Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 7: Mamykin takes finale; Soler overall

After two hard days in the mountains, the Tour de l'Avenir finished off with a short but sweet stage that included for 4 climbs including a summit finish on the Les Sybelles climb. The race itself was more about who could hang on as riders were dropping like flies throughout the day and many GC hopefuls that were looking to keep a high overall position fell by the wayside.

The race had literally a couple of kilometers of flat before they starting going up the Col du Mollard, which is roughly 18 kilometers in length but only 5.7% gradient. Right out of the gate, stage 6 winner Elie Gesbert launched an attack but it was short-lived. He would pay for it later as he was dropped and forced to retire. Approaching the top of the Mollard, the leading group was down to just 13 riders including overall leader Marc Soler as well as others such as De Plus, Haig, Sebastian Henao, among others. 1 kilometer from the top, Henao attacked and the remnants of the group exploded as they started the the descent to Belleville for the Croix de Fer climb.

Henao was trying to make up for a disappointing Tour de France by going for a long range attack with three climbs left. Originally, he got away with teammate Aldemar Reyes and the gap got up to 2'10" On the Croix de Fer, Henao went away on his own and the yellow jersey group behind him was splitting up. 2nd overall Laurens De Plus was dropped along with Gregor Mühlberger, Sam Oomen, Sindre Lunke and Guillaume Martin. Henao had nearly 3 minutes over the top of the Croix de Fer and began to plummet down into the Maurienne valley.

On the Lacets de Montvernier, Sam Oomen attacked out of the yellow jersey group and behind him, Mühlberger, Matvey Mamykin and Daniel Martinez emerged as chasers. On the short, steep Montvernier climb, Soler made the jump to the chasing group while 3rd overall Jack Haig was in the chasing group behind. Once on the descent of the Montvernier climb, Haig descended like a stone and was able to get up to the yellow jersey group while 2nd place overall De Plus saw his legs implode for good. Simone Petilli put it best in his post stage interview with DirectVelo when he said, "The tactics of the Italians today? What tactics? You just had to save your skin!"

On the final climb to Les Sybelles, Henao was at the end of his rope. Just a couple of kilometers into the climb, he was caught and the lead group suddenly became just four as Oomen was dropped. Soon after, Mühlberger was the next victim and it was a trio up front with Soler, Haig and Mamykin, who had won the queen stage from the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. Soler was content with keeping the group together as his overall lead was more or less in tact as Haig was his closest challenger over 1 minute back overall.

Soler Power
Photo: Vianney Thibaut/Agence Zoom
In the final kilometers, Mamykin and Haig accelerated away from the Spaniard Soler but the Movistar rider was content as his overall lead wouldn't be touched. It was the Russian who took his 2nd big win of the season while Haig capped a successful week with 2nd while Soler was celebrating over the line to take his biggest win to date.

The rest of the field came over in dribs and drabs as Oomen and Mühlberger limited their losses to just 55 seconds while the Italian duo of Giulio Ciccone and Simone Petilli came across next at nearly two minutes down.

The final podium including UCI Prez Brian Cookson
Photo: Vianney Thibaut/Agence Zoom
The full results for the stage can be found here. The biggest loser on the day was De Plus, who dropped from 2nd to 8th overall after losing 5 minutes to Soler. Sindre Lunke also had an off day after having big gains on Friday. Mamykin and Oomen both moved up with the Russian having a fantastic day to step up to the final podium step behind Soler and Haig.

Guillaume Martin, the winner of stage 5, was awarded the super combative prize for the race. Mamykin pulled a coup in the KOM classification thanks to his exploits on the final stage and pulled out the classification by 2 points on Martin. Jonas Koch survived the stage by finishing nearly 25 minutes down on the leaders but his survival meant that he was awarded the points jersey for the race. Russia dominated the teams classification by beating Italy by over 16 minutes and won for their 2nd consecutive year.

The Tour de l'Avenir is done for another year. It was a brutal edition with only 77 out of 126 starters finishing the race but the cream certainly rose to the top. The formula of backloading the mountains perhaps scared off some of the best U23 talent but the mountain stages in this edition were certainly spectacular. Look out for a wrap-up post on Espoirs Central.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 6: Another Repeat; Soler into yellow

After a rather nasty crash in the Tour de l'Ain that saw Elie Gesbert get thrown into a barb-wire fence and having to drop out of the race, the young Breton from the Côtes-d'Armor was worried his Tour de l'Avenir would be out the window. However the injuries were not as bad as there were thought and Gesbert was on the bike the next day. Gesbert was a gifted junior who has taken the slow approach to development by staying with a Division 3 team, Pays de Dinan, in France and then riding select races with the national team.

Gesbert sipping on a coffee 
While his GC hopes were gone, Gesbert attacked on the Col du Madeleine and went on a solo adventure just like his teammate Jeremy Maison did yesterday on the Col du Pre. First year U23 Daniel Martinez (Colombia) attacked the peloton and went on chasing, which he would be for the entirety of the climb. Gesbert was on a flier and was holding off Martinez, who is consistently the better climber, while the peloton was shredding behind. Sam Oomen, who seemed to be suffering from back pain, was dropped fairly hard while Jack Haig was also distanced on the biggest climb of the Tour de l'Avenir.

Gesbert went solo over the top and on the descent off the Madeleine, he extended his lead over Martinez to over a minute. Haig and a few others were able to join the chasing peloton but as soon as this happened, Alex Peters (GB) attacked. He was chasing in search of Martinez and Gesbert however the long false flat of the Maurienne valley was wearing on the solo chasers. With 30 kilometers to go, both Martinez and Peters were caught and the gap to Gesbert was falling. The Frenchman found some luck with...a horse. A horse escaped its enclosure and was running alongside the front peloton, which slowed them down until they were able to drop the horse. The gap went from around 2'30" to 4 minutes and grew to a maximum of nearly 5 minutes before the final Beau Plan climb.

On the climb, attacks were launching from the group including Anders Skaarseth, Benjamin Declercq and eventually Sebastian Henao and Marc Soler. This saw overnight leader Gregor Mühlberger get dropped like a stone and he was soon followed by Aleksey Rybalkin and stage 5 winner Guillaume Martin. After a reshuffle, it was Soler who was the lead chaser to Gesbert and towards the top of the Beau Plan, he was taking chunks of time out of the Frenchman while behind Soler, Laurens De Plus had attacked the group and was chasing solo.

What had been a four minute gap near the beginning of the climb was down to 55 seconds at the summit as Gesbert began the twisty descent alone. Not much after the descent began, De Plus caught Soler while Gesbert was streaking to the win. Gesbert crossed the finish line alone after a beautiful attack that saw him ride solo for over 80 kilometers. Soler and De Plus came in very close together at 40 and 42 seconds behind Gesbert. Haig and Sindre Lunke got clear near the top of the Madeleine and bombed the descent to finish just 1'07" behind Gesbert.

Simone Petilli and Giulio Ciccone came in together with Skaarseth and Matvey Mamykin but their GC hopes seem to be over, at least in terms of the win. Sebastian Henao can be thrown in there as well as he was nearly 2'30" down on Gesbert but Sam Oomen recovered spectacularly from his earlier falter on the Madeleine to finish right behind Henao.

After his impressive ride yesterday on the La Rosiere climb, Marc Soler took over the yellow jersey and will be wearing it into the final stage tomorrow with a good cushion on 2nd place Laurens De Plus, who is 1'01" back on the Spaniard. Haig rises to 3rd overall and Lunke up to 4th while Petilli and Ciccone are sitting 5th and 6th.

Soler is a World Tour rider and if he does end up winning the race, it will be considered a hollow win by some. He had nearly 50 racing days this year before l'Avenir with Movistar in UCI races are .1 or over. To mitigate a long rant, if you have the talent to get signed with a World Tour team, you shouldn't be racing l'Avenir. Because of this, Laurens De Plus is looking bound to get his third 2nd place overall in the three major U23 stage races this season as he was 2nd in the Ronde de l'Isard and Valle d'Aosta.

While Guillaume Martin lost his 2nd place overall heading into the stage, he kept the KOM jersey while Jonas Koch is still in the green jersey.

While it was apparent yesterday, Lennard Kämna isn't here for the GC after losing nearly 20 minutes today. Others that lost any shot at GC include Mühlberger, Martinez, Odd Eiking, Ildar Arslanov, Aleksey Rybalkin and Edward Ravasi. Eiking is increasingly looking like a rider that can be inconsistent in the high mountains, which is something FDJ will need to work or get him concentrated elsewhere.

Full Results can be found here

Many teams are trying to make it through the end of the race. Estonia is down to just one rider in Josten Vaidem while Australia, the USA, the UCI Mixed Team and Great Britain are all down to just two riders. Tomorrow's short but sweet finish might be the death knell for some riders.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 5: Martin Masters Mountains

Alliteration, my friend, you never get old. The mountains have made their presence felt in the Tour de l'Avenir already and there are still two days to go. This was basically a re-run of stage 6 from last year's race except the mountains were in a little bit different order but the finish on the La Rosiere climb was the same.

The Russians were hitting the trainers before the stage. Always an indicator of a short, brutal stage
Photo Directvelo
The race started off quick and it hit many of the non-climbers hard. German Chaves was feeling frisky and attacked his breakaway mates on the opening Col du Saisies and was able to make it last until the top of the climb. Following a the descent off the climb, there was a re-shuffle and Frenchman Jeremy Maison went on one of his patented long range attacks and went solo on the Col du Pre. The climb, which was nearly 13 kilometers in length and nearly 8% average, was Maison's playground and the Frenchman gap grew. It went from 30 seconds to a minute to a maximum of around 1'45". Teammate Guillaume Martin and Gianni Moscon broke away and began chasing Maison.

Maison made it over the top of the Col du Pre alone but shortly after he began the descent, he proceeded to fall off his bike and break his collarbone. So much for a long range win. With Team France's main climbing threat now in the team car, Guillaume Martin took up the impetus. Now at the head of affairs, the Frenchman attacked on the short side of the Cormet de Roselend and proceeded to go over the top of the climb solo.

Once at the bottom of the descent, the main chasing group decided to shoot itself in the foot. Martin was plugging along while the group of favorites was simply done chasing apparently and the gap ballooned from 45 seconds to 2 minutes. The first action came from German Chaves, Simone Petilli (Italy) and Gregor Muhlberger (Austria) and once on the final climb, it was soon Muhlberger and Petilli chasing alone in search of Martin. The La Rosiere climb is fairly consistent at 6% with the final kilometers even more so. The kilometers were ticking down and the duo were getting closer. With the red kite, Martin only had a 30 second advantage and Muhlberger laid down an impressive attack to drop Petilli.

Muhlberger was streaking and Martin seemed to be going in slow motion comparitively. Muhlberger was looking like he would catch Martin just before the line but the Austrian was directed off course with less than 500 meters to go, which gave Martin some breathing room. Muhlberger recovered and while the Frenchman took the impressive win, Muhlberger finished 6 seconds down and was able to take the yellow jersey. Marc Soler (Spain) attacked out of the peloton and ended up passing Petilli just before the line for 3rd, 39 seconds down.

The main group consisted of 11 riders and was led home by Colombian Daniel Martinez and Giulio Ciccone, who came across 1'23" back while Sebastian Henao, the pre-race favorite for many, was tailed off and finished 14 seconds behind the group.

More to follow later but here are the full results for now.

Tour de l'Avenir: State of the Race & Mountains Preview

The mountains are upon the Tour de l'Avenir and let's do a quick recap so that everyone is aware of the state of the race before all hell breaks loose.

Denmark has won 4 out of 5 stages, so far

...but I wouldn't expect to see them much anymore. They have one climber in Patrick Olesen but even he wasn't in the front group after being split off on the descent on the finish to Cluses. So if you are thinking the Danes will take over the French Alps, then think again.

Most GC riders are within earshot

Riders that will be contesting GC are within distance so the race is still wide open. If starting with Spaniard Julen Amezqueta as the first GC favorite (currently 4th overall at +1'22"), then it is just 42 seconds back to Aleksey Rybalkin (Russia), who was 3rd here last year. Many are looking to be in form so keep your head's up because the attacks will be flowing.

Colombia looks to be strong

...but they aren't a leviathan. They only had two riders in the front group today in Sebastian Henao and Daniel Martinez while German Chavez and Aldemar Reyes were both 2'15" down while potential GC hopeful Rodrigo Contreras was a massive 25 minutes down.

And now, onto the remaining stages...

Stage 5

For a race that had more or less been devoid of mountains, this is going to be a punch in the testicles for some riders. On a course that is just 103 kilometers, roughly 48 of them are uphill. The amount of true flat ground might be around 2 kilometers.

The climbs include, as follows:

Col de Saisies - 13.6 kilometers at 5%
Col du Pré - 12.7 kilometers at 7.7%
Cormet de Roselend - 6 kilometers at 6.3% (the backside of a giant climb)
La Rosiere-Montvalezan - 16 kilometers at 6%

This stage might sound familiar to those acute followers because the same finishing climb as well as the Saisies and Roselend were used in stage 6 of last year's race, which was won by eventual overall winner Miguel Angel Lopez (Colombia). It will be a short but brutal stage that will show any chinks that one might have.

Stage 6

Just two big climbs in this stage that starts from Bourg-Saint-Maurice, which is at the foot of the La Rosiere climb. The gem of this stage is the Col de Madeleine, which has featured in the Tour de France 25 times and is one of the biggest climbs in the Alps at nearly 25 kilometers in length with an average gradient of 6.1%. The climb reaches a maximum of 11% for a stretch while there are extended spots with gradients over 8%.

Following the Madeleine, the race heads back down into the valley and takes in a long false-flat stretch that goes into Saint Martin De-La-Porte, which begins the Col de Beau Plan. The climb heads up for over 10 kilometers at a 6.7% grade before descending right back down into the valley through a slew of hairpins into the hamlet of Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, which is the same town that the Col du Telegraphe (to the Col du Galibier) takes off from.

It is certainly a stage that could see a breakaway however if a rider wants to test a descent and scare some people, this is a good place to do it on.

Stage 7

Taking off from Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, the race's final stage gets off to a quick start as the just 3.4 kilometers after the official start, the race starts to go up the Col du Mollard, which is 18 kilometers in length and averages 5.7% gradient. The Mollard is a nice scenic climb that will whittle down the group before a quick descent to Belleville. From there, it is uphill to the "start" of the categorized Col de la Croix de Fer at Saint-Sorlin-d'Arves however it is all uphill from Belleville. The road surface from Belleville to Saint-Sorlin-d'Arves, unless recently repaved, is quite horrible and could catch a few out. Once the climb officially begins, it is 7 kilometers to the summit at a gradient of 8% and over 2000 meters in altitude.

Will over at Cycling Challenge has a nice breakdown of this set of climbs

Then it is a long descent off the the Croix de Fer before coming into Sainte-Marie-De-Cuines, where the riders will tackle the famed Lacets des Montvernier, which were in the Tour de France this year and were heaven for any lover of hairpins. The climb is broken down well by Cycling Challenge and is a very steep climb at an average of 9% while just over 3 kilometers.

Following this climb, it is back down to the Maurienne valley to the town of Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne and the steep ending to a big three days. The climb is 9.5 kilometers with an average of 7% gradient however the last few kilometers have a good kick to them. It is a summit finish and if there are still any GC gains to be made, the cards must be put on the table.

And these 4 climbs are all within 93.5 kilometers. Just in case it wasn't jammed in their enough for you.

All the profiles can be found on the Tour de l'Avenir website however they don't go into great amounts of detail. Cycling Challenge has good write ups on many of the Alpine climbs here as well as many others and you can always go to places such as Strava or climbbybike to get some good profiles.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 4: Stuck on Repeat

With the mountains backloaded in this year's edition of the Tour de l'Avenir, most teams went with a climbing heavy roster that lacked big-time sprinters and rouleurs. I say most teams because Danish National coach Morten Bennekou went in the complete opposite direction and brought a team filled with riders that are most comfortable on the flats and small hills bar one in Patrick Olesen. This gamble has paid off in spades and continued on the 4th stage of the Tour de l'Avenir, where the race finally entered into the Haute Savoie department and got a taste of what is to come.

The majority of the stage was quite flat and it was a very quick pace for the first two hours, which averaged 45 km/h. Crashes were a unwelcome presence in what has been an otherwise incident free race so far. Harry Carpenter hit the deck with a few others including Mikhel Raim, Daniel Paulus and Gracjan Szelag and all but Paulus were forced out of the race. Others that dropped out today included Freddy Ovett (Australia), Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands), Michael Paluta (Poland), Illya Klepikov (Ukraine) and Oskar Nisu (Estonia).
It took nearly an hour for the main breakaway to get away and their gap never got too out of hand. The group included Dries Van Gestel (Belgium), Jan Dieteren (Germany), Joao Rodrigues (Portugal), Anders Skaarseth (Norway), Ziga Rucigaj (Slovenia), Gian Friesecke (Switzerland), Théry Schir (Switzerland), Mads Würtz Schmidt (Denmark), Julien Amezqueta (Spain) and Christofer Jurado (UCI/Panama). The group never got over a two minute gap and heading into the first pass of the Col du Chatillon-sur-Cluses, they had barely over 1 minute. On the first climb, Friesecke and Rucigaj were shelled.

After the first climb, the Colombia led peloton let off the gas and the gap went back out to two minutes. Unhappy with the state of affairs, Giulio Ciccone (Italy) launched an attack and eventually drew out Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 winner Guillaume Martin to pursue the breakaway. On the 2nd pass of the climb, this attack saw an acceleration from the peloton and saw race leader Tom Bohli (Switzerland) get dropped. Ciccone and Martin were within 30 seconds at one point but were hauled back in just before the KOM summit, where the gap went out a bit again.

The KOM split the breakaway with Mads Würtz Schmidt (Denmark), Julien Amezqueta (Spain), Anders Skaarseth (Norway) and Dries Van Gestel (Belgium) getting a gap and starting the descent together. Dieteren, Rodrigues and Schir were chasing behind but were eventually swept up by the chasing peloton inside the final couple of kilometers.

Scream and Shout! Mads Würtz is on a comeback season and this is just another exclamation point
Photo: James Startt/Agence Zoom
The quartet stuck it out and for the 4th time in 5 days, it was a Dane that took out the win. Mads Würtz won the sprint ahead of Dries Van Gestel (Belgium) and Anders Skaarseth (Norway) to make up for his close 2nd on stage 1. Stage 1 winner Jonas Koch led the peloton home 24 seconds later ahead of Gianni Moscon (Italy) and Fabian Grellier (France).

Bohli lost the overall lead to a rider that many thought would just be pack fill. Chilean Jose Luis Rodriguez (UCI World Cycling Centre) finished in the main chase group with his teammate Caio Godoy (Brazil) but thanks to his part in the breakaway on stage 2, he took the race lead over from Bohli and now leads the race by 4 seconds on Spaniard Imanol Estevez. This is the first time ever that a rider from the UCI World Cycling Centre has led the Tour de l'Avenir overall and if I'm not mistaken, led a UCI race overall. A groundbreaking moment for the UCI team, which takes riders from countries that do not have an established development program, and hopefully it is a sign of more things to come.

Rodriguez will wear the yellow jersey on the first big mountain stage of the Tour de l'Avenir but unless an act of god happens, he will most likely cede the jersey. Aksel Nommela leads the points classification but Jonas Koch tightened it up to just a 9 point lead while Mads Würtz took over the KOM jersey from Estevez.

This Danish team is officially the most successful Tour de l'Avenir team since the race went to an all-U23 set-up in 2007 and will most likely not be touched for a while. They read the field right and their willingness to go for the flatter stages paid off. They aren't angels because they do have a pro in their ranks in Mads Pedersen but to think that they could do this much is pretty incredible.

Würtz himself was with CULT last year but they let him go after battling with injuries and rocky form. This year has been a comeback year and the last month has been incredible with the time trial win in the Tour of Denmark and now his success here. With CULT being saved for next year with their recent merger with Stölting, Würtz could be have a home for next year in the pro ranks.

Full results can be found here

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 4 Preview

Stage 4 Annemasse to Cluses (146.7 kilometers)

The end of the flat stages are upon us with the first big climbs of the Tour de l'Avenir. Big might be a bit of hyperbole and the plural might not be necessary as the race is using the same climb twice in a row albeit the 2nd time up the climb, the Col de la Chatillon-sur-Cluses, starts lower down and adds a few extra kilometers of distance but doesn't move the average gradient.

The race begins in Annemasse, which featured Tour de l'Avenir stage finishes in 2000 and 2012, where the winners were retired Belorussian Aliksandr Usau and Austrian Lukas Pöstlberger, respectively. The race takes in the foothills of the Haute Savoie department, which is the notch in southeastern France that follows the curve of Lake Geneva.

The climb the race takes in is the Col du Chatillon-sur-Cluses, which averages roughly 5%. The race enters the finishing circuit about halfway up the climb and only climbs for 5.5 kilometers from La Rivere-Enverse to the summit. The race then descends back into Cluses, with 13 kilometers being between the summit and the finish line. The race then takes in the full climb, which is 9 kilometers, but still only has a 5% gradient.

The sprinters will most likely not survive this finishing circuit however it shouldn't be a race just for climbers. If a rider like Gianni Moscon or Mathieu van der Poel is feeling good, they can sprint or even breakaway from other riders. Is Fernando Gaviria able to handle climbs that aren't too steep? Will a rider like Laurens De Plus attack the pedals off the bike and try to take some time? The road will decide.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 3: No Sprints For You!

Those stupid sprint Nazis always getting in the way of a good time. One of the motifs from the first half of the race is that it has been impossible for the bunch to stay together to sprint for a win. Stage 1 saw a long solo breakaway, Jonas Koch, survive to take a beautiful win just ahead of the bunch. Stage 2 saw the frist echelon of the peloton get close to the breakaway but then backed off the gas and the breakaway took the day with professional Mads Pedersen taking the sprint. Today, the bunch was together with just 15 kilometers to go and without too much difficulty on tap, it seemed like a sprint was emminent. But let's no spoil the story, let's go back to the morning.

Leaving from the Pearl of the Jura, Champagnole, the race saw Ukranian Timur Maleev become the first rider to drop out of the race. The first attack was from Geoffrey Curran (USA) and Daniel Martinez (Colombia) but was brought back fairly quickly before unlikely breakaway Fernando Gaviria (Colombia) went away on his own. The Colombian is known for his sprinter exploits on the road decided to get up the road and his gap stayed fairly modest. He went over the first KOM alone while behind, leader Imanol Estevez consolidated his lead by going 2nd.

The gap went out as Gaviria was solo on the 2nd climb and got up to nearly 4 minutes advantage. While Gaviria got max points again, Estevez went out for the 2nd place points again to keep the jersey for another day. Following the climb, Gaviria's teammate Aldemar Reyes and Patryk Stosz (Poland) went out alone in search of the Colombian.

The bunch, who were gunning for a sprint, took the gap down to just over a minute while Reyes and Stosz were able to join Gaviria with 50km to go. The gap was coming down steadily for the intermediate sprint and the breakaway was scooped up just before Aksel Nommela (Estonia) took the sprint out ahead of Koch and breakaway straggler Stosz. Nommela was able to take the green points jersey from Koch with the sprint.

Small groups tried to get away but once David Per was brought back with 17 kilometers to go, all hell broke loose. With the speed dialed up to 11 and with just a little more than 10 kilometers to go, a move of 5 riders including prologue winner Soren Kragh Andersen (Denmark), Marlen Zmorka (Ukraine), Johannes Weber (Germany), Gasper Katrasnik (Slovenia) and Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) snuck away and were able to take time from the peloton. The gap was never over 20 seconds but with a peloton that is heavily climber focused and without motivated teams for the sprinters, no one was able to weld the peloton back together for the final bunch sprint.

Kragh Andersen soaking it in. Notice the hefty bandage on van der Poel's knee while Katrasnik was resigned to turn off his SRM.
Zmorka tried a move within 2 kilometers but was brought back by his breakaway mates, who were still holding off a steaming peloton. In the end, Soren Kragh Andersen emerged victorious with the sprint ahead of van der Poel and Weber while Gaviria, who was in the breakaway for the majority of the day, won the sprint for 6th place just 7 seconds back ahead of Nommela and Simone Consonni (Italy), who won the bunch sprint on stage 1.

Swiss rider Tom Bohli was able to hold onto the overall lead. As stated earlier, Nommela will wear the green jersey and Estevez will hold onto the KOM jersey.

It still seems inexplicable how there were zero bunch sprints in the races three flat stages that suited bunch sprints. With teams focused on the later climbs and many sprinters being left home, teams that had riders that were possible hopefuls were reluctant to waste riders before the mountains. Teams that had nothing to lose including Denmark, Slovenia and Ukraine, who have no major climbers that will be affecting GC, attacked the finale with great results.

Full Results can be found here

Monday, August 24, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir: Mads, I tell you! They've gone Mads!

With only three flat stages in the Tour de l'Avenir , one would think that the teams with sprint intentions would be to create the environment for a sprint no matter what. With limited opportunities for some, this could be some teams only chance for glory. Yet on the 3rd day of the Tour de l'Avenir, it was once again the morning breakaway that was taking the day while the sprinters settled for minor placings. It is unthinkable that after Jonas Koch made a solo 130km breakaway work yesterday, a 7 man group that had just over 1'20" with 20 kilometers to go was able to make it to the end in a peloton that should have been clamoring for a big bunch sprint. Let's go through how it happened.

The start town of Avallon
The 193.5 kilometer stage from Avallon to Arbois started off quick in breezy conditions with a breakaway of 5 getting away within 5 kilometers. Tom Bohli (Switzerland), Imanol Estevez (Spain), Mads Pedersen (Denmark), Daniel Lehner (Austria) and Aksel Nommela (Estonia) got away and were working well together. Not to miss out, Will Barta (USA) decided to take the advice of Espoirs Central and attack the hell out of this race and brought along Jose Luis Rodriguez (Chile/UCI Cycling Centre). The duo was able to make it up to the breakaway and the group's gap began to grow.

Estevez took the first KOM on the Cote de Suze followed by Bohli and Lehner. The gap continued to grow to a maximum of 5'20" with around 100 kilometers to go while Estevez took the 2nd KOM over the Cote d'Ivry La Montagne. Off of the 2nd climb, it was all flat all the time and the echelons began to appear in the peloton behind. While the gap began to drop, a group including Sam Oomen, Giulio Ciccone, Sebastian Henao and Fernando Gaviria split off the peloton while Team France was on the back foot with no one in the front peloton. A gap that was over 3 minutes went down to just over 1 minute but when the peloton began to reform again, the breakaway's advantage didn't continue to drop.

Like someone zapped the peloton's legs, the gap that was just over a minute at 30 kilometers to go but with 15 kilometers to go, the gap has doubled to 2'30". Did the peloton get a rash of flat tires? Did a herd of puppies run out in front of them? I am still dumbfounded how the peloton, who was just a matter of kilometers from catching the breakaway, backed off the accelerator and allowed the breakaway to win again.
The breakaway stayed together into the final kilometer and it was Mads Pedersen, the Danish rider from CULT Energy, who went from a long way out and took the win ahead of Nommela and Rodriguez while Bohli, who was the best placed GC rider, placed 4th and took over the yellow jersey. Estevez, Barta and Lehner rolled in just seconds later while it was nearly 2 minutes until Stan Godrie (Netherlands) beat out Dylan Page (Switzerland) and Patryk Stosz (Poland) for the sprint for 8th place.

With Bohli in yellow, overnight points leader Jonas Koch kept his lead while Estevez tied him on KOM points but as he is now in a better GC spot, will wear the polka dot jersey tomorrow. While he was last in the breakaway, Lehner was judged to be the most combative on the day.

On GC, the majority of the breakaway riders are now on top of GC while overnight leader Søren Kragh Andersen dropped to 7th overall. Mathieu van der Poel and Nans Peters, who both crashed during the stage, lost time and dropped out of the GC race.

Full Results can be found here

The race continues tomorrow from the Pearl of the Jura, Champagnole, for the final flat stage of the Tour de l'Avenir before the race hits the mountains. The sprinters will be begging for at least one bunch gallop before toiling at the back of the race.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 1: Against the Wind

The solo breakaway seems to be a dying art in cycling. Invariably, a solo rider has someone bridge up to them because in most cases, a group is stronger than one. Jonas Koch (Germany) might be a bit touched in the head. He also might be a bit ballsy. For his exploits on stage 1 of the Tour de l'Avenir, he needed a combination of both to do what he did.

The stage started off with a few attacks as the race left Chablis, straddled by vineyards of Chardonnay grapes. A flurry of attacks came and went including a group of 19 including the likes of Fernando Gaviria (Colombia), Max Schachmann (Germany), Alexander Kamp (Denmark), Marlen Zmorka (Ukraine), among others. Once this group was brought back under threatening skies, Jonas Koch put in a counter attack and went away solo.

Jonas Koch, suel en tête
Seul en tête. With 130 kilometers to go, Koch started his long day out. His gap grew over the next 30 kilometers steadily from 50 seconds to 3 minutes...and then 5 minutes...and then 11 minutes. With 100 kilometers to go, Koch was two prologues ahead of the pack. The gap continued to balloon as Koch made it over the first categorized climb and the maximum advantage came with 75 kilometers to go, when Koch had a whopping 13'30" on the peloton.

At this point, Gian Friesecke (Switzerland) and Mads Pedersen (Denmark) launched a counter attack and made a little headway into Koch's advantage but it was slow goings as Koch was motoring along on his own. Even with 40 kilometers to go, the duo were still 6'40" behind Koch and the peloton a pretty massive 8'30". Team France decided to through caution to the wind and sent 4 riders including Elie Gesbert, Jeremy Maison, Guillaume Martin and Nans Peters up the road together to stir the pot.

The four Frenchman picked up straggling middle men Michal Paluta (Poland) and David Per (Slovenia) and in no time, they were up to Friesecke and Pedersen. They were 4 minutes behind at 20 kilometers and at 14 kilometers to go, that advantage was down to 3 minutes. Some statistical analysis would show that Koch was getting to the end of his rope and it was only a matter of time.

Someone get this man ein gross Bier, bitte.
Photo: Tour de l'Avenir/James Startt
It wasn't until inside 10 kilometers to go that the group of chasers were brought back but Koch was still resisting. In a desparate attempt to bring him back, Mads Würtz Schmidt (Denmark) launched a solo move out of the peloton but it was in vain. After 130 kilometers out front, Jonas Koch had held off the peloton to take a glorious solo win.
Würtz held on for 2nd place while Espoirs Central pick for the stage win, Simone Consonni (Italy), finished in 3rd place in the bunch sprint ahead of Stan Godrie (Netherlands) and Jan Dieteren (Germany). Prologue winner Soren Kragh Andersen (Denmark) held onto the leader's jersey while Gianni Moscon (Italy) and Sebastian Henao (Colombia) stayed stagnant in their 2nd and 3rd overall spots.

For his troubles, Koch moved up to 4th overall at 5 seconds back as well as scooping up the points and KOM jerseys. He will wear the points jersey tomorrow while Ruben Guerreiro (Portugal) will wear the KOM jersey.

Full results can be found here. 

Koch's ride is such a great reason to follow U23 racing. He went out by himself and just put his head down and hammered. He rode his heart out against the best of the U23 peloton and still held them off. And this is just stage 1.

The race continues with a flat stage from Avallon to Arbois that should finish in a bunch sprint.

Tour de l'Avenir Prologue: Kragh Andersen takes prologue; Henao best GC favorite

On the short but intense prologue in the central Burgundian town of Tonnerre, Søren Kragh Andersen (Denmark) dropped the hammer on the field and even with some timing errors, he still took top honors and put on the first yellow jersey of the race.

The first rider, Oskar Nisu (Estonia), left the start ramp at 17.00 local time and began a two hour program that saw some riders get their race off to a great start while others floundered. One of the first riders to post a good time was Italian Oliveira Troia, who posted a time of 5'08". Soon after, Jeremy Maison (France) and Nathan Van Hooydonck (Belgium) posted times of 5'07", with Maison finishing slightly quicker.

Riders came and went but it took nearly 20 riders until Max Schachmann (Germany) took the lead by 1 second. Another 17 later, Espoirs Central pick for the overall win, Sam Oomen, usurped the German and took the hot seat with a time of 5'03"

Johannes Weber was an unknown quantity to most, including myself, however after coming off a good Volta a Portugal, the German was the first rider to dip under the 5 minute mark with a 4'59" on the steep course that reached a maximum gradient of 15% on the climb that dominated the first half of the race.

While it took 79 riders to get one under 5 minutes, it only took just 10 minutes for that time to be smashed again. Søren Kragh Andersen, the Dane who already had 4 UCI wins to his name including the overall of the ZLM Roompot Nations Cup, went like a bat out of hell on the Rue Armand Colin climb and proceeded to lower Weber's time by a further 6 seconds to post a 4'53" with an average of 43 km/h. As you can see in the picture above, Kragh Andersen opted for a full TT set up while many went with a standard road bike due to the steepness of the climb.

From there, it was a tale of how close riders would be getting. Gianni Moscon (Italy) was the closest and finished with just a second between himself and Kragh. GC contender Sebastian Henao was really turned up when he finished 3rd with a 4'57", which was the best by any GC contender. Espoirs Central's pick for the win on the day, Germany Lennard Kämna, failed to really impress on a course that is perhaps a bit too short for him and came home with 5'05", which was good for 17th place.

Henao, Moscon and Kragh Andersen
While still just seconds now, this is certainly a good marker to see how everyone is doing. Full Results are here. Of any rider with any sort of GC plan, Aleksey Rybalkin (Russia) finished off the worst as he currently sits 37 seconds down. Simone Petilli sits 29 seconds down, which was the worst for the Italian GC contenders, while Giulio Ciccone and Edward Ravasi are both within 20 seconds Laurens De Plus (Belgium) isn't exactly a prologue specialist but is still down 22 seconds.

Riders within 10 seconds of Henao include Mathieu van der Poel, Gregor Mühlberger, Nans Peters, Odd Eiking, Marc Soler, Sam Oomen, Kämna and Jeremy Maison, among others.

Nothing is certainly over and while Kragh Andersen will be in yellow for stage 1 from Chablis to Toucy, watch the jersey to change hands with the bumpy finish as a rider like Moscon will be drooling with this parcours and a chance to steal the leader's jersey.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Course Preview: Prologue-Stage 3

After having successfully put everyone to sleep with a preview of every team that will be starting the Tour de l'Avenir, it is important to cover the course that the riders will be going over the course of the next week starting on Saturday, August 22nd in the small Burgundian town of Tonnerre for a short prologue before 962.5 kilometers twisting through the southeastern region of France.


Tonnerre-Tonnere (3.5 kilometers) Course Map

The prologue begins in the center of Tonnerre before snaking its way out of town, making a loop and circling back through a gradual descent with wide, sweeping turns before a sharp 90 degree left hander to the finish. After the first set of turns, the Rue du General Campenon has a bunch of cobbles/bricks through the road, which the riders should love. Then there is a near 90 degree turn onto the Rue Armand Collin, where the hill kicks in and reaches a maximum of 12%. This is continues on the Chemin des Vieux Chateux before topping out at the turn for the Rue des Lices. Up until this point, the course is on tight roads without too much margin for error. Following the turn onto the Rue des Lices, the roads open up a bit and are a fairly wide open until the sharp turn onto the Rue Claude Aillot for a sprint to the finish.

Fun fact: Claude Aillot was a communist activist that was shot by the Nazis in 1942.

The race says 3.5 kilometers while Map My Ride is at 3.63 kilometers but you know, something around there. Here is the course map from MMR, which shows 80 m of elevation gain. It is a brutal prologue without much place for let up.

Stage 1 Chablis to Toucy (160.5 kilometers) Course Map

Just 17 kilometers away from Tonnerre, the race kicks off properly in the small hamlet of Chablis, of which the famed wine is named after. Chablis is made from a Chardonnay grapes, which make a dry white wine, but due to the terroir of the region along with the cooler climate, it has a more acidic bite and less fruity that other Chardonnays in more southerly regions.

The race itself is filled with French flat, the undulating roads of France that seemingly go up and down all day without reprieve. In the first half of the race, there is one categorized climb in the Cote de Vezelay, which is only 2.6 km stair step climb but it does reach a max gradient of around 12% while the average is just 4%. The only other significant difficulty is the Cote de Toucy, which is less steep than the Vezelay and just as long. They will go over the climb twice but only one pass is categorized...for some reason. The finish is slightly uphill into Toucy on the Rue Aristide Briand.

This is the stage where the sprinters who need a climb or two to separate them from the pure sprinters will be circling.

Stage 2 Avallon to Arbois (193.5 kilometers) Course Map

Starting in the Yonne Department, the race quickly enters the Cote d'Or and finishing in the Jura Department in the town of Arbois. The route itself is fairly straightforward without many turns and the last half of the route is pretty much pan flat with a small rise towards the finish.

Fun Fact: Arbois has lost half of its historic population from 1836 compared to now (7131 to 3520).

This is going to be a bunch sprint unless the bunch gets extremely lazy. This is the longest stage of the race by far but probably the easiest stage.

Stage 3 Champagnole to Tournos (137 kilometers) Course Map

Champagnole is known as the Pearl of the Jura, at least by the town council, sits near the center of the Jura department along the Ain river. Known for industries such as various metal workings including iron and steel as well as aluminum, the town even has a glasses factory.

The race takes on a hilly start including two categorized climbs within the first half of the race but the last half of the race is pan flat. This is the last chance for the sprinters as well so they will be very motivated not to let anything go here. The mountains that they will be taking on the rest of the week will be looming in the distance. Climbers are focused on not being drawn out while the sprinters will be salivating.

The finishing town of Tournus has 4 Michelin star restaurants including a 3-star as well as a factory for Tefal cookware.

Stay tuned for stages 4 through 7, which will certainly decimate the peloton.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Team Preview: USA! USA!

20 teams down, 1 to go. The USA has had an up and down year this year in the U23 ranks. There have been bright spots with Alexey Vermeulen and Colin Joyce taking some nice results as well as Geoffrey Curran's 3rd place in the Giro del Belvedere. There have been times where the team is absolutely anonymous and while this is a stage where getting used to the races and getting one's feet wet is important, at some point results do matter. In the Nations Cup, the USA is currently ranked 21st behind such nations as Estonia, Slovakia and Argentina. The team is brimming with talent but with trade team commitments, the best talent is not always available when needed.

Alexey Vermeulen, who would have been the team's best bet for a GC placing, is still sidelined with a wrist injury that he sustained in a huge pile-up at the Trofeo Almar.


Roster: Will Barta, Stephen Bassett, Geoffrey Curran, Colin Joyce, Justin Oien and Tyler Williams

Before sounding too defeatist, the team does have a lot of strong riders that might be able to pop out for a result.

Colin Joyce has had a number of top 10 finishes throughout the season this year with most of them being in sprints, including a 4th place in the final stage of the Tour Alsace. Like many guys that need some terrain to break up a flat sprint, perhaps stage 1 or 4 could be a chance for Joyce.

Oien is another rider that can surf a sprint but seems to be better out of a smaller group sprint. If he can get into a decisive breakaway, he could get himself a nice result or just some good time off the front like in Valle d'Aosta. Williams is another that can surf a sprint decently but he is a bit more of a hard man. Too bad there are no cobbles here...

Bassett seems to be in good form after a stage win in the Tour de Namur. Perhaps a breakaway?

Curran will need a breakaway for a result. He was 5th in a stage at Valle d'Aosta and if he is on his game, he can hang with the big guns. Lose time on GC and then get into a good breakaway in the mountains and see what happens? Hell, through Barta into the same category.

These guys just need to attack like hell every stage. Attack. Leave it all out there. There is no stud sprinter or climber that could take GC. Be aggressive and see what happens. At least you tried that way instead of staying in the back to finish 37th on the final climb. Be like a goddamn French rider in the Tour. If there is a breakaway, a USA rider should be in there.

Prediction: Attacks. Joyce finishes 5th in a sprint.

Tour de l'Avenir Team Preview: Denmark & UCI Mixed Team


Roster: Soren Kragh Andersen, Alexander Kamp, Mads Pedersen, Patrick Olesen, Mads Würtz Schmidt and Jonas Gregaard Wilsly

The team of Lego and Lurpak brings an interesting squad with a mix of time trial headbangers, sprinters and a climber or two. They certainly have a lot of talent on this squad but I don't know if any one them will be able to take a stage.

Kragh Andersen can climb well enough but his terrain is more of a rider for the shorter hills and tough terrain & wind that can be found in Northern Europe. With this race being a prologue, three flat stages and three mountain stages, there isn't much that will play to his strengths. He will need to make the race by attacking and going after it to force a selection, which could make sense on stage 1 or stage 4.

Kamp can mix it up in a bunch kick but he is another that shines on more difficult courses. So again, maybe stage 1 will see him but there isn't a true stage for him. Pedersen is a similar type of rider that does best on difficult courses that disrupts and creates small groups. He can sprint fairly well but is by no means a bunch sprinter. Würtz is the strongest TT rider on the team after having won the Tour of Denmark TT and the National U23 TT but can float in a bunch sprint for places 7 through 10.

Olesen is probably the only pure climber on the team but he is not very consistent. If he shows up and makes it through the flat portions of the stages, he could be a top 15 rider on the climbs. It seems like he has problems positioning in the pack. Gregaard is a first year and won the Danish U23 RR this year in a big solo breakaway; he is an all-arounder that is a bit of an opportunist.

Prediction: Multiple breakaways; a 2nd place for Kragh Andersen. Only 3 riders finish.

UCI Mixed Team

Roster: Anass Ait El Abdia (Morocco), Adil Barbari (Algeria), Caio Godoy (Brazil), Christofer Jurado (Panama), Andre Gohr (Brazil) and Jose Luis Rodriguez (Chile)

I love this team. It is great to see these riders get attention on a larger scene and I wish they were in more UCI races. That is a direct impact on performance because you cannot expect riders to show up and be competitive after riding regional French races against the best in the world unless they ride similar races throughout the season.

Ait El Abdia has been racing quite a bit this season with his early season in Morocco and then racing a good deal in France and in Europe with the UCI team. He was 3rd in the Tour du Jura as well as a small regional win. He got through Valle d'Aosta, made the front chasing group in the Trofeo Almar and got through the Tour Alsace relatively unscathed. He might not win a stage but if the right breakaway were to get away in the mountains, I wouldn't be surprised to see him.

Jurado was impressive in Valle d'Aosta where he finished 7th in the finish to Saint-Christophe after making the day's breakaway. He got through Alsace too so hopefully he can improve on his l'Avenir performance from last year.

Babari? Eh, not so much. Godoy is certainly a good climber but hasn't got the race kilometers in his legs like he had last year, at least in UCI races. Gohr seems to be more of a time trialist but he made the front chase group in the Trofeo Almar and survived (key word there) Alsace. Rodriguez is another strong time trial rider but I will be surprised to see him get through the mountains.

Prediction: Jurado and Ait El Abdia get into breakaways; one of them makes a top 10.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Team Preview: Belgium

Almost done here so let us go to Northern Europe to look at Belgium and the other Scandinavian team in the race, Denmark.


Roster: Benjamin Declercq, Aime De Gendt, Laurens De Plus, Dries Van Gestel, Nathan Van Hooydonck and Kenneth Van Rooy

De Plus is going for a top GC win (Photo: Riccardo Scanferla)
De, De, De, Van, Van, Van...the surnames are a dead give away that this is a Belgium roster. De Plus is going to be gunning for something special here. De Plus has come out this year in a big way after a quiet first year in the U23 ranks. He races to win. In the past four stage races, he has finished 2nd, 4th, 2nd and 6th including 11 top 10 stage finishes in these races as well as one stage win. He was going well in Alsace and after the European U23 RR, he has had a training block in the Ardennes with De Gendt to give himself a more low-key buildup to l'Avenir. He is lazer-focused on the final three stages and he is one of the favorites that doesn't back down from stronger riders. He was the only one that was able to follow Power in Aosta. He has the tools but with the Colombians, Oomen, the Italians, etc. it is going to be a dogfight.

Van Gestel is really the only other climber that is joining the team. Declercq isn't half bad either. The others are more classics style riders. Van Hooydonck is certainly a stud one-day racer and isn't half bad on a TT bike too so the prologue will be one of his targets. Van Rooy is certainly good on Ardennes style climbs, which are not really too present in this race. Stage 1 has a late climb that could benefit him and maybe stage 4 but that could be too much for him. He should be able to give De Plus some good support in the early parts of stages.

Prediction: De Plus finishes 4th overall; Van Hooydonck goes 5th in the prologue; Van Rooy 2nd on breakaway stage

Tour de l'Avenir Team Preview: Australia

A month ago, it seemed like nearly an after thought that Australia was going to dominate the Tour de l'Avenir with Robert Power. Even with multiple mechanical troubles and a crash or two, he picked apart the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and looked primed to take his 2nd big tour. Yet, knee issues have taken him out for the rest of the season and suddenly, the Australians are a brand new team.

A-Okay with Jack Haig
Roster: Harry Carpenter, Alexander Clements, Jack Haig, Freddy Ovett, Nicholas Schultz and Miles Scotson

With Power out, Jack Haig is taking up the reins of the team as the overall contender. The former MTBer Haig spent two months on the bench after crashing in the Tour de Bretagne but came back for Aosta and tapped out a seemingly endless amount of kilometers on the front for Power while making a strong 9th place for himself.  Since then, Haig was 5th in the Tour Alsace as well as in the GP Poggiana. There is a reason Orica-GreenEdge signed him in the early part of this year. Haig can climb and in a protected rider's role, he could certainly improve on his 12th place from last year. While I don't know if a win is in the works, Haig will certainly attack and make it spicy.

Schultz and Ovett will be the two in charge of protecting Haig in the mountains. Carpenter, Clements and Scotson are all big motors that will be a part of the Australian gold & green train that will go up and down the mountains. They have a few shots at taking the prologue with Haig, Carpenter and Scotson being the best out of them.

It is a young team as well. Haig and Clements are the only two returning riders from last year riders like Ovett and Scotson are still getting used to bigger tours.

Prediction: Haig goes 5th on GC; Scotson wins the prologue

Tour de l'Avenir Team Preview: Germany & Austria

The German speaking countries are back again for their yearly French holiday. "The hills are alive! With the sound of carbon wheels..."


Roster: Jan Dieteren, Lennard Kämna, Jonas Koch, Nils Politt, Max Schachmann and Johannes Weber

The major omission from this team is obviously Silvio Herklotz but it seems like the Berliner is still recovering from his DNF in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. There is no information on this so I am assuming it is an injury or crash of some sort as he was pulled out of the Tour Alsace as well. This certainly has been a tale of two seasons for Herklotz.

While the Berliner has been sidelined, first year Lennard Kämna has carved out a big role for himself  as the next big thing. He can time trial. He can climb on long climbs and on shorter climbs. He can recover well enough to take on the GC. Kämna, who grew up on the outskirts of Hamburg, has the makings of a super star as he climbs better than other strong German time trialists that made people salivate in years past. While he most likely won't be lighting the GC on fire this year, he could certainly take out a stage win like he did in Aosta and is a favorite for the prologue.

Speaking of time trial riders, look no further than Politt and Schachmann. Politt was 2nd in the German U23 TT but the prologue might be a bit short for him to show his true talents. Schachmann has been focusing more on his climbing talents this year but is still a threat in a time trial with proof being his 3rd place in the European U23 TT.

Schachmann will certainly being aiding Kämna in the mountains while both Koch and Weber should be able helpers on both the flats and in the hills. For the sprints, they have Dieteren albeit he needs a harder course to be able to get up for a win. He is a good shot for a good result in the prologue.

Prediction: Kämna will win a mountain stage and finish 13th overall


Roster: Benjamic Brkic, Michael Gogl, Gregor Mühlberger, Dennis Paulus, Sebastian Schönberger and Alexander Wachter

If Mühlberger comes in with the form that he had this spring, he will be amazing to watch here. He isn't the best climber in the big mountains but he has a penchant for day long breakaways that result in huge wins so even if his GC hopes are out of the picture, he could still provide some dramatics.

Michael Gogl was very consistent here last year with 15th overall and could do something similar this year. He seems to be in decent form with a good ride in the Arctic Tour with Tinkoff-Saxo.

Schönberger and Paulus should provide good support for the team. Both can climb reasonably well and could get into a breakaway and what not. Wachter could be doing the same thing but is more akin to getting results out of breakaways including a win out of a small group sprint in the Carpathian Couriers Tour.

One of the riders I am most looking forward to this year is Brkic. He is just a first year but he was impressive in Alsace on the queen stage where he was 4th on the stage and 14th overall. He seems like he could ride in the cut and get a surprising result in the mountains but the road will decide.

Prediction: Mühlberger goes on a long range attack; Gogl gets 6th in a sprint; Brkic goes 21st overall.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Teams Preview: Great Britain & Norway

Great Britain

Roster: Gabriel Cullaigh, Jake Kelly, Chris Lawless, Alex Peters, Mark Stewart and Stephen Williams

While Alex Peters is probably the most talented rider here, there are not many stages that suit his talents as a classics, shorter hills rider. Maybe stage 1 as it has a late climb or stage 4 but that might have too much uphill for him.

Cullaigh won the first stage of the Zavod Miru U23 this year out of a breakaway but it will take something special to see him pull out something here. Lawless was 6th in GP Pino Cerami at just 19 and won the GP of Wales on the British Premier Calendar in a sprint over the likes of hard men like Yanto Barker, Graham Briggs and Steele Von Hoff. Lawless's issue will be able to get over climbs and not get dropped before said sprint.

Really, it is just a young team with Peters being the oldest rider as a 3rd-year.

Prediction: Stage win at best, perhaps with a breakaway on a sprint stage. Don't hold your breath.


Roster: Odd Eiking, Daniel Hoelgaard, Truls Engen Korsaeth, Øivind Lukkedal, Sindre Lunke and Anders Skaarseth -

Eiking is obviously gunning for the overall this year but his results have been a bit inconsistent. He did win the stage in Valle d'Aosta but that was after blowing his GC hopes on stage 1 and losing 6 minutes. After taking a month off, he did come back at the Arctic Tour and did very well, finishing  6th overall and the best continental rider. If his climbing form is on, he certainly has the tools do something big as is evidence with his 2nd place in Valle d'Aosta last year.

On the climbing side of things, the first lieutenant is Lunke, who is 8th overall in Valle d'Aosta and 11th in Alsace. Last year, he was 5th in Aosta and 11th in l'Avenir. If Eiking were to fail for any reason, Lunke could be another bet for a top 10 overall. Lukkedal is a good climber as well too and will be in the mix with the aforementioned duo.

In the middle of the sprint and climbing riders is Skaarseth, who can do a bit of both. His climbing is more limited to smaller climbs but if he can survive any longer climbs, he could be a valuable teammate before it all goes down.

The two holding down the sprint team are Korsaeth and Hoelgaard. Korsaeth was best known for his 3rd place in his Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 but also mixed it up in some flatter races. Hoelgaard isn't a one dimensional bunch sprinter but certainly can mix it up with the best of them as he has wins in the Tour de Normandie and Tour de Bretagne. So he isn't the quickest rider but he could definitely take one.

So it seems Korsaeth is out and being replaced by Fridtjof Røinas (thanks to Jonas Lindstrom). Røinas will sub in for Korsaeth and help with this flatter stages before holding onto the gruppetto in the mountains.

I'm sort of wondering if this team could have done with the other Hoelgaard brother, Markus, or someone like Oscar Landa or Njal Kleiven but it is only 6 riders.

Prediction: Eiking goes top 5 overall, maybe the bottom step of the podium; Hoelgaard wins a stage.

Tour de l'Avenir Team Preview: Poland & Portugal


Roster: Mateusz Grabis, Jakub Kaczmarek, Michal Paluta, Arkadiusz Owsian, Patryk Stosz and Gracjan Szelag

So Poland...Poland, Poland, Poland. They have 6 riders. They are U23s. Stosz like to go for KOMs so why not have a shot here? Paluta is pretty good. I'm more surprised at who they left home like Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz, Kacper Gronkiewicz or Piotr Konwa. Nothing else to say here.


Roster: Rui Carvalho, Gaspar Goncalves, Luis Gomes, Ruben Guerreiro, Cesar Martingil and Nuno Bico

The star here is Ruben Guerreiro, the Axeon rider who won the Volta a Portugal ao Futuro and finished 14th in the Tour de l'Avenir last year. This year, he won the GP Liberty Seguros, finished 10th in the Tour de Beauce and most recently, finished top 10 in two stages of the Tour of Utah. Guerreiro is shaping up to be a good pick for the top 10 overall but can his team support him?

Rui Carvalho won a hilltop finish in the Volta a Portugal ao Futuro this year. Goncalves has a good TT motor on him. Gomes won the final stage of Futuro in a solo, uphill finish. Martingil is a good all-arounder. Nuno Bico is the current U23 RR Champ and slogged it through the Volta a Portugal so if done right, he must be coming in hot for l'Avenir.

So do they have a team that could protect Guerreiro's GC ambitions? Yes. Now we see how far Guerreiro can go.

Prediction: Guerreiro goes somewhere 8th-10th on GC

Tour de l'Avenir Team Preview: Russia & Switzerland


Roster: Mamyr Stash, Artem Nych, Roman Kustadinchev, Matvey Mamykin, Ildar Arslanov and Denis Zhuykov, Aleksey Rybalkin,

Which Russia squad is going to show up? They one where they are in every lead group or the one when they are utterly anonymous?

Stash is going to be their best chance for a sprint stage win. He was 2nd in the recent European U23 RR and has been close before with some wins here and there. His only issue is inconsistency in getting to said sprint.

Kustadinchev and Zhuykov will be the role-players on this roster as both will serve in the breakaways as well as setting up Stash for a sprint.

For my next if, then statement let's go to Artem Nych. If Nych is on good form, then he can certainly make select groups on hilly courses. If he isn't, then he will be working for the team.

Where are my manners, the two leaders for this team are Mamykin and Arslanov. Mamykin was on his game in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta with his stage win to Valtournenche albeit he didn't finish the stage race. He was on form at Tour Alsace by getting into the stage one breakaway and continued on with some breakaways to finish 15th overall and 3rd in the KOM classification.

Arslanov, well he is an enigma. He obviously can climb very well as he won the Valle d'Aosta uphill TT last year and was working for Alexander Foliforov all year last year in the mountains. This year though he cannot seem to put it together. He was 5th on the stage to Praded in the Zavod Miru but then slipped back on the next stage in 16th place to lose a top GC place. He can make leading groups but it really comes down to the rider that shows up.

Russia has made some changes to the l'Avenir roster in the 11th hour. Stash went to the Baltic Tour and instead of him and Kustadinchev, it is last year's 3rd place finisher Rybalkin and former junior wunderking Cherkasov. Rybalkin is a threat for the overall classification after finishing 16th overall in the big boy Volta a Portugal and winning the best young rider classification by a country mile. He was actually the first finisher outside of Portugal or Spain, which tells you something about the race. If his form has carried over, he has the potential to be a podium threat. Cherkasov can also climb well but he is still finding his feet in the U23 ranks.

Prediction: Rybalkin finishes 4th overall and Mamykin finishes 10th overall; Stash finishes 2nd on one sprint


Roster: Fabian Leinhard, Dylan Page, Gian Friesecke, Thery Schir, Patrick Müller and Tom Bohli

They have...THE POWER! Seriously though, Tom Bohli is a freight train from the school of recent Swiss misters Stefan Küng and Silvan Dillier. Bohli will be going into the prologue with top 5 favorite status. His time trial powers also spill over into bunch sprints, where Bohli has been a top 10 presence throughout the year. Or if he copies his Berner Rundfahrt exploits, he could attack and hold off a group of 15 to take a spectacular win.

Thery Schir is a power of the track but it has spilled onto the road. He is the two-time Swiss time trial champion and like Bohli, comes in with ambitions for the prologue. He does have a turn of speed that has gotten him close to a sprint wins in the Olympia's Tour and the Tour Alsace.

The other potential sprinter is Dylan Page albeit he is the less consistent option. He was 3rd in the bunch sprint in the Trofeo Almar (12th overall) and was up in the kicks in the Fleche du Sud. In any case, it seems like a decent 3-man sprint squad.

Leinhard is more of a one-day racer but maybe...well no. Because the stages here are mostly black and white. The first three are sprints and the last three are mountains with the 4th stage being the only one that could be interesting to break it up. Friesecke is a bit in the same way as he gets results here and there but he is here for experience.

The interesting climber on this team is first-year Patrick Müller. Solid one-day racer. Developing stage racer. 10th in Rhone Alpes Isere and top 20 in Pays de Savoie. Won the Swiss U23 RR. If there is one Swiss rider to watch with an eye for a future in the mountains, look here.

Prediction: Bohli goes top 3 in the prologue; Müller gets top 10 on a mountain stage

Tour de l'Avenir Team Preview: Ukraine & Slovenia


Roster: Anatoliy Budyak, Volodymyr Dzhus, Iliya Klepikov, Timur Maleev, Mark Padun and Rinot Udod

The first observation after looking at this roster is where the hell is Marlen Zmorka? Second, it isn't a horrible roster. I mean...Mark Padun and Anatoliy Budyak can do fairly well with the climbs as Padun was 8th in the Course de la Paix and Budyak was 2nd in the Volta a Portugal do Futuro and made it through the Volta a Portugal in 28th overall. I wouldn't expect a l'Avenir winner but perhaps make it interesting on a mountain stage?

Klepikov is the only other rider of note on this team because he won the opening stage of the Volta a Portugal do Futuro out of a breakaway. Past that, his results have been slim.

Without Zmorka, this team is just so-so. Zmorka would have given them someone to go for a crazy attack or a long range move to steal some glory. They just decided to take all of the ISD youngsters and put them to the wolves. Great job, Ukraine.


Roster: Gasper Katrasnik, Rok Korosec, Marko Pavlic, Izidor Penko, David Per and Domen Novak.

The mountainous country from South Central Europe (don't say the Balkans!) is present once again in l'Avenir and this year they bring an...okay team. Gone are the days of Marko Kump, Jan Tratnik and Luka Pibernik. This is a team that is searching for their next "it" rider and they have a few leads.

Katrasnik has a decent turn of speed as he was 7th in the European U23 RR in Tartu but outside that, he isn't a big climber. Korosec is a rider you will see on the tail end of a big sprint in positions 7 through 13. Penko is a first year; he is a big talent but again, he is a first year so don't expect much. Per is still trying to find his legs in the U23 ranks after a good junior career especially in the TT; he made it through Qinghai Lake but thats about all that can be said on his season.

The two riders that could produce a result at Pavlic and Novak. Pavlic was 7th in the Zavod Miru U23 overall including a 2nd place on the opening stage and went decent enough in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta where he at least finished. He isn't a pure climber but on the stage win some shorter climbs, he could make his name known. Novak on the other hand could be Slovenia's shot at a top 20 overall. As a first year junior last year, he finished 24th overall. This year, he was top 20 overall in both the Coppi e Bartali and Tour of Slovenia and slogged through Qinghai Lake.

Like was said before, this is not the Slovenia of 5 years ago. It is transitioning but best case scenario is Novak or Pavlic go top 20 and they get some top 10 finishes on stages. Perhaps a rider gets into the right breakaway and something special? Always good to have a big goal in mind.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Team Preview: Estonia

The most northern Baltic nation has had a very good year this year in the U23 ranks with multiple top 10 finishes in the Nations Cup races including the Ronde van Vlaanderen, La Cote Picarde and Trofeo Almar. Their performances have them ranked 9th in the Nations Cup rankings and just a few points behind giants such as Great Britain and Germany.


Roster: Mikhel Raim, Martin Laas, Oskar Nisu, Aksel Nommela, Josten Vaidem & Timmo Jeret.

For l'Avenir, they don't have anyone that will be contesting the GC. Their biggest hope will be to snag a result in the early stages and then hold on for dear life as the race enters the mountains. Their two big riders are Raim and Laas, who ride together for the French amateur team Pro Immo Nicolas Roux. Raim is a classics-style rider that does well on hard courses with results such as his 6th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and 2nd in the Trofeo Almar. He is able to mix it up in a sprint but isn't going to be able to beat the fastest riders. Laas is the faster of the two in a out & out sprint and was 6th in the European U23 RR in Tartu, won the bunch sprint in the Trofeo Almar for 10th place and won the Tour of Estonia overall after taking a small breakaway sprint on the first stage.

The rider they bring that might be able to put up a fight in the sprint is Aksel Nommela. Nommela, who also rides in France in Saint-Etienne, was 5th in the La Cote Picarde Nations Cup and has 3 wins on the French circuit this year as well as a handful of decent finishes in bunch sprints. The concern with Nommela is the step up in competition and if he will be able to handle the hills. Perhaps a top 5?

Nisu? Breakaways and shagging bottles. Also helping where he is needed in the sprints and elsewhere. Jeret will be in the same area but is a bit better time trialist and should be able to work the hills a little bit better.

Vaidem isn't half bad in the hills and has had a good amount of results in France this year in hillier races with UC Aubenas but again, this is another level of competition compared to that. Get him in a breakaway and see what he can do.

If you notice, all of these riders are on French teams, which is the route many Estonians have taken dating back to Jaan Kirsipuu's entrance in the peloton.

Prediction: A 3rd place for Raim on a random stage; 4th place for Nommela in one sprint.

Tour de l'Avenir Team Preview: France & Netherlands

To speed this process up, let's get a few more teams in the mix.


Roster: Elie Gesbert (Pays de Dinan), Fabien Grellier (Vendée U), Jérémy Maison (CC Etupes), Guillaume Martin (CC Etupes), Nans Peters (Chambery CF) and Leo Vincent (CC Etupes)

Like every other nation that has any GC hopes, France is bringing out all of their best climbers. They are not bringing anyone that will be able to compete in the bunch sprints for the first few days with every concentrated on the final three stages that will decide the GC.

In terms of GC, it might be something that the road decides. Going on most recent results, Nans Peters would be the choice to go for the yellow jersey. Peters exceeded expectations at the Tour de l'Ain when he was able to stay with the best climbers (albeit being caught from the breakaway on one stage) and combined with a strong prologue, he finished 4th overall only 24 seconds behind winner Alexander Geniez. Peters is an all-around talent as he was 4th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 this year and has a strong time trial motor on him. National coach Pierre-Yves Chatelon has his interest piqued by the thought of Peters being able to climb on Alpine climbs but will not put all his chips in his corner.

The other two riders that will form the French GC backbone are CC Etupes teammates Maison and Martin. Maison has been on the cusp of something big over the past two seasons. The first time many heard of him was from last year's Tour de l'Avenir, where he got better as the race progressed and ended up 9th overall. He continued that success this year on the 2nd stage of the Ronde de l'Isard when he went on a huge solo move on Plateau de Beille and took a huge chunk of time out of the duo of Simone Petilli & Laurens De Plus to win the stage and move up to 3rd overall, where he would finish the race. Following a "down" Zavod Miru U23, he was back again at the Tour des Pays de Savoie and while he had to deal with some...seedy...competition, he was able to hold 4th overall. While he wasn't on point for l'Ain, he got better as each stage went on so perhaps there is no need to worry too much?

Martin's signature win from the season was his breakaway win in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 but he has been pretty good in the mountains this year. He was the best in l'Isard where he was 3rd on the opening two mountain stages and locked up 4th overall but since then he has been in that 2nd tier of climbers that have been good but not knocking people down. He was good in l'Ain but missed a crucial split on the final stage to miss the yellow jersey group.

Leo Vincent won the final two stages of the Ronde de l'Isard and Tour des Pays de Savoie. Expect no less of him taking the final stage in l'Avenir and getting some cool nickname. He will be needed support in the mountains. Elie Gesbert is a developing climber but hasn't seemed to get his feet in the big mountains yet. He will be doing the yeoman's work all race long.

What else does this team need? Sprinters? A time trialist? Nah. Another rider to chew up the kilometers that can climb well and keep the climbers out of trouble on the flat stages. This rider is...Fabien Grellier.

The only potential snub I see from this squad is first-year Aurelien Paret-Peintre (Chambery CF), who has been climbing very well this year but I can understand the justification for leaving him at home as he is just a first year but still, he could provide a breakout performance here.

Prediction: I will say this...if Jeremy Maison is on form, he could make the final podium.


Roster: Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus), Sam Oomen, Lennard Hofstede, Stan Godrie, Martijn Tusveld (all Rabobank Development) and Koen Bouwman (SEG Racing)

I have shied away from making a pick that could win the overall so far. Sam Oomen can win this edition of the Tour de l'Avenir. Looking across the board this year, Oomen has put up some of the most consistent results for any U23. Oomen has finished in the top 10 in stage races five times this year including a win in the Rhône Alpes Isere Tour and 2nd in the Tour des Pays de Savoie & Tour Alsace. Remember back to last year and Oomen was 2nd to convicted doper Ilya Davidenok on Plateau de Solaison as just a first year rider. Oomen has the engine. He can climb with pretty much everyone in this field. He has the team. No reason why he can't.

Speaking of the team, he has a damn good one behind him. Mathieu van der Poel is making his l'Avenir debut and if Oomen is the leader, van der Poel is the super domestique. There isn't a particular stage that suits him besides stage 4, which ends on a descent without too much climbing, but he will be able to mess some people up along the way. He can certainly mix it up on all types of terrain so he will be a breath of fresh air.

The team's "sprinter" is Stan Godrie, the U23 RR champion. He isn't a out-and-out bunch sprinter but he has a good kick on him with an example being his recent 2nd place in the Antwerpse Havenpijl behind burly Lithuanian Aidis Kruopis.

A yeoman that will be trying to do a bit of everything will be Martijn Tusveld. He could be acting as a leadout for Godrie while shagging bottles and getting in breakaways for Oomen & co.

The two climbers Oomen has for support will be Valle d'Aosta stage winner Koen Bouwman and Hofstede. Hofstede assumed this position for Oomen in Pays de Savoie, where Oomen was 2nd overall and Hofstede 10th. While his best result came in the recent Trofeo Almar (3rd), he was going well in the Tour de l'Ain and seems to be on track to have Oomen in his shadow until show time. Bouwman was going well in Aosta and one the short but spectacular stage on the Colle delGran San Bernardo. He has proven his climbing skills elsewhere so if Oomen has any overall shot, he will be grateful for Bouwman.

No snubs here as the Dutch stayed away from any World Tour or even Pro Continental talents, which is applaudable. This race is for experience and...well, don't get it started again.

Prediction: Sam Oomen wins the overall.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Team Preview: Italy

There were many years where the Italians were next to invisible in the Tour de l'Avenir. With riders like Damiano Caruso and Dario Cataldo being the l'Avenir bright spots in the late 00s, it wasn't a bad time for Italian cycling. Yet at the dawn of the new decade, there were podium ambitions. Mattia Cattaneo went back-to-back with 3rd place overall finishes in 2011 & 2012 while Davide Formolo finished 6th overall in the 2013 edition.

Last year, Giulio Ciccone had finished in the top 7 in three consecutive stages and was sitting 7th on the GC heading into the last stage, which finished on La Toussuire. Ciccone crashed out on the final stage and had to pull out of the race thus ruining Italy's chance but Ciccone is back once again with a bevy of his trade teammate from Colpack and others.


Roster: Giulio Ciccone, Simone Consonni, Oliveira Troia, Edward Ravasi (all Colpack), Simone Petilli (Unieuro-Wilier) and Gianni Moscon (Zalf-Euromobil)

The Azzuri is coming in hot with a stacked roster albeit I think there are a couple of riders that were big snubs albeit I do not know their individual plans. In any case, they have a three-headed hydra of riders that are ready to attack the mountains, a rider for the sprints and a jack of all trades.

Ciccone is back again after his breakthrough 2014 season but this year has been a bit different for the Abruzzian. Ciccone hasn't made much of an impact in UCI races besides his considerable time in the breakaways in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta where he won the KOM jersey by a comfortable margin for the 2nd year running. Ciccone's lone win this year came in the historic Bassano-Monte Grappa, which is a 110 kilometer race that ends up on a mountain. Will he go for GC hopes or be content working for others? Perhaps a question for the road to decide.

Simone Petilli would be the man that many would think would make a stab at GC but the main question is are the Italians willing to be content with a podium place or do they actually want to go for the win? Petilli did win the Ronde de l'Isard but out of the major stage races in the U23 ranks this year, it had one of the weaker start lists. He beat Laurens De Plus by 10 seconds and Jeremy Maison by 23, which is certainly an accomplishment but this was a plateau. At the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, Petilli was right at or under the level of Robert Power and De Plus. The only time he was able to attempt an attack was when Power had mechanical troubles. Will he be able to go to another level to take time from his rivals or will he be a shadow?

The other pure climber here is Ciccone's trade teammate Ravasi. The Colpack rider finished 4th in the Tour of Croatia in the pro ranks (mainly thanks to one big climbing stage) and then followed it up with two 2nd place stage finishes in Aosta but didn't have any big GC ride after one catastrophic day in the high mountains. While he has the legs to keep up in the big mountains, there is that thought in the back of some heads if he will succumb to a bad day.

The dark horse here is Gianni Moscon. In a one-day race, there are not many that are better than Mister Moscon. In a stage race, it really depends on the terrain. In the Course de la Paix, Moscon finished 5th overall but that can be attributed to stages that weren't overly long as well as a steep, punchy finish on the final day that kept him in contention. On the long, Alpine climbs, Moscon will probably be mid-pack but perhaps stage 4, which has a few climbs but a descent to the finish, will interest him.

Rounding off the roster is a the sprint team of Simone Consonni & Oliveira Troia. Consonni is probably the most consistent sprinter on the Italian circuit this year with 4 wins as well as a win in the La Cote Picarde Nations Cup, which was a mass sprint ahead of Owain Doull and Daniel Hoelgaard. Consonni is certainly one of the fastest sprinters out there in the U23 ranks but if a breakaway sticks, he is relegated to sprinting for minor places. Troia will be his main lead out and even he isn't a bad sprinter himself. A stage win would be a good target.

There are two big snubs from this roster in last year's points jersey winner Davide Martinelli and Stefano Nardelli. Martinelli has been on a fantastic year this year with the Italian U23 TT win and a podium in the European U23 RR. It seems like the team is focusing on climbing but Troia over Martinelli? Nardelli on the other hand is a climber that finished 6th in Valle d'Aosta in support of Petilli while he won the GP Poggiana in a late solo breakaway.

In any case, Italy could win a stage and finish top 5 in GC.

Read l'Avenir team previews for Spain and Colombia