A well-balanced team with six riders who all offer their own threat. Andrea Bagioli (Team Colpack) missed the Baby Giro and crashed out on stage one of the Giro de Valle d’Aosta, so he’ll have a point to prove in France. If Bagioli’s legs are as strong as in the spring (2nd at U23 Liege, followed by a stage win and the overall at Toscana Terra di Ciclismo) then a finish well inside the General Classification’s top ten is on the cards. To mention Bagioli before Alessandro Covi (Team Colpack), who finished 8th overall at the Baby Giro with 4 top ten stage placings, is a testament to the strength that the team brings to the race. Powerhouse Edoardo Affini (SEG Racing Academy) will be disappointed at the lack of an individual time trial, but his contribution to the TTT will be immense. So many Italian national teams of recent years have been made up of riders who could be leaders elsewhere, and Christian Scaroni (Petroli Firenze Maserarati Hoppla’), Samuele Battistella and Alberto Dainese (both Zalf-Euromobil) will all get involved at the sharp end.
In short: Deciding who to ride for every day will be the Directeur’s biggest headache.
Masaki Yamamoto‘s day long escape at U23 Gent Wevelgem has been the season’s highlight in Japan’s Nations Cup campaign. Breakaways are again their best chance of making an impact on the race, although breaking into the top ten on a stage looks optimistic.
In short: Not yet matching the established nations in terms of results, but the Japanese will make sure we know they’re there.
National U23 road race champion Pit Leyder (Leopard Pro Cycling) managed 3rd overall in the 2.HC Tour of Luxembourg, and looks well suited to the short climbs of the opening half of the race. The team’s overall challenge comes from Michel Ries (Polartec Kometa), currently riding as a stagiare for Trek-Segafredo and 9th overall at the Baby Giro. There’s no shame in not matching the Colombians in the mountains, and Ries will be disappointed if he doesn’t significantly improve on his 19th place from 2017.
In short: Solid but not spectacular, expect placings rather than wins.
Seventh place in 2017 suggests that Tobias Foss (Uno-X Norwegian Development Team) will be the overall rider, but he hasn’t matched that form in 2018, and the Norwegians will instead look to first year under-23 Andreas Leknessund (Uno-X Norwegian Development Team) to steer them towards the yellow jersey. Only turning 19 in May this year, Leknessund was a mere 7 seconds down on Edvald Boassen Hagen in the national TT championships and has shown his climbing ability at the Ronde de l’Isard and Valle d’Aosta. Still prone to having an off day, Leknessund is nevertheless a huge talent whose time may not yet have come. WorldTour-bound Rasmus Tiller (Team Joker Icopal) won the bunch sprint at Grand Champ in the Tour de Bretagne ahead of a stacked field and will want to repeat the achievement in the same town on Stage 1. Syver Waersted (Uno-X Norwegian Development Team) is still showing as a starter, but a nasty training crash means he will not take his place at the depart.
In short: If they get it right on the day, Tiller or Leknessund could take a stage.
Pays de la Loire
A combination of Vendee U and UC Nantes Atlantiques riders, like the Auvergne Rhone Alpes team they will struggle to make an impact on the race.
In short: Several steps up from the Coupe de France, where this would be a competitive squad, finishing the race or making a break will be a good result.
The Netherlands has so far scored 1 (one) Nations Cup point this season but they can be expected to make a stronger impression at l’Avenir. Climber Kevin Inkelaar (Polartec Kometa) has earned his Marketing & Communications degree and is now focused solely on cycling, with his stage victory and second place overall at Valle d’Aosta the strongest indicator of his abilities. Ide Schelling (SEG Racing Academy) has spent much of the season riding in support of other riders and can be expected to support Inkelaar’s ambitions in France. 18-year old Thymen Arensman (SEG Racing Academy) is one for the future, although his 3rd at U23 Paris Roubaix suggests that the future may not be that far off.
In short: Nothing big just yet but Inkelaar should make the second group in the mountains.
Sprinter Alan Banaszek (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) placed in the top 10 on 6 stages of the 2017 race and will want to break his season’s duck on Stage 1, which is likely to be his last opportunity before the hills kick in. You can toss a coin for leadership in the sprints between Banaszek and fellow sprinter Szymon Sajnok (CCC Sprandi Polkowice). Sajnok has the better sprinting form in Polish domestic races this season, as well as third at Germany’s 1.1 Rund um Koln. Overall threats are at best negligible from the Poles, despite Filip Maciejuk (Leopard Pro Cycling)’s GC victory at the 2.2U Carpathian Coureurs race.
In short: Up there in the sprints, back *there* in the mountains.
Eight riders listed on the race website of whom six can start, the Portuguese squad will be strong no matter who takes to the line. U23 Liege winner and Baby Giro runner-up Joao Almeida (Hagens Berman Axeon) wouldn’t have made a long list of overall contenders at the start of 2018, but has found his legs this season and can target the overall podium. Nearly-man Rui Oliveira (Hagens Berman Axeon) has finished everywhere in the top 10 this year other than 1st or 8th. If Almeida saves his legs for the mountains, Oliveira and twin broth Ivo Oliveira (Hagens Berman Axeon) can take their chances early in the race. The TTT should help rather than hinder the Portuguese.
In short: Almeida could have won the Baby Giro but for the Stage 9a crash and is podium material once again.
Sasha Vlasov (Gazprom Rusvelo) was an unflashy but effective in winning the Baby Giro. His anonymity in stage races doubles as consistency (contrast Colombia) and he isn’t a rider to throw time away unnecessarily. A Giro-Avenir double would make him the first to achieve the feat since Gianbattista Baronchelli in 1973, and the first Russian winner of Tour de l’Avenir since Evgeni Petrov in 2002. The team will be focussed solely on Vlasov and they should have the best team bus on the race.
In short: Being hard to beat is half the way to victory, Vlasov is the sensible punter’s choice.
Qualification for the Rwandans came courtesy of the Africa-only Tour de l’Espoir in January, but 2017 Baby Giro stage winner Joseph Areruya (Delko Marseille) has legitimate European racing pedigree. Holding him back for the mountains and general classification would be a mistake and as the team’s strongest rider, Areruya should fight for a stage win in Brittany. Samuel Mugisha (Dimension Data for Qhubeka) won last week’s Tour of Rwanda, but has been a pack rider in Europe so far this season. Didier Munyaneza (Club Benediction) also impresses in Africa, but lacks his colleagues’ European experience.
In short: The People’s Choice; they’ve earned their place and have something to prove.
Leaders of the Under 23 Nations Cup, Slovenia punch above their weight at this level, bringing U23 Gent-Wevelgem winner Ziga Jerman (Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum) for the rolling days and Tadej Pogacar (Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum) for the hills. Still in his first year as an under-23, Pogacar’s talent was most visible with his 4th place overall in the Tour of Slovenia, against WorldTour and Pro-Conti opposition, although he is untested in the high mountains.
In short: Pogacar has a bright future, but give him another year to crack the mountain passes.
Of the many contenders for the hilly stages in Brittany, Marc Hirschi (Development Team Sunweb) is one of the brightest. The recently crowned European U23 road race champion is in good form after the Tour de Alsace. Breakaway specialist Gino Mader (IAM-Excelsior) will go down fighting but would be lucky to pull off a repeat of his 3-minute victory in Saint-Girons at the Rome de l’Isard. Despite being the most mountainous country in Europe, the high mountains don’t really suit this Swiss team.
In short: Hirschi in the hills, raclette dans les musettes.
It’s tempting to just repeat the top five from earlier stage races and assume the result will be the same, but Colombia can’t get the Tour de l’Avenir as wrong as they did the final day of the Baby Giro so the door is unlikely to be thrown so far open for the rest as it was in Italy. Coming off the back of his Tour of Burgos victory it’s difficult to see past Ivan Sosa for the overall victory, and the wide Alpine climbs will suit his abilities. With Alejandro Osorio as a backup option, the Colombians can shred the race once it goes uphill. Australia’s Robert Stannard is in good form, but his aggressive racing style suits one day racing better than a 10 day stage race. American Brandon McNulty is a more measured rider with podium potential.
The field is stacked, with Vlasov, Sosa, McNulty, Williams, Almeida and Osorio the big GC contenders, with a long list of challengers ready to step up if they falter.
The Tour de l’Avenir starts in Grand Champ on 17 August 2018 and finishes on 26 August in Saint Colomban des Villards.