The mountain climbers come out of their winter hibernation this week (23 to 26 May 2019) to contest France’s four day under-23 stage race, the Ronde de l’Isard. Set in the Ariege and Occitanie regions of France between Toulouse and the Spanish border, the race gives the first serious indication of the category’s pecking order in the high mountains.
Following Stevie Williams’ overall victory in 2018, Tour de l’Avenir runner-up Thymen Arensman (SEG Racing Academy) wears number one on the (provisional) startlist. Last year’s third-placed rider in this race, Julian Mertens (Lotto-Soudal U23) also returns. Three more of 2018’s top ten finishers, Thomas Vereecken (Lotto-Soudal U23), Clement Champoussin (Chambery CF) and Andreas Leknessund (Uno-X Norwegian Development Team) are also expected to ride.
Team Colpack make the trip from Italy, with Andrea Bagioli and UAE-Emirates-bound Alessandro Covi, who has enjoyed success on French soil in the past with a stage win at Cérilly in the Tour de l’Avenir. Norwegian Tobias Foss (Uno-X) and Francaise des Jeux duo Kevin Inkelaar & Christian Scaroni can also be expected to feature when the road goes up.
The race begins with an innocuous-looking first stage from Toulouse to Mas d’Azil (144km), before the climbing begins on stage two with the steep side of the Col du Portet d’Aspet and Col de la Core on the agenda. Stage three features a further two category 1 climbs on its 141km route from Mirepoix to Quérigut.
The final stage takes the riders over three Cat 1 climbs – the fiendish Port de Lers, turning left at the top to take in a short trip over the Col d’Agnes followed by a loop around the Col de Latrape, finishing in Saint Girons after a long and fast run-in down the valley from Aulus-les-Bains.
The full roadbook can be found here.
(P.S. Saint Girons is so far south that I had to ask for “cafe con leche” even though the board behind the counter said “cafe au lait”. C’est la vida, no.)