Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tour de l'Avenir Wrap-up

While Louis Vervaeke did his best to take the overall lead on the final day, Miguel Angel Lopez was able to keep his overall title that he defended with such aplomb for the final 3 days of the race. The Colombian, who was unknown to many before the beginning of the race, was by far the strongest uphill during the race, which was perhaps the most mountainous edition ever. So let us go through as see who stood out in the race and who didn't make an impression. (And yes, I will be publicly shaming them.)

-Miguel Angel Lopez is now the 5th Colombian to win the Tour de l'Avenir and 3rd in the last 5 years to win the yellow jersey. In 2012, Juan Chamorro was 2nd place and last year, Heiner Parra was 7th overall. The Colombians, even without any of the 4-72 riders on their roster, were some of the strongest in the race and should never be counted out here. Lopez had enough support in the mountains from his teammates Brayan Ramirez and Daniel Rozo but was able to look after himself once the action really started.

-Robert Power is an animal. Coming into this race, Power was on an epic tear of form where he won 3 races in 10 days. He didn't just win the race but annihilated his competition and even when they thought they might be able to beat him, he would put it in the big ring and shut them down. He started this race off very well by staying out of any trouble during the sprint stages and was always near the front during the mountain days. Power met his match with Miguel Lopez but 2nd place in the Tour de l'Avenir as a first-year U23 is pretty amazing. It is the best finish overall by a first-year U23 at least in the last 20 years. Speaking of their race, overall they had a good race. Ewan won a stage and Flakemore took the prologue. Jack Haig had a few issues, especially with the super steep climbs, but battled back to provide Power with good support in the later stages.

-The Russian were strong but even with Alexey Rybalkin and Alexander Foliforov finishing in 3rd and 4th place overall, respectively. The Russians have done here well in the recent past with Sergey Chernetskiy in 4th place in 2012, Timofey Kritskiy giving Sicard all he could handle in 2009 and Menchov and Petrov winning in 2001 and 2002. The Russian problem is that while they might be good (or even great) in the U23 ranks but seems to get muddled in the pro ranks and never hit their potential. Be that because of doping (i.e. Novikov) or plain overtraining, the Russians still haven't quite figured out how to transition a U23 rider to a great professional.

-Louis Vervaeke tried his heart out to try and steal the overall back but he needs some credit for his ballsy move to go all the way from the Col du Molard, over 2 more huge climbs and still move himself up to 5th overall. The Belgians had an up and down week. I'm sure they would have liked a podium placing overall but after Tiesj Benoot fell ill, they will be happy with 2 stage wins and 5th overall.

-Pierre-Roger Latour wasn't exceeding expectations with his 6th overall but he did attack when he could so can't fault him for not trying. The rider who I'm most impressed with on the French team was Jeremy Maison. Relatively unknown heading into the race but a strong rider on the French amateur scene, Maison was outstanding is a support role for Latour and even attacked a few times to relieve the GC pressure. On the mountain stages, he was always in the top 15 and finished the last stage in 8th place. While the French didn't get a stage win, they were always active in the breakaways and showed themselves well with a 2nd place in the team classification.

-Some other nice surprises here were in the form of Emanuel Buchmann (Germany) and Joaquim Silva (Portugal). Buchmann is a pure climber and while he had some pretty good results in the last couple of years, his performance here was his best to date. Buchmann kept getting better as the days went by and was 7th on the final day, which bumped him up to the same place overall. Silva was recently 25th overall in the big-boy Volta a Portugal (4th in the youth classification) and came here with strong form. He wasn't the designated leader but won it on the road as he kept performing better than his teammates Ruben Guerreiro and Ricardo Ferreira. 9th place overall for a rider that has not ridden outside of Iberia frequently is a very good sign. I hope he doesn't waste away on the peninsula in the sea of Portuguese continental teams.

-Kazakhstan was saved by Ilya Davidenok's stage win on stage 4 but other than his strong ride there, they were quite anonymous. Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev was a shadow of his last year's self and looked nothing like the 4th place overall rider from just a year prior.

-I touted Norway as one of the strongest teams here but they took a beating, at least in terms of their GC riders. Oskar Svendsen couldn't go out of his own way and had lots of issues along the way. Odd Eiking crashed once and while he finished 3rd on stage 5, he fell to pieces on the final stages and dropped all the way to 25th overall. Sindre Lunke was the saving grace...sort of. He finished 10th and 11th on the final 2 days to save an 11th place overall for Norway. Kristoffer Skjerping's win on the first stage and time in the KOM jersey was the highlight of their l'Avenir.

-So Silvio Herklotz has a lot of work to do in the high mountains. It might be where he is most limited. Herklotz made a few moves but when the climbs got too steep or too long, he would be back in the 2nd group. He can ride pretty much any terrain but the Alps are not his friend it seems.
-Tao Geoghegan Hart and Sam Oomen get a thumbs up for their strong GC rides as first year U23s. Geoghegan Hart lurked for the whole week in that 10th-15th place area on the stages but his consistency paid off for a 10th place overall. Oomen got into the big breakaway with Ilya Davidenok on stage 4 and while he didn't win the stage, his 2nd place on the stage vaulted him to 2nd on GC. Oomen held on to 2nd on stage 5 but cracked spectacularly on stage 6, losing 6 minutes. He limited his loses on the final stage to keep 13th overall but that was a stout ride.

-The Italians got a raw deal when Giulio Ciccone, who had been climbing pretty brilliantly, dropped out on the final stage after sitting 6th overall. Davide Martinelli survived the mountains to claim the points jersey by one point on Colombian Fernando Gaviria. The rest of the Italian crew was fair to disappointing.

-Some of the more anonymous teams did have a few bright spots. Michael Gogl (Austria) finished 5th on the 2nd stage and continued to go beyond expectations to snag 15th overall. Great job for a rider whose name I barely recognized. The USA has a good learning experience here but once again, Jeff Perrin went on the attack a few times and even though he didn't come out with a stage win onr even a top 10 placing, he laid it out there and tried.

-The course this year was pretty amazing. The flat stages were fairly interesting and were a total bore while the mountains weren't slog-fests with short but intense stages keeping everyone on their toes. I also approve of the race using less well known climbs such as the Plateau Solaison as well as big giants like Cormet de Roselend, La Toussuire and Croix de Fer. Perhaps my only critique? Put a mid-mountain stage on the final day to spice up the race a little more. Would Lopez be able to handle the heat if say, Foliforov went up the road on a lumpy stage that had a few stinging hills in it but a downhill/flat finish? Would Lopez be able to cope with no teammates? Could someone pull a coup? In any case, this is me day dreaming. This year's course was the best in years.

Tour de l'Avenir: Vervaeke takes the lonely road; Lopez triumphs

At the beginning of the Tour de l'Avenir, Louis Vervaeke was the odds-on favorite to win the race overall, with good reason too. Vervaeke won both the Ronde de l'Isard and the Tour des Pays de Savoie overall this year and even went pro with Lotto-Belisol halfway through the season. While he might have been the favorite, Vervaeke fumbled during the first mountain stage and thanks to a 20 second time penalty, he was on the back foot and honestly, didn't seem to have the muscle to go against Rob Power and Miguel Lopez. Today, the last day of the Tour de l'Avenir, was going to be different. There was only one way to possibly take back GC and with only 95 kilometers on tap, he was going to have to be bold.

Before the first climb, the Col du Molard, and a breakaway got away including Guillaume Martin and Loic Chetout (France), Loic Vliegen (Belgium), Soren Kragh (Denmark), Manuel Senni (Italy), Marc Soler (Spain), Piotr Brozyna (Poland). Up the Molard, Louis Vervaeke launched an attack out of the peloton with Jeremy Maison (France). It was very early with the rest of the climb and then 2 giants still left but after Vervaeke ditched Maison, he bridged up to the breakaway in no time at all.

Over the top of the Molard, the breakaway thinned to just 5 riders including Vervaeke, Vliegen, Kragh, Soler and Kasperkiewicz (Poland). Pierre-Roger Latour, who was sitting in 5th place overall, tried a move on the descent with his teammate Quentin Jauregui. Latour and Jauregui got within 30 seconds of the breakaway but once they hit the Croix de Fer, their move stalled. Up front, Vervaeke went solo near the base and began to freight-train up the Croix de Fer, the highest climb in the race. By the time that he reached the top, he had a gap of 1'55", which was enough to put him in the provisional lead. Behind, the peloton was spitting out riders left and right and it was race leader Lopez that led the chasers over the top of the Croix de Fer, closely followed by 2nd place overall Rob Power.

Vervaeke was no stopping for anyone. He continued to go forward and down the Croix de Fer descent, he even extended his gap and by the time he started the final climb to La Toussuire, he had a gap of nearly 3 minutes. He wasn't going to take this lying down. Vervaeke, while tired from the effort, kept going on with his gap being slowly chipped away at by an elite group including Lopez, Power, Brayan Ramirez, Jack Haig, Emanuel Buchmann, Joaquim Silva, Latour, Maison and the Russian duo of Rybalkin and Foliforov.

In a repeat of yesterday, El Superman attacked with 10 kilometers to go and the only one initially to go with him was Robert Power. These two are clearly the best from the week but tired legs saw them joined by Rybalkin and Foliforov, the latter of whom was surprisingly consistent this week and defied my thoughts that he would spectacularly crack in the mountains. With 3 kilometers to go, Vervaeke's dreams of winning the overall were dashed as the gap went under 1'49" but the future Belgian star had enough of a gap to not worry about being caught on the line. While the quarter behind him took his lead down to just 34 seconds on the line, Vervaeke had enough time to sit up and celebrate.
Behind, Foliforov and Rybalkin lead the chase across the line with Lopez being able to sit up and take the overall win ahead of Robert Power. Lopez, who I knew was a talent but not this big of a talent, thoroughly dominated the race and deserves this win. El Superman might be heading to a pro contract next year and I do not know if he will be back at the Tour de l'Avenir next year but he certainly got his point across.
I will have a wrap-up post out later with some analysis of the overall standings and the race itself but I would like to take this time to give a message to everyone.
As important as this win was for Vervaeke, this was a win for Belgium. Igor DeCraene, last year's World Champion in the Junior TT, was found dead this morning. This was one of Belgium's golden children that had his whole life ahead of him. Rest in Peace, Igor.

Tour de l'Avenir: What happens after you win this race?

The Tour de l'Avenir is talked about in such high regard because of the riders that have competed in the race and their accomplishments during the race. The best young racers going head to head without worry of shagging bottles for their big-time team leaders but just going as hard as possible. This is where riders made their name; where big contracts were made; where riders could go from zeros to professionals over the course of a week. So let's say a rider does this...they win a stage or place high in the overall and perhaps win it. Where does there career go? Is this the launching point or is this the climax?

In the race's history, only 8 riders that have won have gone on to win a Grand Tour. These riders are, in order from most recent, Nairo Quintana, Denis Menchov, Angel Casero, Laurent Fignon, Miguel Indurain, Greg Lemond, Joop Zoetemelk and Felice Gimondi. From 1981 to 1992, the race was open to professionals so that is why Fignon won it in 1988, way after he won his two Tour wins. Marc Madiot and Johan Bruyneel won the race during that time when it was called the Tour of the European Community. Lemond won his edition of this race by a massive 10 minutes (on Robert Millar and Lucho Herrera!) in 1982 and while he was already a full pro with Renault-Elf, this was the place to beat down everyone. So obviously some riders are able to transition their Tour de l'Avenir rides into at least one Grand Tour win. The race did go to a U26 platform after 1992 and then to all U23 in 2007.

Let's go to some of the bigger disappointments. Fedor Den Hertog was the strongest amateur of his time and was able to win with relative ease. This included an Olympic Gold Medal in the Team Time Trial as well as overall wins in the Milk Race, Olympia's Tour and the Tour de l'Avenir. Den Hertog was a perpetual amateur who refused to go pro for the longest time because he wanted to be a leader and have the freedom of choosing his calendar. The year that he won l'Avenir, the course was not nearly as mountainous as this year's edition and was filled more with small hills spread across 10 stages. Den Hertog won the race by 19 seconds on successful amateur Ivan Schmid, who would go on to win a Tour de Suisse stage. The rest of his pro career? A shell of his amateur career because he was so viciously marked by riders that he was never able to get away and while he went on to win a Tour and Giro stage, it was nothing what was predicted for him. He died in 2011 of prostate cancer.

Other riders who never hit their expectations from this race include Evgeny Petrov, who won the overall in 2002 after an incredibly U23 career but then never matched those successes; Sylvain Calzati won the 2004 edition ahead of Thomas Lofkvist and Christopher Le Mevel...well that podium just never reached expectations. The later two faired better and Lofkvist even won a few big races but was always hyped-up much more than he ended up producing. This critique isn't just reserved for GC men. Guido Van Calster won 4 stages in 1977 but never really panned out as a pro. Sebastian Chavanel won 5 stages over the course of 2003-04 in l'Avenir but he has been known better for being Sylvain's brother.

There is the "what could have been?" category. In 1978 and 1979, Sergei Soukhoruchenkov came to the race with his Soviet teammates and threw down the gauntlet. They were in their prime and the Europeans, who hadn't had too much contact with them, got their asses handed to them. In 1978, Soukho and the Soviets won 9 stages and swept the first 4 places and he has a 3'30" gap to 2nd place. In '79, he won by an even bigger gap. After winning the Olympic Gold Medal in the RR in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Soukho was denied a 3-peat in l'Avenir by upstart Alfonso Flores and the Colombians, who were making their first appearance in l'Avenir. Communists are among the biggest what could have been contenders because they never really got to race a full European schedule against all of the big teams until after the Wall fell. Olaf Ludwig was already 30 by the time he was able to join Panasonic. Before that, he had won 5 l'Avenir stages and the overall (among a shit ton of other things) but if only he was able to turn pro at 25.

There were others that used this race to make people say, "Oh he is going to be a kick-ass professional." Erik Zabel won 4 stages in 1994. He would win Paris-Tours later that year and then 6 straight Tour de France green jerseys starting in 1996. Edvald Boasson Hagen won 3 stages in 2006 as just a first year U23. Miguel Indurain won two stages in 1985, including a time trial, and then won 3 stages on his way to the overall win in 1986.

I could go on for weeks analyzing every Tour de l'Avenir since 1961 but that isn't the point. Just because a rider wins this race in spectacular or dominating fashion does not make them a champion in the professional peloton. This race might be the Tour of the Future but more likely than not, the guy that wins this race will not go on to major glory. Granted, that is including a whole lot of years where this race barely included mountains and in more recent years, specialized riders that have at least won a stage here have gone on to great things. For example, every rider in the 2009 edition that won a stage is on a professional team now and 9 out of the 10 from the top 10 are in the pro ranks right now. In any event, use the Tour de l'Avenir rider as a guide but for the love of everything that is sacred with cycling, do not dump the expectations onto them the moment after they win the race...because that is how you get a Romain Sicard.

EDIT: So let's talk numbers. To get a better impact on how those that are successful in this race go on to do in the pro ranks, let's examine the results from the Tour de l'Avenir from 2007-2010. The dates might seem arbitrary but 2007 was the first year (in recent memory) the race was full U23 and then I chose to stop at 2010 because that is the last year where no current U23s could have possibly races. Also, I'm choosing to define a professional as someone who is riding on the Pro Continental level or higher. That isn't to slam continental riders because a lot of the most badass riders ride on the continental circuit. I'm simply chosing that level because, for the most part, they make a livable wage and they also ride some of the biggest races as a pro. You might ride the Tour of California on Jelly Belly but that is a one-off and the next week you could be back to riding Tulsa Tough. Moving on...

The 2007 race was won by Bauke Mollema, who at that time was a cut above the rest. He beat Tony Martin by 44 seconds. The rest of the top 10 follows as: Andre Steensen, Simon Spilak, Benat Intxausti, Guillaume Levarlet, Craig Lewis, Kristoff Vandewalle, Frederik Wilmann and Dario Cataldo. 7 out of 10, that's 70% for those humanities majors, are still racing in the professional ranks right now. All of them but Craig Lewis are racing currently with Steensen (CULT) and Wilmann (Ringerike) on continental teams. All of them have raced on the professional level at one time.

The stage winners for the same year include Dario Cataldo (won 2 stages), Stephane Pouhlies, Kristof Vandewalle, Martin Kohler, Jose Herrada, Ivan Rovny, Rafaa Chtioui, Nicholas Hartmann and Oleg Opryshko. Out of the 9 stage winners, 6 are still active as professionals right now, 7 out of the 9 are currently racing and 8 out of the 9 were on the professional level at some time. The only outlier was Opryshko, who bounced around Ukraine and Eastern Europe for a bit. Hartmann is now retired while Chtioui raced for Acqua e Sapone and Europcar and is now on SkyDive Dubai.

2008: The top 10 on GC consisted of winner Jan Bakelants, Rui Costa, Arnold Jeannesson, Jerome Coppel, Andrey Amador, Marcel Wyss, Jarlinson Pantano, Tejay van Garderen, Damiano Caruso and Peter Stetina. All of them are professionals and 7 of them are on World Tour teams.

The stage winners from that year include Amador, Dmitriy Kosyakov, Coen Vermeltfoort, Dominic Klemme (x2), Ricardo van der Velde, Bakelants, Rein Taaramae, Arnold Jeannesson and van Garderen. Out of the 9 stage winners: 6 are current professionals, 8 out of the 9 are still racing and 8 out of the 9 were on the professional level at some point. Ricardo van der Velde got a pro contract with Garmin but fizzled out fast, bouncing around until he retired after last year. Vermeltfoort started out as a pro with Rabobank but after a tumultuous 2 seasons, he went back to De Rijke-Shanks and got his mojo back. Kosyakov is the only one never to be a professional, at least by my definition, and has ridden with Itera-Katusha for the last half decade.

2009: Top 10 GC was Romain Sicard, van Garderen, Sergej Fuchs, Jaco Venter, Michel Kreder, Daniel Teklehaimanot, Stetina, Nicolas Schnyder, Andrei Krasilnikau and Rafael Valls. This is one of the weaker years as 70% of the riders are pros (or rode professional) while 2 are not racing anymore in Fuchs and Schnyder (doping) while Krasilnikau is an amateur with the AVC Aix en Provence team in France.

Stage winners include Julien Berard, Jean-Lou Paiani, Marko Kump, Troels Vinther, Jonathan Castroviejo, Timofey Kritskiy, Andreas Stauff, Romain Sicard and Dennis van Winden. 7 of them are professionals now (77%) while all of them have raced on the professional level and are all still racing. Vinther (CULT) and Paiani (Roubaix Lille Metropole) still ride on a high level on the continental circuit.

2010: Top 10 GC was Nairo Quintana, Andrew Talansky, Pantano, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Mikel Landa, Romain Bardet, Thomas Bonnin, Michael Matthews, Darwin Atapuma and Wilco Kelderman. 9 are professionals with Bonnin being the only one not racing still. He did ride for Skil-Shimano so all of them have been pros.

Stage wins went to Taylor Phinney, John Degenkolb (x2), Anthony Delaplace, Yannick Eijssen, Romain Hardy and Quintana (x2). All are pros currently.

So let us tabulate these arbitrary numbers.

Of the racers that placed top 10 in the l'Avenir GC from 2007-2010...

-37 different riders placed in the top 10
-81% of the riders are currently racing professionally
-91% of the riders rode for as a professional (again, Pro Conti and above) at some point
-89% of the riders are still racing at some level.
-4 riders (Lewis, Bonnin, Fuchs and Schnyder) are no longer racing.

Of the racers that won a stage in l'Avenir between 2007-2010...

-33 different riders won at least one stage
-75.7% of the riders are currently racing professionally
-90.9% of the riders have ridden as a professional at some point
-90.9% of the riders are still racing at some level
-3 riders (van der Velde, Hartmann and Opryshko) are no longer racing

In conclusion, these numbers don't mean too much since I'm not doing a huge snapshot of their careers, taking into account wins or other major statistics but it can show that there is a pretty very high chance you will get a chance to show yourself in the pro ranks if you do well in l'Avenir, especially if you are top 10 in GC. I would love to try and pin down exact numbers and see which l'Avenir produced the most number of professionals, the least and which factors exist that can skew the data (course selection, team infighting, selection politics, etc.) but you money and little time. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 6: "El Superman" takes the day

Today was the day where it was put up or shut up. If anyone was going to go up against Miguel Angel Lopez and take down his overall lead, it would most likely have come today. 3 huge mountains in just 108 kilometers with barely any flat road during the whole time. It was pure hell for some while others were in their natural habitats.

The day began with the announcement of a few DNFS including Magnus Cort, Michael Carbel and Felix Großschartner. Tiesj Benoot dropped out soon after having dealt with some illness issues for the whole race. 9 more riders ended up dropping out including another Dane, Mads Würtz, as well as stage winner Dan McLay, Iuri Filosi, Marc Soler and others.

Before the first climb, the Col de Saisies, a breakaway of 8 got away including Martijn Tusveld and Lennard Hofstede (Netherlands), Jeff Perrin (USA), Oskar Svendsen (Norway), Dylan Teuns (Belgium), Fabian Leinhard (Switzerland), Guillaume Martin (France) and Oscar Gonzalez (Spain). The group was able to get a minute on the peloton, which was controlled by Colombia and Lopez, but while they got over the top of the Saisies, which Hofstede won, their gap diminished to just 25 seconds before the biggest climb of the race, the Cormet de Roselend. Jeff Perrin was the last rider to stick it out before being swept up by the peloton at the base of the Roselend.

On the Roseland, Jeremy Maison (France), who has been one of the breakouts of the race, accelerated and was able to stay solo for nearly all of the 20 kilometer climb. Maison passed over the summit solo with a 45 second gap back to the Colombian led peloton but on the descent, he was soon joined by teammate Loïc Chetout and Sam Spokes (Australia). At the base of the descent, Chetout attacked and went solo onto the final climb of the day, La Roseire, while a chasing group including Maison, Jaime Roson (Spain) and Lukas Zeller (Austria) were behind ahead of the Colombian train, which was picking up speed.

Hitting the turn that would take them up to Mont Valezan, race leader Lopez decided to flex his muscle and with 10 kilometers of climbing left, he attacked the race and only Australian Robert Power, who was sitting in 3rd overall, could hold on. In no time at all, the duo had gone by the chasers and Chetout and were out in front. The leading group members were chasing in vain with Pierre-Roger Latour and Giulio Ciccone making counters to try and bridge, both unsuccessful.

The gap extended from 15 seconds to 35 seconds and the panic had set in with the chasers. With 4 kilometers to go, Alexey Rybalkin (Russia) attacked and was actually gaining ground on Lopez-Power train and after Rybalkin flew the potato farm, his Russian teammate Alexander Foliforov attacked and also started gaining time. Rybalkin reached Lopez and Power in the final kilometer but he was wasted from the chase and was not going to be any concern for the stage. Latour launched in the final kilometer to try and salvage some time while the chasing group containing Haig, Buchmann, Vervaeke, Ciccone and Lunke kept doing their best to limit the loses.
According to Lopez post-stage, he wanted Power to take some turns but he was too tired. In the end, Lopez launched the sprint while exhausted Power had to settle for 2nd place and Rybalkin in 3rd, 3 seconds down. Foliforov came in 4th, 20 seconds down, while Latour came in 38 seconds down.

"El Superman" is here. Thanks to @CyclingUptodate on twitter, I learned that Lopez suffered from multiple crashes that limited him in both 2012 and 2013 but when he was active, he was destroying the competition. Also, he got the nickname because he was attacked while out training one day and thieves trying to take his bike stabbed him but Lopez fought them off and got away. Don't fuck with Miguel Angel Lopez. He will beat you silly in the mountains and then fight you off at the same time.

The race is still not over but I will be surprised if Lopez is overhauled tomorrow. It seems like he and Robert Power, who is just going incredibly, are on a similar level and unless something sudden happens, it looks like the maillot jaune from the Tour de l'Avenir will be heading back to Colombia.

Full stage results here

GC has bounced around a bit. Lopez's lead is now at 27 seconds to Robert Power, who took over 2nd place after Sam Oomen cracked hard on La Roseire and lost 6 minutes, while the Russians Rybalkin and Foliforov sit 3rd and 4th with French hope Latour in 5th, 1'05" down. Past Latour, Giulio Ciccone is doing very well in 6th place followed by Emanuel Buchmann, Louis Vervaeke, Joaquim Silva and first year U23 Tao Geoghegan Hart.

Full GC results here

One conclusion we can draw at this time is that Silvio Herklotz, while a brilliant rider, doesn't seem made for the high mountains.

Tomorrow is the final day of the 51st Tour de l'Avenir and while only 94 kilometers long, it features 3 big cols including the Col du Molard, the Col de la Croix de Fer and a summit finish on La Toussuire.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 5: GC stays status quo; Breakaway takes it again

This year's Tour de l'Avenir has been quite fortuitous for breakaway riders with 2 stages already behind won by day long breakaways. Today had a similar story albeit the breakaway wasn't out there from kilometer 7 to the finish.

At just 101.6 kilometers, the stage was short but sweet and around a very comfortable 25 Celsius. It was fast from the depart in Bons-en-Chablais and didn't let up until the race hit the sprint point on the day, where Davide Martinelli took the win ahead of current points leader Fernando Gaviria (Colombia). The win got Martinelli back into the lead by one point but the two will still need to fight out the sprint points to see who will potentially win the overall.

Following the sprint, the race hit the Col de Saxel and a breakaway was allowed to get away but only just. Quentin Jauregui (France), Gabriel Chavanne (Switzerland), Mikel Iturria (Spain), Floris De Tier (Belgium) Sven Erik Bystrøm (Norway), Lennard Hofstede (Netherlands) Lukas Pöstlberger (Austria), Manuel Senni (Italy), Dan Pearson (GB) and Viktor Okishev (Kazakhstan). They were able to clear the Saxel, which Bystrøm won ahead of Pöstlberger, and following the descent with just 24 kilometers to go the break had a gigantic gap of...1'05". Colombia was on the front of the peloton protecting their leader Miguel Angel Lopez, who seemed quite comfortable in the lead.

After Quentin Jauregui attacked to spice things up a bit before the final climb, it would just be him, Pearson, De Tier, Bystrøm, Hofstede and Pöstlberger. They were fighting a lost cause and while making their way up the climb, they were caught up within the last 10 kilometers. When the climb had leveled out, the peloton was still huge.

At 3 kilometers, the peloton had thinned out to about 40 but still a bit large for finishing on a mountain. A few attacks were shooting off the front but it wasn't until Dylan Teuns (Belgium) attacked with 1.5 kilometers to go that something was able to stick. Teuns, who pulled a similar move in the Giro Valle d'Aosta and Tour de Bretagne, zoomed off and took advantage of a sleeping front group.
Teuns was able to hold an 8 second gap to the line where Alexander Foliforov (Russia) beat out Odd Eiking (Norway) and Robert Power (Australia) for 2nd place. Leader Miguel Angel Lopez stayed safe in 5th overall and GC stayed relatively the same with only 2nd place Sam Oomen losing 6 seconds.

Full Stage Results

Full GC Results

Also, it should be mentioned that France has been doing very well with Pierre-Roger Latour, Guillaume Martin and Jeremy Maison. All finished in the top 11 today and yesterday, all were in the top 18. Also, Portugal has been surprising consistent as they are sitting 2nd in the teams classification now after Joaquim Silva, Ruben Guerriero and Ricardo Ferreira finished 10th-19th on the last two stages.

Tomorrow is going to be short but brutal. The stage is only 108 kilometers but half of that is uphill and finishes on a steep mountain, La Rosiere.

Who is Miguel Angel Lopez?

Since most do not know much about the Colombian rider that is currently leading the Tour de l'Avenir, let us take a moment to learn about Miguel Angel Lopez. And trust me, it won't take long because I haven't found out much about him after hours of searching.

Lopez hails from Boyaca, which is one of the bastions of Colombian cycling. If you don't know anyone from Boyaca, just think about Juan Mauricio Soler, the Parra brothers, Felix Cardenas, Oliverio Rincon and of course, Nairo (and Dayer) Quintana.
Hailing from the town of Pesca, Lopez took the Colombian U23 scene by storm this year after winning the queen stage of the Vuelta de la Juventud (basically the Vuelta a Colombia U23) and taking the overall title as well. The winners of the race are a who's who of Colombian cycling and his win there cements him into some great company. Just this year alone, Lopez, who rides for the Boyaca Lottery, has won 8 races in Colombia including an uphill time trial in the Clasica de Fusagasuga where he beat none other than non-repentant doping scumbag Oscar Sevilla. Just for doing that, I like him.

Results are a bit scarce for me to find about Lopez from last year or even as a junior. The Tour de l'Avenir is his first big international event but I was able to turn up a nice gem from 2012, Lopez' last year as a junior cyclist. In the prologue of the 2012 Clasica del Meta, Lopez beat out recent Vuelta a Colombia champion Felix Cardenas by a few milliseconds. While it wasn't pure uphill or even a long effort, it definitely shows Lopez talents. All that I'm able to find about him are a few different results as a junior from 2012; not even anything from the Vuelta de la Juventud from 2013. His rise seems to be meteoric and if anyone out there has any more informations, please feel free to let me know.

This is a fun thing I like about cycling. Finding out all of the facts and what not is what I obsess over but when next to nothing is known about someone when they come out of know where, I always create fictions in my head about where they came from and their burning passion. Like if Lopez saw a bike race when he was 6 and dedicated himself to cycling or if he just casually picked it up and never took it too seriously until he was 18 or so. Perhaps he trained drafting off trucks or had to pedal at night because of school or working commitments? I don't know. But I'd love to find out about him more.

Edit: So I've gotten a few tips from people and I've gotten some more information about our Tour de l'Avenir winner.

-Lopez entered into a local race as a junior and it was electric and as he puts it, "he just went from there."

-Lopez has a nickname of "El Superman" because he was attacked while out training one day. Thieves tried to take his bike and during the scuffle, Lopez was stabbed but fought off his attackers.

-Lopez has had a few injuries in his career that have kept him under the radar. He did not participate in the Vuelta a Colombia U23 last year and he got over a knee injury earlier this year before going to win the Vuelta a Colombia U23 overall.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 4: Breakaway survives first mountain foray

On the first feared day of the Tour de l'Avenir, it was certainly an surprising day that saw a few implosions as well as a familiar country take the leader's jersey.

A breakaway of 5 including Pryzemyslaw Kasperciewicz (Poland), Sam Oomen (Netherlands), Ilya Davidenok (Kazakhstan), Lukas Pöstlberger (Austria) and Luka Kovacic (Slovakia) got away with only 7 kilometers down. Fabian Leinhard (Switzerland) tried to bridged but that move was unsuccessful and he returned to the peloton. Doper Kirill Sveshnikov (Russia) was the first of a few DNFs of the day.

After 41 kilometers, the breakaway had a healthy 6 minute gap. Right after the first KOM, the Cote de Premeyzel, which Pöstlberger won, a crash happened in the peloton that took out Oskar Svendsen (Norway), Till Drobisch (Namibia/UCI Mixed), Ciao Godoy (Brazil/UCI Mixed), Floris De Tier and Loic Vliegen (Belgium) Loic Chetout (France) and overall leader Asbjorn Kragh (Denmark), among others. The others got going but Drobisch was forced to drop out. Svendsen actually got up and going and then switched bikes but was able to return to the peloton.

With the gap running around 6 minutes, Belgium and Norway rode on the front. Both teams had GC favorites in Vervaeke and Eiking and were looking to control the race. Norway's enigma Oskar Svendsen had more mechanical issues but made it back into the peloton. Still 50 kilometers from the finish, the peloton hit the Cote de Cruseilles and riders began to fall out the back including stage 3 winner Dan McLay, Yannick Eckmann (USA), Jean-Albert Carnevali (Belgium) and about half of the Luxembourg team. Pöstlberger won the Cruseilles climb but even once the race had descended the climb, there was still a 4'30" gap.

Australia was setting tempo at the front of the peloton and seemed to be making many uncomfortable. While a group of 30 containing the yellow jersey Asbjorn Kragh dropped off the back of the peloton, Australia was not eating into the breakaway's advantage. When the race hit the bottom of the finishing climb, the Plateau de Solaison, the advantage was at 4 minutes.

The Solaison is right near the Grand Colombier, one of the hidden gems of French cycling, and it is a tough climb that averages 9% for 10 out of its 12 kilometers. While it is in the shade, it will burn the best climber. Nearly as soon as the climb started, Kovacic was out the back. In the peloton, Jack Haig had a flat tire and Caleb Ewan pulled over and gave him a wheel so that he could keep going. Haig was able to get back without drama but riders were just pouring out the back as if a tap had been opened. Chetout, Martinelli, TJ Eisenhart (USA) and so on were dropped on the steep gradient.

Sam Oomen, the talented first year U23, kept on plugging along and with 7 kilometers to go, he was solo with a small gap on Davidenok. During the same time, Robert Power (Australia) had to change bikes but he mitigated the damage and was able to rejoin the front group. While Davidenok was able to join Oomen in front, Oskar Svendsen was dropped from the peloton with 5 kilometers to go. So much for repeating his 4th place overall.

Oomen and Davidenok worked well together to keep a good gap back to the only chaser Postlberger, who was 1'15" back while the peloton was still 2 minutes in arrears. More big names were dropping off in Sindre Lunke (Norway), Silvio Herklotz (Germany), Jeff Perrin and Alexey Vermeulen (USA) and Scott Davies (GB). With 3 kilometers to go, Pierre-Roger Latour (France) finally put a match on the lighter fluid and attacked out of the peloton and Rob Power was the only one to join him.

The duo were chugging along behind the two up front but out of the peloton, a familiar sight happened. A lithe Colombian attacked out of the peloton and powered up and proceeded to go by both Power and Latour. Boyacan Miguel Angel Lopez was riding like Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves in Tour de l'Avenir past and Lopez, the winner of the Vuelta a Colombia U23 this year, got up out of the saddle and charged away, his legs churning around like pistons.
Davidenok dropped Oomen in the final meters to take the stage win by 3 seconds. Miguel Angel Lopez came in 3rd place 42 seconds down on Davidenok but more importantly, 16 seconds clear of Latour, who dropped Power in the final kilometer. 5th-7th place proved that a steady pace still kept them in the hunt. Giulio Ciccone (Italy) came in with Alexander Foliforov and Alexey Rybalkin (both Russia) at 1'05" down. Power, who cracked a bit in the finale, came in at 1'16" down while Belgian favorite Louis Vervaeke was 9th at 1'19". More interestingly, Vervaeke was given a 20 second penalty for taking a bottle in the final 5 kilometers, which he just poured over his head.
  1. Ilya Davidenok (Kazakhstan)
  2. Sam Oomen (Netherlands) +3"
  3. Miguel Angel Lopez (Colombia) +42"
  4. Pierre-Roger Latour (France) +58"
  5. Giulio Ciccone (Italy) +1'05"
  6. Alexander Foliforov (Russia) +1'06"
  7. Alexey Rybalkin (Russia) s.t
  8. Robert Power (Australia) +1'16"
  9. Louis Vervaeke (Belgium) +1'19"
  10. Joaquim Silva (Portugal) +1'21"
For those not in the know about Davidenok or just think he is another Kazakh then please read. Davidenok won the Kazakh Elite RR in June and then went on to win one of the hardest stage races no one cares about, the Tour of Qinghai Lake. He might not be fighting for GC here but winning the opening mountain stage certainly justifies his stagiaire role with Astana this year.

Miguel Angel Lopez took over the GC lead by 6 seconds ahead of breakaway Sam Oomen with Robert Power and Pierre-Roger Latour sitting in 3rd and 4th overall, both at 27 seconds. Vervaeke's penalty pushes him down to 54 seconds behind Lopez, which pushed him down to 10th overall.

GC classification through stage 4:
  1. Miguel Angel Lopez
  2. Sam Oomen +6"
  3. Robert Power +27"
  4. Pierre-Roger Latour s.t.
  5. Alexander Foliforov +31"
  6. Alexey Rybalkin +41"
  7. Giulio Ciccone +47"
  8. Emanuel Buchmann +48"
  9. Joaquim Silva +51"
  10. Louis Vervaeke +56"
In case you needed me to spell it out for you, the race is not over. Miguel Angel Lopez might have climb very well today but just one bad day, a mechanical or crash could knock him off. Everyone is hungry and tomorrow will be another dog fight with a summit finish at Les Carroz d'Araches.

Weekday Update: What the hell else is going on?

Since my time to write is limited, I have to pick and chose what to cover. Obviously with the Tour de l'Avenir going on, that is taking up the bulk of my attention. With a little spare time on my hands though, let's take a look back at a couple of the stories that have happened in the last week or so.

Hugh Carthy signs with Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
In one of the more surprising transfer announcements, young British climber Hugh Carthy (Rapha-Condor JLT) has signed a two year deal with Pro Continental Caja Rural-Seguros RGA starting in 2015. In a deal apparently signed at the Circuito del Gexto, according to Biciciclismo, the tall drink of water (1.89 meters and just 63 kgs) from Preston, near Blackpool and the Irish Sea in the UK, has been a sensation this year at times. Carthy won the Tour de Korea and finished 2nd on two of the hardest climbing stages in the Tour of Japan to finish 6th overall. More recently, Carthy came over to race the USA Pro Confederation of Cyclists Colorado Challenge Monthly and while not being too adapt at high altitude, he was able to get in the final stage breakaway over Lookout Mountain and show himself off a bit.

On the outside, this move makes a bit of sense. Carthy is a pure climber and Caja Rural can offer him a calendar that will suit his needs better and could potential get him into the Vuelta a Espana if the cards lay out right. On the other hand, Caja Rural isn't exactly known for their development and Carthy is the only English-speaking rider to sign with Caja Rural since they re-incorporated in 2010. It will be interesting to see if he can handle the uptick in kilometers and a bigger, more frantic peloton. Another note in that article from above was that Caja Rural wanted young German sprinter Phil Bauhaus but he decided to remain at Stölting for 2015.

Perhaps an even more interesting story is the fact that Caja Rural could potentially lose their Pro Continental license. The full story is here with great reporting by ciclo21. Their bike sponsor, ViVelo, filed suit in a Bulgarian court alleging that Caja Rural never returned team bikes from 2012 and 2013, which apparently total to 1.33 million Euro, according to ViVelo. They also allege that their sponsor stickers were smaller on the team car than contracted and want 400 thousand Euro in damages for that. They are also pissed off about Luis Leon Sanchez using a BMC TM01 TT bike and putting some ViVelo stickers on it. Obviously, it would be hard for Caja Rural to repay 1.73 million euro back without killing the team and if this case persists, it could affect their money stream and their Pro Continental license.


-EFC-OPQS will have half of its name lopped off after Patrick Lefevere announced he will be pulling out support at the end of 2015. He cited that he was tired of investing money in a youth team when he wasn't keeping many of the home grown talent, who would go to Lotto-Belisol U23 or other teams. Well, Lefevere actually said that Kurt Van der Wouwer, Lotto U23 DS, poaches his talent. Lefevere has invested considerable personal monies into the team but now the EFC U23 structure as well as the Avia Crabbe junior team will need to find different sponsors for 2015 or face the ax. Lefevere was "forced" to create the Etixx team in 2013 after pressure from the UCI to have an official feeder team. It did seem redundant to have the two teams going concurrently but it is a bit sad to see such a storied program face an uncertain future.

-Jef Van Meirhaeghe escaped his breakaway companions including his Lotto-Belisol U23 teammate Frederick Frison in the final kilometers of the Belgian U23 Road Race Championship and was destined to take the biggest win of his career. He crested the final hill and even after some chain issues that saw him having to fix the chain manually on the move, he was able to hold off Bert Van Lerberghe by a bike length to take the championship. Van Lerberghe was disappointed in 2nd place as he always seems to be able to hit the top 5 but never take a big win.

-Jeremy Leveau took somewhat of a fluke win at the French U23 RR Championships last weekend after out-sprinting his 6 other breakaway companions that finished 18 seconds ahead of a speeding peloton led in by Marc Sarreau and Thomas Boudat. Hailing from Normandie, Leveau's dad and brother were both professionals for a little bit and while the VC Rouen rider has won a couple of races this year, he has never won anything of this caliber.

-Mathieu van der Poel has eschewed a U23-based calendar for one that suits his BKCP-Powerplus team. Not that it matters to much as van der Poel won the overall of the Baltic Chain Tour after hitting the podium on 4 out of 5 stages including a solo win on the 4th stage. Fellow U23 Phil Bauhaus won the final stage sprint ahead of Orica-GreenEdge sprinter Aidis Kruopis, who probably won't be World Tour for too much longer.

-Lampre stagiaire Ilya Koshevoy won his 5th race of the season at the GP Chianti Colline d'Elsa. Colline means hills and Koshevoy used his climbing skills that got him that Lampre deal to just away with 5 kilometers left in the race and won with 22 seconds on Mirco Maestri and 29 seconds on Paolo Toto.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 3: Australia hit the deck; McLay sprints to win

On the only day where a sprint finish looked definite, the Australian National Team did not have the greatest of days. Riding for Caleb Ewan, they were looking to add onto Ewan's stage 2 victory with another brilliant sprint win into Paray-le-Monial. Yet as the breakaway was swept up with just under 5 kilometers to go, a crash swept through the peloton. Bodies and bikes hit the deck with the majority of the casualties being Australians. In fact, 5 out of the 6-man Australian team hit the deck and finished behind the peloton including GC favorite Jack Haig. The only Australian who escaped the carnage was youngster Robert Power. Others in the crash included points leader Davide Martinelli, Mads Wurtz Schmidt (Denmark) and Logan Owen (USA), among others.

The show went on without them.

Above: The Australians during the calm before the storm.

The day started with a two-man breakaway featuring double European champion Stefan Kung (Switzerland) and Piotr Brozyna (Poland). The duo were able to get a healthy gap but the peloton were not interested in letting them get too far ahead as this was the only true flat stage in the race. Brozyna took the only KOM on the course ahead of Kung while Kung took the sprint point. The gap never got over 2'30" while the peloton rolled along for the majority of the day.

The gap began to fall dramatically once the race hit 30 kilometers to go and it was just 45 seconds at 15km to go. Heading into the final 10 kilometers, the race was hitting full tilt with the sprinters salivating and others just holding on for dear life (looking at you Oskar Svendsen). When the Kung and Brozyna were picked up with 5 kilometers to go, a grenade was set to detonate. The big crash happened just after they were picked up.

The show went on without them.

Heading into the final sprint, lead-out man turned sprinter Magnus Cort went to lead out the sprint and the only rider that was able to truly challenge him was Brit McLay. Heading through the light bend, McLay drew even with Cort and was able to go past him, his true speed showing. McLay took the win ahead of Cort and Pan-Am RR Champion Fernando Gaviria, who had been in the top 10 in the past 3 stages.

Jack Haig, one of Australia's GC hopes, lost 33 seconds because of the crash. Another GC hope, Norway's Odd Eiking, crashed within 3 kilometers so he did not lose any time but it is still unsure if he will be 100% for tomorrow.

GC stays the same with Asbjorn Kragh leading while Colombian Gaviria takes over the points jersey. Kristoffer Skjerping keeps his KOM leader while the Netherlands still leads the team's classification.

Tomorrow is where the race begins. This was just an appetizer. The next 4 days are packed with mountains and tomorrow includes a summit finish at Plateau de Solaison. Anyone whose form isn't 100%, then you better get ready to have the caravan pass you.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 2: Ewan trumps Cort in future Orica showdown

With a steep ramp heading averaging 6 to 7% gradient in the last 200 meters, the finish on today's stage in the Tour de l'Avenir was bound to be selective. Who was going to be in the finale though? Magnus Cort was one obvious choice. He currently leads the UCI Europe Tour and has done very well for himself on slightly uphill finishes so he was the obvious pick.

Who was going to join Cort in the battle for the line?
Ken was pretty close as he had the right country but we are getting to far ahead now, let us go back to the start of the stage.

Leaving Brioude, the finishing town from stage 1, it took 12 kilometers before a successful breakaway got away including Fabian Leinhard (Switzerland) and Loic Chetout (France), who had been unsuccessful in his bid to join the breakaway on stage 1. The duo got away just as the race began to climb the category 3 Cote de la Chaise-Dieu. Chetout took the mountain points at the top while behind in the peloton, KOM leader Kristoffer Skjerping (Norway) took 3rd place points ahead of 2nd place KOM and overall GC leader Asbjorn Kragh.

The gap to the breakaway duo was never more than 4 minutes because the peloton was quite wary of having a repeat of stage 1's antics, where the breakaway was given a huge lead that the peloton never got back. On the Category 2 Cote de Medeyrolles, Chetout once again took full points ahead of Leinhard while Skjerping took 3rd place points to consolidate his lead. Riders began to pop off the back of the peloton including Sven Fritsch (Luxembourg), Martin Otonicar (Slovenia) and Dan McLay (Great Britain). On the final KOM, Chetout and Leinhard kept banging the drum slowly while Dylan Teuns (Belgium) attacked to try and spice things up a bit. Teuns went over the top solo and Skjerping grabbed the 4th place points. He ended the day with 34 in total while Chetout is now in 2nd in the classification, sitting at 22 points.

The gap at the top of the final climb was under 3 minutes but by the time the group went down the fast stair-step descent, the breakaway only had 1'30". The Australians were salivating like a piece of toast with vegemite was dangling out in front of them. The duo were able to stay out front until they hit the local loop in Saint-Galmier, where they were swallowed up with 8 kilometers to go. Some riders tried to breakaway on the rolling local lap including Evgeny Shalunov (Russia) but everything was brought back for the final uphill punch.

Taking the final left hander into the finish, Caleb Ewan (Australia) hit the jets and only Magnus Cort was able to follow but not able to challenge the new pocket rocket, Ewan. This anticipated battle might actually be the only one simply because these two will be teammate in 2015 with Orica-GreenEdge. They might be going 1-2 in the future but at least for the next few years, it will be an Orica sweep.

Alex Kirsch (Luxembourg) finished in 3rd place 2 seconds down in front of Austrian Michael Gogl, who surprised in 4th place ahead of prologue crashee Owain Doull (Great Britain). There was a separation in the front group and few potential GC riders such as Gianni Moscon, Derk Abel Beckeringh and Dylan Teuns gained 5 seconds on the likes of Robert Power, Silvio Herklotz, Louis Vervaeke and co.

Asbjorn Kragh still leads the overall classification 16 seconds on Kristoffer Skjerping, 1'34" on Sjoerd Van Ginneken and 2'09" back to Davide Martinelli, the highest placed rider that was not apart of the stage 1 breakaway. Martinelli did take over the points jersey after taking his 3rd straight top-6 placing. Skjerping has the KOM jersey on lock down while the Netherlands leads the teams classification.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tour de l'Avenir: Skjerping dominates breakaway; Kragh takes lead

After a stressful prologue yesterday, the peloton decided to take it easy. So easy in fact that they nearly let the breakaway get away with a huge gap that could have massively changed the GC. They finally woke up near the end but a win was outside of their grip.

The breakaway got away right after the gun went off and included Kristoffer Skjerping (Norway), Sjoerd Van Ginneken (Netherlands) and Asbjorn Kragh (Denmark). The trio got away on the brief respite for 5 categorized climbs in the first half of the stage. Loic Chetout missed the move and they was shouting "Guys...guys..guys wait up!" for the next 40 kilometers or so.

Skjerping led the breakaway up the category 3 Cote de Sales and Cote de Fridefont, while Chetout was still in no-mans land. Chetout was scooped up by the next KOM, the Cote de Faverolles, which Skjerping went over first yet again. This was where the gap began to balloon. The gap went from 3'45" to 5'45" and with no one willing to chase, the gap kept expanding. Over the Cote de Beauregard, the gap went over 7 minutes and following the final climb of the day, the Cote du Mont-Mouchet, the trio got an advantage of 7'45". Just think of that. The prologue yesterday was roughly 6 minutes of effort. So that is 1.29 prologues between the breakaway and the chasing group.

During the final climb, the peloton had a crash involving Frenchman Pierre Gouault. Gouault hit the deck hard and ended up abandoning the race with a broken collarbone (clavicle). Gouault was France's highest overall finisher last year with a 13th overall but he won't be able to help Pierre-Roger Latour's bid for the podium.

Once over the last climb, the race went down a long stair-step descent to Langeac. With 40 kilometers to go, the gap was still nearly 8 minutes. The Australians didn't seem to be too interested in chasing so other countries had to pick up the slack. France, Germany, Belgium were chipping into the chase while Denmark was up there to make sure they weren't chasing too hard. Oskar Svendsen had a bit more bad luck with a puncture but he was brought back by his teammate Fridtjof Roinas without too much pain. Dan McLay (Great Britain) also had a puncture but got back without drama.

Entering the finishing circuits in Brioude, the gap was not falling nearly fast enough while the trio out front was able to enjoy a fairly peaceful ride to the line. With 6 kilometers to go, the gap was still 3'55" with the peloton at this point just trying to limit the blowout. Asbjorn Kragh was the virtual leader on the road and was willing to let a stage win go for the yellow jersey. Skjerping already wrapped up the KOM jersey for the day but the stage was between he and Van Ginneken and Skjerping is a very strong sprinter.

Skjerping, even with hitting it on all of the KOM sprints, was able to take the win ahead of Van Ginneken and Kragh. It was a fairly healthy gap of 2'21" back to the peloton when Dan McLay crossed the line in 4th place ahead of Fernando Gaviria (Colombia) and Davide Martinelli (Italy). Good result by McLay and re-affirming my internal belief that Martinelli could become a sprinter.

A crash ripped through the peloton in the finale and many riders trickled in after the peloton rolled through (on the same time of course) including Tiesj Benoot, Robert Power, Luka Pibernik, Iuri Filosi, Marc Soler and about half of the Danish team.

Tune in for tomorrow's stage from Brioude to Saint-Galmier, which includes 3 climbs as well as an interesting finish that has an uncategorized climb just a few kilometers from the finish as well as an uphill sprint. The teams are not going to be interested letting a breakaway go this time.

Full Results for the stage

Overall: Asbjorn Kragh

Points: Asbjorn Kragh

KOM: Kristoffer Skjerping

Tour de l'Avenir: Flakemore smokes damp prologue

Under cool and damp conditions, the 51st Tour de l'Avenir rolled off in Saint-Flour in non-ideal conditions but the riders plugged on for the short effort. Riders had to negotiate a 4.45 kilometer course in the center of Saint-Flour and the damp weather did not help with the technical nature of the track.

Christopher Jurado (Panama/UCI Mixed) set off at 18:00 local time and and put in a decent time of 6'17". Jurado's teammate Joao Gaspar was the only non-starter after the Brazilian was diagnosed with appendicitis and had to have emergency surgery in Saint-Flour. The threat of rain has caused a few riders including Domen Novak and Ricardo Ferreira to go on standard road bikes instead of TT rigs.

Just the 8th rider of 123 out of the gates, Davide Martinelli, put in a scorching ride that would be the benchmark for the rest of the day. Martinelli flew in with a time of 5'46", which was astronomically quicker than the next fastest, Alex Clements, who had a time of 6'09". While most were not breaking 6 minutes, Loïc Vliegen (Belgium) came flying in just after Martinelli with a time of 5'50", which put him 2nd provisionally and would have him ending up 5th. Lennard Hofstede, who was just 7th place in the Tour de l'Ain prologue, had a horrible time of it out on course (suspected mechanical) as he rolled in 50 seconds down on Martinelli, which would put him in 119th when the day ended.

Some GC men were doing themselves big favors by putting in storming prologues including Louis Vervaeke (5'55") and Robert Power (5'49"). Others who put in a good ride included Jack Haig, Derk Abel Beckeringh, Tiesj Benoot and Miguel Angel Lopez.

Timo Roosen put in one of the biggest challenges to Martinelli as the Dutchman was one of just 3 to put in a time under 5'50" as he stormed to a time of 5'49", which slotted him just 2 seconds behind the vice-European champion Martinelli.

In recent years, the Tour de l'Avenir prologue has been owned by Australians. In 2010, Michael Matthews was 3rd behind Taylor Phinney. The next year, Michael Hepburn won it. In 2012, Jay McCarthy took the win. Last year, Damien Howson was on a flier before clipping a pedal and going airborne. He took solace in his dominating performance at U23 TT Worlds.

Campbell Flakemore rode off the start ramp just as the rain began to fall in Saint-Flour but he was one of the last riders to escape the rain. The Australian has taken a while to get into form this year and has sacrificed his own chances many times this year but his prologue ride was magic. Flakemore came flying in with a time of 5'45", which put him a top of the pile with the last 20 riders still to come through. No one would be passing Flakemore though.

The rain began to fall harder and with the cool weather, just 54 F (12 C), riders were dropping like flies. Owain Doull was on a flier before skidding across the road at 50 kph, ending his chances. The rain was the bane of Oskar Svendsen, who ceded 49 seconds to Flakemore and is now on the backfoot for the mountains along with teammate Sindre Lunke. Stefan Kung put in a fairly reasonable time for being in the deluge but the big Swiss rider finished 29 seconds down, a disappointment for a rider looking to win. Pierre-Roger Latour was the last rider down the ramp and even going through the downpour, he didn't end up too bad, just 22 seconds down on Flakemore.

Big winners: Robert Power, Louis Vervaeke, Miguel Angel Lopez, Derk Abel Beckeringh, Jack Haig

Big losers: Oskar Svendsen, Sindre Lunke, Owain Doull, Stefan Kung, Bahktiyar Kozhatayev, Manuel Senni, Giulio Ciccone

Friday, August 22, 2014

Stagiaires Update: Stagiaires Strike Back

So being focused on Tour de l'Avenir, I haven't had a lot of time to write on the riders who have actually been getting the big break with stagiaire riders on professional teams. Let's check in on how they are doing...

Tour de l'Ain

Marc Sarreau has a great year going so far with 5 wins for Vendée U and the rider from Vierzon, smack dab in the middle of France, got a deal to join for the remainder of the season. Sarreau took advantage of this opportunity at l'Ain by going 2nd on stage 1 to Raymond Kreder and 5th on stage 2 behind four professionals including Gianni Meersman, Romain Feillu, Leonardo Duque and Julian Alaphilippe. If he keeps it up, he could be looking at a pro contract.

GP Stad Zottegem

Tiesj Benoot kept up the great season with a 4th place in the GP Stad Zottegem, where he won the chasing group sprint 15 seconds behind Edward Theuns. This was Benoot's 16th top 10 of the year in a UCI race and nearly his 20th overall this year. He should be in some smoking form for l'Avenir but even if he isn't on his top game, he always likes to show himself in the sprint.

Vuelta a Burgos

Steven Lammertink gave the best stagiaire result with a 2nd place on stage 2 behind Matteo Pelucchi, who got a superb lead out from Mimo Reynes. Lammertink, who is the current Dutch U23 TT Champ, used the lack of sprint talent here to his advantage to get a nice podium spot.

Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev was using Burgos for a bit of Tour de l'Avenir prep where he finished top 20 on a couple of stages. Nothing too outrageous but a strong ride by a rider who is looking to go top 5 once again in the Tour de l'Avenir.

Arctic Race of Norway

The Arctic Tour, which was a big stupid and simultaneously awesome, saw some of the best stagiaire results from the past week or so.

Kevin Ledanois (Bretagne Séche Environment) and Loïc Vliegen (BMC) went 8th and 9th on the opening stage to Nordkapp, which is essentially the the northern cap of Norway. Vliegen got another top 10 placing on stage 3 while Ledanois gained more time on the final stage into Tromsø when he finished 6th, which was just 4 seconds behind winner Alexander Kristoff.

Ledanois ended up 6th overall, 229 seconds behind winner Kruijswijk, while Vliegen was 8th. Ledanois has a bit of pedigree as his father, Yvon, was a pro for a decade and is now a director at BMC. Ledanois was 6th in the Tour de Normandie earlier this year and has been doing quite well in his short time as a stagiaire with BSE. Vliegen has been lights out as a stagiaire with BMC having been in the top 10 four out of seven times, including the Arctic Tour GC.


Currently, stagiaires are at the USA Pro Challenge of the Territory of Colorado, Tour du Limousin and more. More updates will happen soon.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tour de l'Avenir: The Teams and the Favorites

We are less than a week away from the Tour de l'Avenir and with a full start list in hand, it is time to look at the teams and determine some favorites for next week.

The full startlist is here on the Tour de l'Avenir website but it is rife with spelling mistakes and there have been a few roster changes.


Starters: Loic Chetout, Pierre Gouault, Quentin Jauregui, Pierre-Roger Latour, Guillaume Martin, Jeremy Maison

France comes into the Tour de l'Avenir with a little bit of a surprising roster. No Thomas Boudat. No Alexis Guerin, Lilian Calmejane or Romain Guyot. Don't get me wrong, they have a strong roster but they seem to valuing a run at GC more than getting stage wins.

Pierre-Roger Latour and Guillaume Martin will be the favorites for GC. Latour is obvious with his 5th place this year in Pays de Savoie and 9th in the pro Tour de l'Ain including 6th on the queen stage. Martin was 4th in the Tour Alsace and was climbing with the likes of Jack Haig (Australia) on the queen stage.
Pierre Gouault was the highest French finisher last year in 13th and should be of good use in the mountains.
Loic Chetout and Quentin Jauregui. Chetout was a stage winner in the Ronde de l'Isard and is very good on rolling courses, which will suit him in the early stages. Jauregui has been mainly riding professional races but he could be another that has his eyes on a breakaway.


Starters: Stefan Kung, Tom Bohli, Lukas Spengler, Thery Schir, Fabian Leinhard, Dylan Page.

The star here is Stefan Kung. Kung will be a big favorite for the prologue as well as another stage victory. He has shown he isn't afraid to lay it out on the line and he has the engine to stick something to the end. Past Kung, Lukas Spengler was one of the bright spots for Switzerland (as well as BMC Development) with multiple top 10 finishes in one-day races so he could be another favorite for a stage. Perhaps Thery Schir or Bohli could mix it up in a bunch kick.


Starters: Tiesj Benoot, Floris De Tier, Dylan Teuns, Loic Vliegen, Dieter Bouvry, Louis Vervaeke

Thanks to some nice UCI rules, Louis Vervaeke is still eligible to ride the Tour de l'Avenir even though he signed mid-year with Lotto-Belisol. Usually any U23 riding for a World Tour team isn't able to participate in U23-only races but thanks to his mid-year signing, he is still eligible. Vervaeke got off to a rocky start thanks to some illness at the Tour of Austria but bounced back for a solid Clasica San Sebastian.

Obviously, Vervaeke is one of the big favorites and he is surrounded by a very talented crew. Tiesj Benoot has been incredibly consistent this year so even if he is shepherding Vervaeke, he could grab himself a stage win or some high placings. Teuns is a very good climber having just won the best young rider's jersey at the Tour of Utah and if Vervaeke were to fail, he could be a back-up. Teuns might be able to escape in the high mountains for a stage win. Vliegen has been very good so far with BMC as a stagiaire with top 10s in the Ride London Classic and Arctic Tour overall. I might have left De Tier and Bouvry for last but both are capable riders with De Tier being a good climber and Bouvry there to do a little bit of everything.

Edit: Bouvry has been replaced by Jean-Albert Carnevali due to "intestinal distress". Carnevali only adds more climbing legs to the Belgian attack and makes the team better in the mountains.

I'm trying not to laud them too much but Belgium's team is their strongest in years and looks, at least on paper, as one of the strongest teams on the start line in Saint-Flour.


Starters: Asbjorn Kragh, Soren Kragh, Magnus Cort, Michael Carbel, Mads Pedersen, Patrick Olesen

The headliner here is obviously Magnus Cort, who is destined to Orica GreenEdge next year. Cort is leading the UCI Europe Tour and has won 11 races this year. Now, I don't expect Cort to do much in the mountains but he could take home at least one stage in the first half of the race.

Joining Cort are some good sprinters in Asbjørn Kragh and Michael Carbel. Kragh has been very consistent this year even when he has to deal with his shit show team, Christina Watches. Carbel is just a first year rider in the U23 ranks and I doubt he will finish through the mountains but he could get in a good sprint here.

Patrick Olesen is the best shot at an overall run for Denmark Olesen finished 7th in the Ronde de l'Isard and has been trying to focus on l'Avenir this year. l'Isard has been his only big result this year but his climbing legs are documented so we'll see what happens.


Starters: Odd Eiking, Oskar Svendsen, Sindre Lunke, Sven Erik Bystrøm, Fridtjof Røinas, Kristoffer Skjerping

Another one of my favorites for this year's race is Norway, who is coming in with one big favorite and an enigma. Odd Eiking came alive at the Giro Valle d'Aosta where he finished 2nd overall. He had bright flashes before but it seems the big mountains are his true playground. Eiking looks like the best shot at an overall bid but there is also he teammate Oskar Svendsen.

Svendsen is an enigma. He is horrible at riding in a pack and last year, he has a string DNFs and low finishes before emerging on the climbs at l'Avenir, where he used his high Vo2Max to propel him to a 5th overall. Same story this year as the only place he has done fairly well in the Giro Valle d'Aosta where he was top 5 in both the prologue and uphill TT and climbed pretty well. So either he will DNF, finish about 55th or go for a top result.

Probably a better overall candidate than Svendsen is Sindre Lunke who a) hasn't dropped out of a race all year and b) was incredible at Valle d'Aosta where he was 5th overall and at times climbing better than Odd Eiking. He was also top 20 at the recent Arctic Tour and 15th overall at Tour of Norway earlier this year. This is now three riders for Norway that can potentially climb with the best.

The team is covered in the sprints and rolling hills by Bystrøm and Kristoffer Skjerping.

This truly looks like one of, if not the most, complete team here. They have a little bit of everything and they are looking good for a podium placing later next week.


Starts: Sjoerd Van Ginneken, Sam Oomen, Dirk Abel Beckeringh, Timo Roosen, Martijn Tusveld, Lennard Hofstede

As you can see, there is quite a big omission to this list if you have been reading this site over the last two years. Mike Teunissen, the Dutch wunderkind who rides with aplomb on both the road as well as the dirt, was a non-selection for the l'Avenir squad after dropping out of the Tour de l'Ain. Teunissen has been one of the most reliable Dutch U23 riders this year but without him here, someone else will need to step it up. **Edit: Teunissen broke his collarbone in a crash at Dutch Nationals. He came back at Kreiz Breizh Elites but was still not 100%, which probably led to his non-selection with his DNF in l'Ain sealing it.

Now who will step up...Beckeringh? The Dutch climber, who was 25th in l'Avenir last year, but I don't think he is going to be the best. Tusveld is also strong but he is better on punchier hills and a bit flatter terrain. Roosen has had a breakout year but he likes shorter hills too. I've narrowed down the team by half so let us see when we have left.

Sam Oomen has had a great first year as a U23, where he was 8th overall at the Tour des Fjords and 14th in the Rhône Alpes Isere Tour. Oomen is young though and is similar to his teammate Hofstede, who is another young rider that has done well this year but again, he hasn't been exceptional.

The only non-Rabobank Development rider is Sjoerd Van Ginneken, who rides for Metec. Van Ginneken was 4th in the Czech Cycling Tour and 8th in the Tour of Slovakia but outside that, not a huge amount of results.

This Dutch team doesn't have a GC leader and that seems to bug me more than it should. The Dutch haven't had a true GC result here since Michel Kreder (5th in 2009) and haven't won since Bauke Mollema in 2007. They have had Kelderman, Slagter and Van Baarle race here but without a huge result. Come on Dutchies...take this race seriously.


Starters: Alexander Foliforov, Ildar Arslanov, Matvey Mamykin, Artem Nych, Kirill Sveshnikov, Evgeny Shalunov

We come to the enigma of Alexander Foliforov. Foliforov truly emerged last year with a 5th place overall last year in the Giro Valle d'Aosta. Before that, Foliforov had only one big stage race result with a 10th overall at the Toscana Terra di Ciclismo Nations Cup in 2010 (all nine of those ahead of him are now or will soon be professionals). Now, Foliforov seems to come in bright flashes before going dormant. He was 2nd in the Trofeo Piva Banca and then was just so so until the Ronde de l'Isard, where he proceeded to win the first and last stage but spectacularly blew up while in the yellow jersey and finished 6th overall. Riding high off of that, he proceeded to DNF three straight stage races and only seems to be returning to form now with a 23rd in the GP Capodarco. Who the hell knows what type of shape he will show up in but if he finishes this l'Avenir, it will be the first time in three tries.

Arslanov rides uphill pretty well and has a good time trial but I doubt he will pose much GC threat. Hmmmm...who else is there. Well Sveshnikov, who got off on some doping charges, has a good turn of speed and can get over some hills. Shalunov has breakaway potential and a turn of speed that could see him snipe a good result but again, another rider who is sporadic.


Starters: Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, Maxat Ayazbayev, Tilegen Maidos, Roman Semyonov, Viktor Okishev, Oleg Zemlyakov

The Kazakhs, using the mighty power of Vino and Kashechkin, come in with a two-headed GC beast of Kozhatayev and Maidos. Kozhatayev was riding stronger last year, at least in terms of results, as he was 6th in the Tour Alsace and then ended up 4th overall in l'Avenir, making him the highest placed rider from last year's GC to return to the race this year. This year hasn't been spectacular for him but he started to come around in Valle d'Aosta, where he got a 3rd place on the final road stage and 9th overall. He just finished the Vuelta a Burgos as a stagiaire for Astana Continental in fairly good shape so perhaps he is coming around.

Maidos might not be a GC threat per say but after going 12th overall last year, he has been building since then and looks good for another high run on GC. He was 11th in Valle d'Aosta and has been right there in the Italian one-day races of late including 6th in the GP Poggiana.

There are certainly strong riders on the team but no big result getter. I know that might not make sense but many of these riders are strong like oxen but perhaps they don't have the tactical nous to get a breakout result. Like Maxat Ayazbayev for example...he has one or two big results in a year then goes dormant. He was 2nd in the Vuelta a Mexico earlier this year but has been crickets since then. We shall see if they decide to show up.


Starters: Felix Großschartner, Patrick Gogl, Dennis Paulus, Lukas Pöstlberger, Patrick Bosman and Sebastian Schonberger.

Well Pöstlberger is a former stage winner here but he has been all crickets this year besides one stage at Tour Alsace. Großschartner is probably their best bet for a stage win because he has been consistent this year and was there on the big climbs at the Giro Valle d'Aosta. Also strong at Valle d'Aosta was Bosman but I'm thinking he will be in that upper-pack fill area on the results sheet.

Without Patrick Konrad, this team isn't what they used to be but there are bright spots. Let's see if they can make a breakaway and steal a win.

Great Britain

Starters: Owain Doull, Scott Davies, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Dan McLay, Daniel Pearson, Jake Kelly

The British are in the shadow of a fantastic performance last year by the Yates bros., Simon and Adam, but fear not, they are going once more into the breach. Leading the GC charge should be Tao Geoghegan Hart and Daniel Pearson. Pearson rode a fantastic Giro Valle d'Aosta, where he finished 8th overall with the Zappi's team, led by former professional and anti-doping crusader Flavio Zappi. Geoghegan Hart is currently on the Bissell team and was apart of the Tour of California and Tour of Utah squads, where is was more about survival than winning. He is a great climber and he could definitely feature on some of the mountain stages.

Owain Doull was the man this spring when he dominated Triptyque Monts et Chateaux and was 4th in the U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen. He has been a bit quiet this summer but expect to see him up there on the early stages along with teammate Dan McLay. McLay is coming off an overall in at the Ronde van Oost-Vlaanderen with his Lotto-Belisol U23 team. McLay or Doull will be looking to grab a stage in a sprint.


Starters: Iuri Filosi, Davide Martinelli, Gianni Moscon, Manuel Senni, Alessandro Tonelli, Federico Zurlo, Giulio Ciccone

The Italians are bringing their strongest team since a few years with Mattia Cattaneo. Headlining on the climbs will be Manuel Senni, Iuri Filosi and Gianni Moscon. Senni was going head to head with the best at the Giro Valle d'Aosta where he had some impressive displays, winning the first two stages in a row before fading to 3rd overall. Senni has been quiet as of late but he is their best shot for a big overall contender. Filosi had a big spring with multiple wins and high placings but he hasn't been anything good as of late and DNFed in Capodarco. Moscon has been in very good form during the one-day races in Italy lately but he hasn't raced a high-profile international stage race a sa U23 so it will be a test for him.

SKY stagiaire Davide Martinelli will certainly be targeting the prologue as well as the sprint stages early on in the race. Martinelli could possibly be good for a breakaway in the mountains. Tonelli is certainly strong in one-day races but like Moscon, untested in big stage races.

Thanks to @AlessioZanni on twitter for informing me that Tonelli has been replaced by Giulio Ciccone, the Colpack climber that has been on point this year with 6th overall in Valle d'Aosta and was top 10 in both Poggiana (9th) and Capodarco (5th). Ciccone is young, not even 20 years old yet, but he is a gifted climber. He will certainly add to the climbing arsenal along with Senni, Filosi and Moscon.

Federico Zurlo is one of the most gifted young Italians but a brash temper and multiple crashes have limited him from his potential. Zurlo showed signs of life as a stagiaire with United Healthcare at the Tour of Denmark where he got into multiple breakaways to finish 2nd in the King of the Molehill classification.

They have the potential but Moscon has gotten the beatdown from Robert Power the last few weeks. Will Senni and Filosi be able to step up and be consistent? We shall see.


Starters: Mikel Iturria, Mikel Aristi, Oscar Gonzalez, Jaime Roson, Marc Soler, Alvaro Trueba

This Spanish are going green. Green in the sense that no one on the roster has ridden the Tour de l'Avenir before but fear not, there might be a little hope. Jaime Roson was climbing well earlier this year but after finishing 13th in the Ronde de l'Isard in May, he hasn't raced a UCI race. Mikel Iturria is strong in the mountains but he has been inconsistent. With the demise of his trade team Euskadi, he will be extra motivated for a big results. (I'm also hoping to see him have a breakout ride like he did at the Giro Valle d'Aosta last year.

Marc Soler has been tearing it up on the Spanish amateur scene this year, so much so in fact that Movistar offered him a two-year contract for next season. Soler has won 6 races and has been climbing very well. He is untested in international races but he will feel at home on the climbs. It will be interesting to see if he can adapt.

This isn't exactly the strongest Spanish squad we have at the Tour de l'Avenir but we'll see what happens.


Starters: TJ Eisenhart, Jeff Perrin, Logan Owen, Yannick Eckmann, Tyler Williams, Alexey Vermeulen

A young American team could pull off a nice result if everything goes to plan for the team. The two defaults for a GC run are Utah native TJ Eisenhart and Michigan product Alexey Vermeulen. Eisenhart was 23rd overall in l'Avenir last year and while he hasn't produced a big GC this year, he has the potential. Vermeulen, who also rides with Eisenhart on BMC Development, has started to become more consistent this year with a top 20 placing overall in the Tour Alsace (20th), Giro Valle d'Aosta (17th), U23 Peace Race (6th) and Triptyque Monts et Chateaux (14th).

The joker in the cast is Jeff Perrin. Perrin was top 10 in a stage last year and this year, he was 8th overall in the Ronde de l'Isard, which features some proper mountains. I could see Perrin in a support role if need be but he is no slouch on the climbs. Perhaps a breakaway? Only the race will tell.

Williams just won the KOM classification in the Tour de Namur but he will be a good asset on the flatter to rolling stages. Eckmann is a late replacement for Geoffrey Curran and like Williams, he will be a good motor. Logan Owen is capping off a long first season as a U23 and while he is at his best on the flat to rolling terrain, he could be off use in the mountains for a while.


Starters: Alex Kirsch, Massimo Morabito, Kevin Feiereisen, Sven Fritsch, Michel Hubsch, Luc Turchi

Alex Kirsch is the only real chance at a result here. He just slogged through the Tour of Utah and he might have the form to mix it up in a selective sprint. Past him...maybe Feiereisen? He has been sniffing around the top 10 all year  in the sprints and he might get a top 10. The others better hold on as long as they can.


Starters: Miguel Angel Lopez, Brayan Ramirez, Carlos Ramirez, Fernando Gaviria, Daniel Rozo, Rodrigo Contreras

Following the fall-out between the Colombian Federation and 4-72 Colombia, led by Luis Saldariagga, the Feds took control of the team back from Saldariagga, which led to no 4-72 riders being chosed for l'Avenir. This includes Giro della Valle d'Aosta rider Bernardo Suaza, Juan Felipe Osorio, Diego Ochoa and so on. While it would have been great to see some of these riders on the team, not all Colombian hopes are lost.

In their place, Miguel Angel Lopez and Brayan Ramirez lead the charge for an overall chance. They were 1-2 in the Vuelta a Colombia U23 earlier this year with Lopez being the darling climber while Ramirez is a bit better overall. The team also includes two Pan-Am champions including Fernando Gaviria (U23 RR) and Rodrigo Contreras (U23 TT) along with the U23 Colombian TT champion Carlos Ramirez.

The talent might be there but these are untested riders and also riders that are not apart of the new push in Colombia to get better doping testing. This isn't a slam on the riders individually or saying that they are dirty but there are certain teams, like 4-72, that have been pushing for a bio-passport and more testing in Colombia. There has been push back against this, especially with some in the country's federation that are not entirely behind the anti-doping cause. Brayan Ramirez was also quoted in an interview saying that Santiago Botero is "my idol". That is the same guy that blood doped with Kelme, T-Mobile and Phonak.


Starters: Emanuel Buchmann, Silvio Herklotz, Yuriv Vasyliv, Matthias Plarre, Mario Vogt, Max Schachmann

Silvio Herklotz would like to forget about last year's Tour de l'Avenir. The German wunderkind, who was riding like a banshee for most of 2013, caught a bad cough and was out of the race after just 2 stages. He is looking for a bit of redemption this year. Herklotz hasn't been quite as electric in his last couple of stage races, the Valle d'Aosta and Tour Alsace, but he has been consistent in getting up with the lead groups even while not off the front.

Emanuel Buchmann should be right up there with Herklotz in the mountains. Buchmann was in the top 10 at the GP Capodarco, where he came in right behind the breakaway group that included winner Robert Power. Buchmann looked strong in Alsace and he is at home in the mountains.

To support these two, there is Yuriv Yasyliv, who is a strong mountain climber, Mario Vogt, who is pretty good at it all, and then two diesels in Plarre and Schachmann, the latter of which is a fairly good climber.

A notable exception here is Ruben Zepuntke, who is currently racing the American Pro Tour of Colorado Challenge Extravaganza.


Starters: Caleb Ewan, Robert Power, Jack Haig, Nick Schultz, Alex Clements, Sam Spokes

Maybe a little weird to put the race favorites halfway through the preview but you know, I need to have you people reading everything and not reading the first paragraph and x-ing out. Not that I make any money from doing this right now. In any case, Australia is coming in with a few powerhouses that will make people legs ache.

Robert Power has been on some of the best form of his short career having now won 3 out of 3 races in Italy against some stiff competition. When I say win, it was more like he stood up on the pedals and rocketed away from everyone. Now Power has not raced on climbs like the ones at l'Avenir so if for any reason he were to have a bad day on one of the many 15+ kilometer climbs then Australia still has a back-up plan. Jack Haig is in his first year on the road in Europe with the Australian National Team after many successful years as on the MTB circuit. This year, he has been a revelation having won the best young rider in the Tour Down Under, 3rd in the Herald Sun Tour, 2nd in the Tour Alsace by 6 seconds on Karel Hnik and been the right hand man for Power in the Italian one-days, providing some numbers in the chasing groups and shredding lead groups.

It might feel weird to think of Caleb Ewan as an afterthought but when you have Power and Haig covering the overall, Ewan will be fighting for the few sprint stages on offer. Ewan hasn't had the greatest of seasons since winning the Australian U23 RR title back in January. Ewan has a good amount of top 5 placings this year but has been denied multiple times by other sprints like Wim Stroetinga, Jakub Mareczko and Daniele Cavasin. Ewan did put in a good performance and the RideLondon Classic a couple of weekends ago by getting into the race's main breakaway. He did have a bad crash at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 that derailed part of his spring but hopefully we can see him at his best.

Joining these three are a good cast of supporters including U23 Peace Race winner Sam Spokes, Etixx stagiaire Nick Schultz and National Team rider Alex Clements, who was 12th overall in the Sun Tour this year and did well in the spring one-day races.


Starters: Joaquim Silva, Carlos Ribeiro, Nuno Matos, Rafael Ferreira, Rafael Reis, Ruben Guerreiro

Portugal hasn't been here since 2010 and is primed to make a good showing. Ruben Guerreiro nearly didn't make the team even though he is one of their best bets for a good GC ride. After winning the Volta a Portugal do Futuro, Guerreiro didn't want to ride the Volta a Portugal because of fatigue. The national coach did not like this and up until yesterday, Guerreiro was out of the team. Common sense has prevailed and he is in the squad. Joaquim Silva is another strong rider who finished the Volta in 25th overall, 4th overall in the youth classification.

Not a half bad team but they will need a little luck to get a good result.


Starters: Luka Pibernik, Domen Novak, Gasper Katrasnik, Martin Otonicar, Matej Razingar, Rok Korosec

Pibernik is the only one to watch her unless Otonicar can sprint better than he ever has. Pibernik will be targeting stages but most likely, he will be around the top 10 a few times.


Starters: Bartosz Warchoł, Eryk Latoń, Arkadiusz Owsian, Przemysław Kasperkiewicz, Patryk Stosz, Jakub Kaczmarek

Just like Portugal, Poland is making their first appearance in l'Avenir since 2010. Kasperkiewicz is probably the best threat for a Polish result. He won a stage at the U23 Peace Race this year and even got through the professional Tour of Poland with the National Team. Behind him, Bartosz Warchol is pretty good rider. Warchol won a stage of the Carpathian Couriers Tour and finished 3rd overall in the U23 Peace Race. Stosz seems to target KOM classifications, having taken 3 in two years, and while these climbs are much bigger than any he has faced, it could be a good shot for him to get some breakaway time.

UCI Mixed Team

Starters: Raul Costa Seibeb (Namibia), Till Drobisch (Namibia), Caio Godoy (Brazil), Christopher Jurado (Panama), Anass Ait El Abdia (Morocco), Joao Gaspar (Brazil)

Always nice to see the UCI put in a mixed team to give riders from smaller countries a chance. Seibeb and Drobisch are the biggest names and if one of them scores points for a stage or the overall for the Nations Cup, they would qualify Namibia for the U23 Worlds RR.

Godoy is a highly rated Brazilian with the nickname, "The Cannibal". Just a first year U23 and he hasn't had any DNFs, which includes races like Valle d'Aosta and Kreiz Breizh Elites. Anass Ait El Abdia won a stage in the Tour du Maroc this year, where he also finished 9th overall, as well as high finishes during the Grand Tour of Algeria including best young rider in the Tour International de Constantine.


My three favorites? Australia, Norway and Belgium, in no specific order.