Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tour de l'Avenir Wrap-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 comments:

  1. I found the course pretty disappointing. The race was made after stage 4, the last three days were just a repeat of the stage before. Boring.

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    1. Boring for you just because Lopez and Power were the strongest. No amount of climbs would have made a difference there. Perhaps some more medium mountains.

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