One of the joys of under-23 road racing is its unpredictable nature. The racers race, the team managers drive the cars and shout through the windows. Breaks stay away, even on “sprint” stages and the riders use their instincts to sniff out victories.
The category’s highest ranking event, the Tour de l’Avenir, is no exception to this. As the dust settles on the 2018 race, EW looks back at some surprising aspects of the race, and some less so.
Anyone who says they predicted a podium of Tadej Pogacar, Thymen Arensman and Gino Mader is lying.
Pogacar has shown stage racing pedigree in higher category events, but at 19 years old was untested in and around a leader’s jersey making his victory a surprise, even if he had been expected to figure near the front of the race. Mader’s ability to take time on his rivals with well timed attacks is impressive but he’d be rated more as a stage winner than a double stage winner and podium finisher.
Arensman is the biggest surprise of all, as the result follows his 16th in the World Cyclo Cross, 3rd at Under-23 Paris Roubaix and a crash in the Baby Giro. Even though all three race at the competitive end of the under-23 category and would have been sensible bets for top 10 finishes, the odds on this being your final podium would have been extraordinarily long.
Low Production Values
Baggy leaders jerseys, a tarpaulin erected on scaffolding as the podium backdrop (although it had been upgraded by the final stage) and crooked imagery give the race a provincial feel which falls beneath its supposed status as the best under-23 stage race in the world. Race owner ASO has farmed out the day to day race production to Alpes Velo (a team who cut their teeth organising sportives and cycling holidays in the Rhone Alpes region) and the race has lost a lot of its sparkle.
Is a podium without a roof even a podium? Perhaps it is if you can see the Arc de Triomphe, but if we hadn’t been told that this is a prestigious race there was nothing in the presentation or parcours to give it away.
Contrast this to the Baby Giro, which had a significantly more challenging route and professional appearance (which is, let’s remember, 100% of what those not involved in the race ever see of it). In Italy, there was even a man in the entourage whose sole job was to slice cold meats, which on its own means that the perennial question as to which is the category’s most prestigious event is becoming easier to answer every year. The Ronde de l’Isard is less than half its length, but l’Avenir’s equal in so many respects.
Come back ASO, and if next year’s route isn’t the same Brittany/transfer/Alps routine, then all may yet be forgiven.
Colombia, donde estais?
Perhaps the mountains weren’t tough enough, or the opposition were just up to the challenge, but the anticipated South American assault on the race turned out to be a damp squib. Ivan Sosa won his stage and the rest jumped around in the hills (notably flogging the race to bits from the gun on Stage 7), but they weren’t the same force which lit up Italy in June.
What’s less surprising is that the South Americans were the authors of their own failure – once again – as a flaccid team time trial neutralised the team’s overall threat in as devastating if less dramatic fashion as their self-inflicated crash on the last day in Italy. Team leader Sosa never recovered from the TTT and finished over two minutes down on Pogacar by the end of the race.
Giro/Tour Double Not Doable
Reliable Russian rider Aleksandr Vlasov made a valiant attempt at the first Giro/Tour double since Gianbattista Baronchelli (1973) with an attack on the Tour de l’Avenir’s final stage, but most of the riders who battled it out for the top placings in Italy in June were unable to repeat the feat in August.
The fortunes of Alejandro Osorio, Mark Donovan, Stevie Williams and Rob Stannard were all eclipsed this time around by Pogacar, Arensman and Mader. It’s a long season and this was a different type of race so the changing personnel at the upper end of the general classification is to be expected.
Vlasov’s consistency won him the Baby Giro and took him to fourth in France, without being particularly flashy or winning a stage in either event. A mention also to Joao Almeida, who followed up his second spot in Italy with an under-the-radar sixth placed finish in France.
The Eurosport commentators had no real idea what was going on. This is, of course, a criticism which is levelled at every commentator in every sport, but becomes all the more obvious when the subject matter is more esoteric than commenting on Chris Froome’s elbows. On the upside though, the race was at least on Eurosport, for which we all say thank you, and hope that some of the fabled ASO TV revenues are put back into making the event the spectacle it deserves to be.
The way to get in the winning break in a race is this: follow Gino Mader.
Even if it was possible to dismiss his 3 minute victory in St Girons on Stage 4 the Ronde de l’Isard as a sideshow to the GC battle unfolding behind, taking two stage wins in the Tour de l’Avenir is hugely impressive. The second victory, a coup de grace on the Col du Glandon, came after being alone in front for most of the last 32km, and being caught by a group of riders including Vlasov, Sosa and Eddie Dunbar. Mader attacking and winning races is a racing certainty, although he certainly caught the eye by doing it twice in three days.