aistrup (Concordia Forsikring - Riwal), Cort was still strong enough to hold off the duo in the three-up sprint. Cort has a 1 second lead on Aistrup and 7 seconds on Bak while the peloton, which was neutralized time-wise because of multiple crashes in the finale, is 21 seconds back.

Cort was not done either. On the short morning stage before the GC deciding afternoon time trial, Cort took advantage of the sharp run-up to the finishing line. After passing one kilometer to go banner, Cort shot out of the peloton and went past a burned-up Sacha Modolo with 500 meters to go and the young Dane was able to sit up with time to spare to soak in his 2nd professional win in a week. Cort ended the race 9th overall.

I am still puzzled as to why the Tour of Denmark seemingly hates TV coverage of their race. Next to no updates and no live stream in a day and age where that should be almost a requirement for a race of this magnitude.

As far as I understand, the plan is still for Cort to stay with CULT Energy for 2014 before making a jump to a higher level. There is also a possibility that the team might move to the Pro Continental ranks next year, according to my source.

Van der Lijke takes Kreiz Breizh Elites

While Dylan van Baarle might be the most talked about rider on the Rabobank Development squad, Nick van der Lijke has had quite a consistent year, especially when it has come to stage racing. Van der Lijke went top 10 in four stage races before Kreiz Breizh including two podiums in Tour de Bretagne (2nd) and Tour de Gironde (3rd).

The 1st stage of the four-stage, three day race around central Bretagne (Brittany) separated the wheat from the chaff. On a lumpy stage, a group of six including van der Lijke, Tom Vermeer (Jo Piels), Belgian  U27 Topcompetitie leader Nicolas Vereecken (AnPost-ChainReaction), Mike Terpstra (3M), Tomasz Olejnik (USSA Pavilly Barentin) and Romain Matheou (Top 16) were the survivors of an early breakaway attempt. Matheou won the group sprint ahead of a much reduced leading group that came in at 37 seconds.

Stage 2 saw van der Lijke put in his best time trial of the season on another rolling course where he beat out Alexis Guerin (Entente Sud Gascogne), Bretagne-Seche Environment duo Vegard Stake Laengen and Eduardo Sepulveda along with Rabobank Development teammate Dylan van Baarle. While van der Lijke has been a competent TTer in the past, this was a ride that had not been seen before.

Now leading Laengen by 28 seconds and Vereecken by 32, van der Lijke was able to somewhat relax on stage 3, the 2nd half of a Saturday split stage, and keep ensconced in the peloton. Erwann Corbel (Bretagne-Séché Environment) beat Dutchman Wouter Wippert (3M) convincingly with Corbel's teammate Gael Malacarne coming in 3rd.

Van der Lijke's lead was still tenuous heading into the final stage and the threat was compounded when 2nd place overall Vegard Stake Laengen joined the breakaway very late in the race and was the virtual leader on the road with just 20 kilometers left. Van der Lijke joined a counter attack and was able to bridge the gap and eliminate the threat just kilometers later. With just 5 kilometers left in the race and the gap on the breakaway dwindling, Mike Terpstra (3M) and Geert van der Weijst (Jo Piels) the break and quickly got a gap. While the others were swept up by a peloton keen on a bunch sprint, Terpstra and van der Weijst, a stage winner in the Tour de Gironde, worked well together and took it to the line where van der Weijst easily won the sprint over the lithe Terpstra. Cyclocross star Kevin Pauwels won the bunch sprint for 3rd and van der Lijke sewed up the overall win after he crossed the line in 5th place on the stage. 

Nick van der Lijke is in his final year as a U23 and it will be interesting to see who goes after him this year. With van Baarle heading to Garmin, van der Lijke could head to Belkin but he could end up in a situation where he would be crowded out of big results. With Vacansoleil likely closing up shop at the end of the season, it will be tight for Dutch riders trying to make it to the big time. My two bitcoins is on Belkin.

Now where else to look...

-Giro delle Valli Cuneesi nella Alpi del Mare (Piemonte)

While this is a race that next to no one has heard of, it has been more important in recent years with overall winners such as Fabio Aru (Astana) and Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani Valvole). Like most Italian amateur stage races, the race was reduced for 2013 and it is now just three days. This race offered a few treats.

Stage 1 was a team time trial, a rarity in Italian amateur cycling, that was won by the Mastromarco team of future Lampre-Merida rider Valerio Conti and Antonio Nibali, who is brother of Vincenzo, ahead of the Russian National squad of Alexander Foliforov and Team Colpack, that included Davide Villella, Gianfranco Zilioli and Davide Orrico.  

Stage 2 finished on the fearsome Colle del Preit, a 14 kilometer climb that averages a tough 8%. Colpack's Gianfranco Zilioli, who is one year out of the U23 ranks, stormed to an impressive solo victory on the scenic mountain top finish by 5 seconds over Matteo Busato (Trevigiani) and Luca Benedetti at 10 seconds. Mathieu Le Lavandier (Chambery CF) showed signs of life with a 6th place finish. Zilioli took impressive wins last year at Bassano-Monte Grappa and GP Capodarco, the best Italian one-day race on the calendar but he has gone on a tear this season. This mountain top finish was his 6th win of the season, the majority of which have come within the last 5 weeks.

Stage 3 saw a breakaway rule the day and Zilioli consolidate his lead thanks to a ravenous teammate in Davide Villella. The stage started gradually uphill before taking on two climbs, a category one climb that averaged over 9% gradient and a category 2 uphill finish. Alessio Taliani was able to stay away to take the solo victory for his Futura Team Matric while Villella and Zilioli, along with a few others, came in just behind Taliani. Villella won the bunch gallop while Zilioli took the overall win and his 7th victory of the season.

With the way Zilioli has been riding as of late, it seems that he is due for a pro contract next year. One of the hot names right now is Eritrean Merhawi Kudus, who has been climbing extraordinarily well. Zilioli dropped him and Colpack teammate Manuel Senni like rocks in the Ciriè-Pian della Mussa, an uphill race near Torino. When I say drop, he put nearly 1'20" on them in three kilometers. He toyed with them. Let's put it this way, if he doesn't get a contract then I will be suspicious. Speaking of Kudus...

-Vuelta a Leon

Ever since the prodigious Daniel Teklehaimanot came to Europe in the last 00's, Eritrean cycling and the talent coming out of the small heterogenous nation along the Red Sea. That isn't to say that Eritrean cycling is by any means a new phenomenon because cycling has been one of the most popular sports since it was colonized by the Italians. With riders such as Teklehaimanot, Natnael Berhane and others now penetrating Europe, a new rider has emerged. Merhawi Kudus made himself known at last year's Tour of Rwanda where at just 18 years old, the young Eritrean won a stage and lead the race before being unseated by a South African juggernaut.

This season saw Kudus move to Europe, where he has predominately stayed at the UCI Cycling Centre and participating in amateur events in France and Italy. Kudus has been proclaimed as the next big African climbing talent and was noted as possessing a super high cadence in the mountains, in the range of 100-110 rpm. The high cadence and climbing style makes him reminiscent of famed Luxembourgish climber Charly Gaul. With four wins to his name so far this year and a stagiaire position with Bretagne-Séché Environment starting at this week's Tour de l'Ain, Kudus toed the line at the Vuelta a Leon.

The short and sweet three day race was full of redemption. After Andalucia collapsed this year, nearly the whole team of riders was left stranded and promising talents were left to their own devices in a Spanish economy that has been utterly devastated. Jordi Simon was one of Spain's biggest talents as a U23; placing in the top 10 of Tour de l'Avenir in 2011 along with three top five stage finishes. After a bad neo-pro year in 2012, Simon was left without a pro team for 2013 and had to revert to the Coluer amateur squad in 2013. To say that he has a chip on his shoulder would be a gross understatement.

Breaking away with over 60 kilometers to go, Simon had to sit up when he had a 50 second gap over a group of 16 riders because of a brutal headwind. No matter for Simon as once he was re-integrated into the fold, Simon controlled the attacks and in the finale, Simon formed a group with Kudus and Ever Rivera (4-72 Colombia). Multiple probing attacks were launched but nothing was able to stick and when Kudus lead out the sprint, Simon easily went by for the win. With no time bonuses on offer, the GC would be tight.

Stage 2 saw a large breakaway get away. Rather uneventful in terms of any GC shakeup as Simon, Kudus and Rivera all stayed together. Jose De Segovia, the Spanish elite w/o contract national TT champion, won the stage over Diego Ochoa (4-72 Colombia).

Stage 3 was a reminder that time bonuses should be a fixture in most races. When you have a race with no TT, no time bonuses and courses that are hard but ultimately come back together in the end, having no incentive to make a suicide attack in the final kilometer makes the race anti-climactic. The racing was animated but Lokosphinx and others kept it together for the final uphill sprint. 4th place GC Sergei Shilov took out the sprint ahead Jonathan Gonzalez (Construcciones Paulino) and Ion Pardo (Entente Sud Gascogne), who had taken out the majority of sprint points on the course. Simon, Kudus and Rivera finished safely in the front group and the GC finished just as it did on stage 1 with Jordi Simon taking a big win and another step back to the professional ranks.

Biggest takeaways from this race are obviously Merhawi Kudus but also the strong team performance of 4-72 Colombia, who will form the majority, if not all, of the Colombian Tour de l'Avenir squad, which will be featured around Juan Ernesto Chamorro, who finished 9th in this race.

Other races

-The Antwerpse Havenpijl wrapped up the Belgian U27 Top Competitie on Sunday. With some big teams having an open weekend, the race featured Pro Continental squads Topsport Vlaanderen and Crelan-Euphony, which broke the racing up. Topsport rider Preben van Hecke took the final breakaway sprint over Stef van Zummeren (Lotto-Belisol U23) and Stijn Steels (Crelan-Euphony). Nicholas Vereecken (AnPost-ChainReaction) wrapped up the overall Top Competitie title over Jerômé Baugnies (ToWin-Josan). 

-Like the Tour de Liege (which was won by Tom David of Ovyta-Eijssen and regrettably not covered by Espoirs Central), Tour de Namur is unheralded simply because it is on the Belgian amateur circuit and even though it is a legitimate 5-stage race, there is no English coverage of the race and not much other than blurbs outside of Belgium. Not that I did much to help that fact but the results were somewhat interesting.

Stage 1 saw Dutch sprinter Wouter Wippert (3M) take his first win of the season in a bunch sprint over Walt de Winter (Lotto U23) and Robin Stenuit. While Wippert has ammassed a large amount of top 5 placings this year, he wasn't able to break through until last week. He was on the verge of signing with WT Lotto-Belisol last season but due to injury he was forced to stay on the continental level. While having a good season, it is unclear if he will be making the jump for next year.

Stage 2 saw New Zealander Tom David take the win in impressive breakaway style over Jens Adams (Belgium National) and Jasper Ockeloen (Parkhotel), both at 8 seconds in arrears. At 14 seconds was an important group including Floris de Tier (EFC OPQS) and Gregory Daniel (USA National/Bontrager). The peloton was led home by Stenuit at 32 seconds. David, who has been tearing it up this season in Belgium with Ovyta-Eijssen, will be a stagiaire with Crelan-Euphony this fall.

Stage 3 was another breakaway that shook up the GC. Doltcini-Flanders stagiaire Bram Nolten took out the stage in a solo move after dropping Floris de Tier and the rest of the front group on a brutal day. Nolten took the leader's jersey.

Stage 4 was yet another breakaway, this time a non-threatening one, that saw EFC-OPQS David Desmecht attack with 10 kilometers to go and take the solo win over Xandro Meurisse (Lotto-Belisol U23) and Toon Aerts (Crelan-KDL). Bram Nolen was dropped from the peloton and lost the leader's jersey to Sjoerd van Ginneken (Parkhotel), who was tied on time with Floris de Tier. It was down to a final day showdown on the Namur Citadel.

Stage 5 was the Thrilla in...Namur. A breakaway of 21 got away early and van Ginneken was not included. The gap swelled to four minutes at one time before the leader's Parkhotel squad, who only had Peter Schulting in the breakaway, took over on the front. The gap was steadily reduced to one minute but by then, the pace up front started to go faster. The breakaway, which included Floris de Tier, was racing for the win and punched it up the twisting climb to the Citadel. Having had the benefit of doing no work in the lead up to the climb, it was Schulting who put the pressure on and took the sprint over Ludwig de Winter (Color Code-Biowanze) and Brecht Dhaene (VL Techniks). Floris de Tier finished in 4th and sewed up the overall victory.

De Tier is an unknown quantity because this is his first year focusing on the road after announcing that he would quit focusing on cyclocross to pursue a career on the road. De Tier had some solid rides in Valle d'Aosta and with this win, he should definitely turn some heads. He hasn't had a proper off-season to build for the road so De Tier should be one to watch for 2014.

- The Trofeo Internazionale Bastianelli lived up to it's breakaway hype and saw Maxat Ayazbayev go for a little stroll off the front and take the win by a huge margin, 1'13" over 2nd place Corrado Lampa. Ayazbayev has been one of the stronger riders for Astana Continental this year and while his results might look sparse to some, he has consistently attacked in nearly every race he has been in. He still has another year in the U23 ranks and looks to be World Tour material.

I missed some races but this is the meat of the last two weeks that I've missed. Look for stagiaires in the Tour de l'Ain and the Arctic Tour of Norway, both of which start later this week. Tour of Utah and Volta a Portugal both have a bevy of young riders so look for more performances from there.