After an enforced mid-season break, EW returns with a part one of a two part team-by-team rundown of the Tour de l’Avenir.
I’ve carelessly arranged to move house on the morning of Stage 1, so won’t actually be there… BUT like a modern day Sir Francis Drake – who famously had time to finish the game and beat the Spanish – everything should be out of the removal van and plugged into social media in time for the arrivee.
Billed as the Under-23 Tour de France, the Tour l’Avenir runs for 10 days, stretching from Grand Champ in Brittany to the Saint-Colomban-des-Villards in the Alps. The route is similar to 2017, won by climber Egan Bernal (Colombia), but this year includes the banana-skin stage of a team time trial instead of a rest day. Expect more of the same – the early stages are tough with jagged profiles which will limit opportunities for any out-and-out sprinters in the field – but the magic and music will be made in the last 4 days once the race hits the Alps.
Looking to follow in Bernal’s footsteps will be 156 riders from 23 National teams, 2 French regions and a UCI composite team. The competitors will range from current and confirmed future WorldTour pros to ‘real’ amateurs. The race website has an early entry list (which I already know has partly changed) which is available here.
In French-alphabetical order, then, here are your renners and riders.
A specialist in just missing the win (including taking 2nd at the U23 Tour of Flanders and 3rd in the Nations Cup at the ZLM Tour), Max Kanter (Development Team Sunweb) will be a threat to the winner’s rostrum in the early stages. There’s no reason why the man from Cottbus can’t take a stage win, however, and the absence of many of the faster sprinters in the age group will help his cause. None of this team are a meaningful prospect for the final overall classification, although Florian Stork (Development Team Sunweb) should come the closest.
In short: Mid-pack fodder, go each way for an early stage win if you must.
Multiple threats for stage wins, with Robert Stannard (Mitchelton-BikeExchange) providing a meaningful GC option. Stannard’s stage racing credentials were in doubt early in the season, but he won the Baby Giro time trial and taking 3rd overall, despite attacking on the early Cat 3 climbs and losing 3 minutes on the first big mountain, but has kept his form into August taking the win at the 1.2U-ranked GP di Poggiana last weekend. U23 Tour of Flanders winner Jimmy Whelan (Drapac EF Cycling) will be marked more closely than he was at Oudenaarde in April, and Callum Scotson (Mitchelton Bike-Exchange)’s power will help them through the TTT.
In short: If Stannard keeps his powder dry in the early stages, yellow in Saint-Colomban is within reach. A well matched and experienced team which can ride a solid TTT and defend a jersey.
Accordions and lederhosen, Markus Wildauer (Tirol Cycling Team) surprised everyone with his Baby Giro stage win and spell in the pink jersey, and Patrick Gamper (Polartec-Kometa) wore the maillot jaune here last year. Like their German neighbours, this is a solid but unspectacular lineup who are likely to fly under the radar, and stay there.
In short: In need of a long breakaway and some luck.
Auvergne Rhone Alpes
The French regional teams are by definition the weakest of the race and making it round will be a good result for most of this team. That said, Remy Rochas (Bourg-en-Bresse Ain Cyclisme) is a stagiare with Delko-Marseille, although results have been thin on the ground from the team this year.
In short: Getting into the break is a good result; the mechanic’s job will get easier as the week goes by.
Another team for the early stages, with Lotto-Soudal stagiaires Gerben Thijssen and Brent van Moer the most likely to climb the stage winner’s podium. Thijssen is still looking for redemption following his early celebration faux pas on Stage 1 of the Baby Giro and has the ability to win a sprint if he can get survive the preceding climbs. Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto-Soudal) has had a torrid season with illness and, whilst he’s on the mend, l’Avenir has probably come too soon for the team’s promising climber.
In short: Praying for rain and stage wins.
Centre Mondial du Cyclisme
The inclusion of Zahiri Abderrahim (Trevigiani-Phonix-1896) gives the UCI’s Global Development Team, for riders from ‘development’ nations, some teeth, but this team is about giving opportunities more than taking victories. Barnabas Peak is a trainee with Quick-Step Floors.
In short: Abderrahim is the best chance here, but the team’s goals go beyond the results sheet.
The opposite of Belgium, the South Americans are praying for sun, straight roads mountains. The team brought themselves and half the bunch down on Baby Giro Stage 9a, so the TTT will be as much about survival as managing losses, but the Colombians will light the race up in the mountains. Ivan Sosa (Androni Giocattoli – Sidermec)’s pedigree is head and shoulders above the rest with having most recently won the 2.HC Tour of Burgos, but Alejandro Osorio (GW Shimano) and Cristian Munoz (Coldeportes Zenu) both won stages in Italy in June, with the former swapping in and out of the pink jersey every other day.
In short: Sosa to fill Bernal’s shoes and win the general classification, if he stays upright. Tactics are always optional, but the whole team is dangerous.
A team whose strength is easy to under-estimate despite the presence of World U23 TT Champion Mikkel Bjerg (Hagens Berman Axeon). Andreas Stokbro (Riwal CeramicSpeed), Mikkel Honore and Niklas Larsen (both Team Waoo) have all won 1.2 races this year and they look to be well-matched for the team time trial. Jonas Gregaard (Riwal CeramicSpeed) placed third at the conspicuously mountainous Giro Valle d’Aosta – he is perhaps unlikely to win overall, has a healthy relationship with gravity which will see him push the favourites hard.
In short: This could be the strongest team in the race. Will win a stage, possibly the team time trial.
A surprise inclusion about whom it’s difficult to find anything to say, other than to express surprise about their inclusion. [Will this do?]
In short: To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, “We asked for Jhonatan Narvaez, we got Jimmy; how’s that for being born under a bad sign?”
Movistar neo-pro Jaime Castrillo has inevitably avoided the top of the podium in his first year in the WorldTour, but will want to show that he can race as well as work. A better bet for the hilly stages is Juanpe Lopez (Polartec Kometa), who will be looking to make up for his early exit from the Baby Giro. Despite being a traditional cycling nation with a well developed domestic under-23 racing scene, it’s hard to see this team making waves in France.
In short: A stage win at best; the next Indurain either hasn’t arrived yet or is hiding his light under several bushels.
Second at the 2017 World U23 Time Trial, Brandon McNulty (Rally Cycling) is a solid prospect for the overall, having proved his stage-racing ability at the Tour of California, where his 7th overall put him firmly amongst the WorldTour riders. His recent form is good, with two top-three placings at last week’s Tour of Alsace, and the American’s measured approach will contrast with the Colombians in the battle for the GC at l’Avenir. Ian Garrison (Hagens Berman Axeon) will provide power on the flatter roads and can get up in the sprints.
In short: It’s not all about McNulty’s bid for the GC, but it mostly is. Won’t win the TTT but should lose less time than some of their rivals and keep the Rally man in contention for yellow.
Marlon Gaillard (Vendee U) can climb in the high mountains, as his 4th place in the Ronde de l’Isard proved, but a top-20 finish at this higher Nations Cup level would be a good return. It’s difficult to read too much into Damien Touze (St Michel – Auber 93)’s stage-and-overall showing at the recent Kreiz Breizh Elites (2.2), but he is probably the best home-grown bet for a stage victory, having performed well enough this season to secure a two year deal with Cofidis. Clement Champoussin (Chambery Cyclisme Formation) isn’t far away, but needs another year to be a danger in the Nations Cup.
In short: More Voeckler than Hinault, they’ll be popular with local schoolchildren and may sneak a stage.
A two-pronged attack on the general classification through Stevie Williams (SEG Racing Academy) and first year espoir Mark Donovan (Team Wiggins). Both placed in the top 10 at the Baby Giro and are riding as stagiares for Bahrain-Merida and Team Sky respectively. Matthew Gibson (JLT Condor) won a stage in the Tour de Normandie in April and U23 Gent-Wevelgem runner-up Jake Stewart‘s ability to navigate a tight bunch sprint mustn’t be underestimated. To understate, the TTT should hold less fear for Great Britain than for their overall rivals from Colombia.
In short: Williams and Donovan will be the focus, but the British could win on any day.
Eddie Dunbar (Aqua Blue Sport) missed the opportunity to race here last year due to concussion sustained in Italy, but returns from professional duty to lead the Irish team in France, where the uphill finish to Chateaudun looks like it suits his abilities. Track/road crossover rider Mark Downey (Team Wiggins) will mix it in the sprints, where his hunger was shown by being disappointed at only placing 4th on a stage of the Baby Giro.
In short: Dunbar to win Stage 3. You heard it here first.
In Part Two: From Japan to Switzerland via Norway.