Friday, August 19, 2016

52nd Tour de l'Avenir Preview: This is it

Well, it doesn't get much better than this. The Tour de l'Avenir is here within a few days and for the first time in years, an actual time trial joins the race. U23 races have such a lack of stage races with time trials that if there is anything more than a prologue, there is a cause for celebration. How does one prepare for the pro ranks without ever racing a 45 kilometer time trial?

Stunning Le Puy-En-Velay in Auvergne is the take off point for the Tour de l'Avenir. One of my first memories of cycling was sitting in my grandparent's sitting room in West Virginia early one summer morning in 2005 watching Giuseppe Guerini attack his breakaway mates late in the game on stage 19 of the Tour de France before soloing into Le Puy-En-Velay for his final professional win.
Kicking off from Le Puy-En-Velay, the opening stage of the race isn't too difficult and should see a small breakaway get away early and get over the first two climbs of the race, both of which are fairly shallow. The trick will be if the small teams can pull back a strong move to set up for the bunch sprint into Veauche, which is just 20 clicks north of Saint-Etienne as well as on the banks of Loire River.

Teams will be keen to keep the race together as once the hills begin to come, the chances for sprints will go out the window. Remember last year? Obviously you would if you were following Espoirs Central but a bunch sprint wasn't even contested as breakaways were the name of the game.

Small note about the finishing town of Veauche is that former World Hour Record holder and World Pursuit champion Roger Riviere was married in the town and lived there. He has a small back street named after him.

Stage 2

The race takes off from Motrond-les-Bains and after a short northeast journey over another shallow category 4 climb, the race hits a few circuits in the Lyonnaise suburb of Trévoux, which is situated on a cliff overlooking the Saône river.

The finishing circuit is fairly flat but does have a few bumps in it, including a nice little kick up to the finish line that looks like it could shake things up a bit including the expected bunch sprint.

Stage 3

The Pyramid of Couhard, which sits near Autun and dates back to the first century A.D.
The longest stage of the race goes from the foothills of the Alps in Bourg-en-Bresse and travels northwest to the medieval city of Autun, which gets its first visit from the Tour de l'Avenir since 2000, when Janek Tombak won a breakaway sprint over Björn Leukemans and Sylvain Chavanel.

Transitioning into the Saône-et-Loire department, the race takes in three small climbs early on in the stage as well as an uncategorized 4th climb between Charmoy and La Tagnière. The race itself flattens out again after this climb and then it has another short, sharp uphill finish at Autun.

This stage could play to a breakaway as many of the GC favorites will be looking to protect themselves going into the time trial.

Stage 4

For the first time since 2010, a time trial of actual consequence will appear here in the Tour de l'Avenir. As I said above, it is a rare treat to see a time trial, even of only 16 kilometers, appear in a U23 race usually as they stretch teams equipment wise as well as they can be a bit more costly for races.
Lugny from above

25 years ago, Lugny was the launch point for the penultimate stage of the 1991 Tour de France, which funnily enough was also a time trial; a massive 57 kilometer test to Macon. Miguel Indurain won the stage on the way to his first overall win.

The race itself goes out and around Lugny on a rolling course that has a number of turns in it but it isn't too hard so time trial specialists should be licking their chops.

Stage 5

After a fairly long transfer that is 200+ kilometers from Lugny to Scionzier, the race finally gets its first uphill finish with the race going up the stair step climb at Le Carroz d'Arâches, a nice little ski resort. The stage itself is quite short by being only 98 kilometers and while there is a climb nearly right out of the gate, there is about 70 kilometers in the middle that are nice and flat, which will give the proverbial breakaway time to get some distance.

The gradient on the final climb isn't like a deep Alpine climb but at 5.5% for the last 3 kilometers up to the finish, it could definitely cause some separation. This stage could go one of two ways in that a breakaway could succeed as there are still three more mountain stages after this for GC men OR a GC favorite will lay it down to set the standard much like Marc Soler did on this stage last year.

Stage 6

Much like last year's stage 6, the race will first go over the Col des Saisies, which is only an average of 5% but hits ramps of up to 10% and certainly isn't a very steady climb. After 17 kilometers of descent down to the village of Beaufort, the race will deviate from last year's stage by taking in the Col du Pré instead of going up the long way on the Cormet de Roseland. The Pré climb is steep with an average gradient over 7% that jumps around in gradient but sees sustained gradients of 10 to 11% before the summit. After a short descent, brings the race up to the Lac de Roseland resevoir.

Lac de Roseland on the Cormet de Roseland pass
The Cormet de Roseland might be shorter but still has some decent gradients between 5 and 7% before topping out at nearly 2000m in elevation. Following 20 kilometers of nearly straight descending, the race finds a brief pause before entering Ste-Foy-Tarentaise, where the riders will begin their final climb up to the ski resort at Tignes. Profile of the final climb can be seen here and as can be seen, the climb is relatively steady (4.5-6%) for the vast majority of the climb until they approach the resort, where the gradient averages over 8% over the final three kilometers.

For most races, this would see a race defining event but for l'Avenir, there are still two more stages to go...

Stage 7

Moving just a stone's throw away from Tignes to Val d'Isere, which together form the Espace Killy ski area, which is one of the big three ski areas in the Tarentaise Valley. From the end of the neutral rollout, the riders go 300 meters before going straight uphill on the Col de l'Iseran, the highest mountain pass in the Alps that tops out at 2746 meters (9'086 feet), which is almost home for some riders from Colorado or perhaps Quito, Ecuador.

Once everyone is close to blacking out, the race tips downward for nearly 40 kilometers with only a couple of brief climbs upward. They go over the short and sweet Cote de Sardieres, which is easy compared with everything else on tap, before continuing downhill to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, which is over 2000 meters lower than where they were 72 kilometers prior (a 2.78% downhill gradient).

The  Col de Beaune, which is the third climb on tap for the day.
(photo: by the fantastic WillJ)
Making it back to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, the race goes along the valley to St. Martin d'Arc, where the climb to Valmeinier begins.
The final climb to Valmeinier is another two-part climb with the first part being a strong, sustained gradient around 8% for the first few kilometers before backing down slightly to 6 to 7%. With 5 kilometers to go, the road flattens out for half a kilometer where the actual village of Valmeinier is before going upwards again for the final 4 kilometers, where the gradients are sustained around 7 to 8%. The race finishes short of the true finish of the climb but the riders won't certainly mind that.

There is no place to rest once the race hits Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne so if you are a racer, you will need to be on point if you have any business being up front.

Stage 7

This stage is short, sweet and direct to the point. Two climbs. Once the first 15 kilometers of flat riding are out of the way, there are 57 kilometers of either up or down. The race is basically the opposite of last year's final stage finale as it is La Toussuire up first followed by a summit finish on the Col de la Croix-de-Fer.

The Saint-Roch chapel at Varcinières, just outside of Jarrier.
La Toussuire is La Toussuire. A prototypical Alpine climb that does level off in places but is in the 7 to 8% gradient range for the majority of the time. This year, they are climbing the other side of La Toussuire that begins at Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. Moving up the D 78d, the riders go past hamlets such as Jarrier before hitting ski towns like Les Bottieres and L'Alpettaz. The climb then takes a left onto the D 78 and hits the ski station of Les Sybelles, which is one of the largest in France and the summit of the La Toussuire climb.

Once off the descent, the course follows the l'Arvan river, which forms the Arves Valley to the feet of the Croix de Fer climb. The ride down the river valley is uphill for the most part and half of it is uncategorized, at least by the race, until they hit the Saint-Sorlin-D'Arves. From here, the race will be blown apart. The final 7 kilometers never fall under 7.5% gradient with one kilometer averaging nearly 10%. Topping out at 2057 meters, the 52nd Tour de l'Avenir comes to a close.

Last year, I said it was one of the best editions yet. This year's race look like it could even go past that.

**Unless otherwise noted, all photos are used via WikiCommons

In terms of favorites, the official start list has not been confirmed so if you are looking for a breakdown, you might want to head over to @EspoirsCentral on Twitter for more later on today.

No comments:

Post a Comment