Monday, August 26, 2013

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. 

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