Saturday, August 30, 2014

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.

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