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Tour de l'Avenir 2012: Wrap-up and Takeaways

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via farm9.staticflickr.com

(Original Photo by Petit Brun; Shared under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

With impressive riding and excellent teamwork, Warren Barguil and his French squad were able to secure the overall victory last Saturday in the preeminent U23 stage race, Le Tour de l'Avenir. Barguil was able to hold a 1 second advantage over Juan Ernesto Chamorro of Colombia on the trip up to Le Grand Bornand where Sergey Pomoshnikov took the stage win out of the group of favorites. Barguil put in a fantastic ride on the stage to take the mountains and points jerseys as well. The shortened queen stage of the race, which took place on Friday and go over the Col de Madeleine but was cut to just 44 kilometers albeit mountainous, lent itself to Barguil's tight victory because Chamorro had planned to use the giant Madeleine as a launch pad. Barguil was quick to thank his teammates for their work, most notably Théo Vimpere and Antoine Lavieu who were with him late into the mountains. There were great rides put in all around with Mattia Cattaneo, who is bound for Lampre next year, getting his 2nd consecutive 3rd place overall, American Ian Boswell going on the attack to grab 5th overall and the Russian team slotting 3 men into the top 10 (4th, 6th and 7th).

The GC and other classifications finished up as follows:

1 Warren Barguil - France 18:36:07
2 Juan Ernesto Chamorro - Colombia 0:00:01
3 Mattia Cattaneo - Italy 0:00:09
4 Sergey Chernetski - Russian Federation 0:00:15
5 Ian Boswell - United States Of America 0:00:19
6 Sergey Pomoshnikov - Russian Federation 0:00:26
7 Gennady Tatarinov - Russian Federation 0:00:31
8 Daan Olivier - Netherlands 0:00:42
9 Patrick Konrad - Austria 0:00:45
10 Tim Wellens - Belgium 0:00:49

Points Classification

1 Warren Barguil - France 78 pts.

2 Alexey Lutsenko - Kazakhstan 76 pts.

3 Juan Ernesto Chamorro - Colombia 61 pts.

Mountains Classification

1 Warren Barguil - France 59 pts.

2 Juan Ernesto Chamorro - Colombia 42 pts.

3 Sergey Pomoshnikov - Russia 26 pts.

Team Classification

1 Russia 55 hours 49'33"

2 France +10:01

3 Colombia +10:45

Now is the time where questions begin to arise...what does Barguil's victory mean? Will he show himself to be a Romain Sicard or a rider that has a smoother transition into the pro ranks. On the flip, I will explore this and other takeaways and observations from this year's race.

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via farm9.staticflickr.com

(Original Photo by Petit Brun; Shared under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

How far will Warren Barguil go?

The 20 year old from Bretagne has proven himself to not be a one-hit wonder after his 5th overall and a stage win last year at l'Avenir. The last few years have been chock full of potentially amazing French climbers that have had a rough go of it in the professional peloton, not always living up to expectations. With his overall win last Saturday, Barguil is now up to 12 wins on the season, an impressive haul for a climber, not to mention the 14 other trips to the podium he has had this season. When Romain Sicard won the Tour de l'Avenir in 2009 and then the World U23 RR weeks later, he was still dogged by questions of consistency and many French teams passed on him because of this (he had to prode Euskaltel to get a ride with their feeder team, Orbea). Barguil has already announced that he will be riding for Argos-Shimano for the next two years, a team which has had Alexandre Geniez, a young French climber who is talented yet is very hot and cold. On the back of his l'Avenir win, Barguil will have to deal with added pressure as the potential savior of French Grand Tour cycling before he even takes a pedal stroke in a World Tour race. I cannot say enough about Barguil's personality. He is quick to thank his teammates and support team for everything and he knows that next year will be a difficult year, to which he has said he will continue to focus his training in the mountains. Bonne chance Warren!

Colombia does it yet again

Juan Ernesto Chamorro showed yet again that cycling in Colombia is absolutely thriving. Over the last 3 years, the Tour de l'Avenir has included more vertical feet and with that, not to sound stereotypical, the Colombians have shown themselves to be right at home, with 4 podium finishes including 2 overall victories. Chamorro was so close to overall victory, missing out on the overall by just 1 second, and it was not because of a horrible prologue performance. Chamorro beat Barguil by one second in the opening run around Dôle but lost 2 seconds after Barguil's last kilometer attack on stage 4 into Valloire. Chamorro, as stated previously, was hampered by the exclusion of the Col de la Madeleine after it was snowed out on the 5th stage, which would have probably given him a better chance to soften the legs of Barguil and others. Chamorro went 10th overall at the Tour de l'Ain a few weeks earlier so his talent is evident though like many young Colombians, it's a struggle to find many results on them. Chamorro is in the Colombian U23 team for the Valkenburg World Championships so he could make his presence shown again.

The Russians are coming!...well hopefully

The Russian team had an exceptional Tour de l'Avenir with Sergei Chernetskiy, Sergey Pomoshnikov and Gennadiy Tatarinov finishing 4th, 6th and 7th overall and Pomoshnikov grabbing a stage win on the last stage to Le Grand Bornand. Chernetskiy was able to keep up and attack Barguil, Chamorro and Mattia Cattaneo but he lacked a bit of punch at the end. Chernetskiy's 4th place overall is just another strong GC result in his last season as a U23, which included 4th overall at the Rhône-Alpes Isére Tour, 2nd overall at the Ronde de l'Isard and 2nd overall at the Giro della Valle d'Aosta Mont Blanc, perhaps the most mountainous U23 stage race, and even beating the fabulous Fabio Aru in the final uphill TT. Pomoshnikov capped off a solid year, his first on the greater European circuit, with a great uphill sprint into Le Grand Bornand. Being a worker bee for the majority of the year, Pomoshnikov was able to show his talent in August, which also included a win in the GP des Marbiers. All three of these riders do face a problem...what will happen when they move up to the elite ranks? For all intents and purposes, the development system for Russian riders is amazing but there seems to be a disconnect between the amateur ranks, where they show prominently, and the pro ranks, where young riders have struggled over the past few years. With Katusha being the backer of the majority of Russian development, I mostly look to them when I say this because Russia is stocked with cycling talent and they should be showing more prominently in the World Tour. I could show multiple examples of this Russian 'problem' with riders such as Rovny, Khatuntsev and even Egor Silin, who is struggling to find his legs in the World Tour but you get the point. I hold out some hope that these talented young Russians can find a better road to the World Tour.

Others:

Alexey Lutsenko continued an amazing season with a stage win on stage 5 and an 11th overall placing, spending multiple days in the aggressive rider's jersey. Lutsenko won a stage at the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and has been one of the most consistent performers on the U23 circuit this year. Mattia Cattaneo finished 3rd overall for the 2nd year in a row, climbing and attacking Barguil and Chamorro multiple times, and will be one to watch over the next couple years with Lampre. Argentinian Eduardo Sepulveda showed that there is actually something at the UCI that works relatively well, the UCI World Cycling Centre, which has allowed riders such as Daniel Teklehaimanot a chance to race in Europe for the first time. Riding for the UCI Mixed Team, Sepulveda finished 14th overall and was in the day long break on one stage along with two top 10 stage finishes. Ian Boswell and Larry Warbasse showed their climbing talents with Boswell attacking with Lutsenko on stage 5 to gain valuable GC time and Warbasse putting himself in multiple breaks. Boswell is on a stagiaire ride for Argos-Shimano the remainder of the year while Warbasse is doing the same with BMC. The Dutch, perennial stalwarts on the U23 scene, again are chock full of Nuts talent with Daan Olivier finishing 8th overall, though he was disappointed with this result after showing himself to be able to stay with the best climbers except for one bad day. Wouter Wippert, stagiaire at Lotto-Belisol, and Moreno Hofland, 2x l'Avenir stage winner, will be fastmen to watch next year, as both should be joining the World Tour.

**I could talk about nearly every rider extensively but I thought this was a nice snippet view**

Final Thoughts -The race needs to be televised

Being the preeminent race in the U23 cycling calendar, it is a shame that the Tour de l'Avenir cannot find its way onto TV, at least on an online platform. Understandably, like many French races, they are working with a shoestring budget which does not allow them this luxury but a viewing feed of some sort would provide a boon to them in obvious ways, such as additional sponsorship. It would increase exposure to U23 cycling and it would allow fans to connect faces to names before these riders suddenly appear on the World Tour circuit. People rave over the attacking nature of women's cycling (and rightfully so) and U23 cycling provides the same entertainment and excitement. Small teams and young riders full of enthusiasm could provide nice ratings.

-The race needs more terrain variety

While some might find 3 consecutive mountain stages great racing, I don't believe it is the best approach to showcasing U23 talent. This year's course had a short prologue, 3 "sprint" stages, only one of which was a true field sprint, and 3 mountain stages. Firstly, the Tour restricted itself to the Rhône-Alpes and Franche-Comté departments of France, which again I think is a bit misguided. There are riders that could thrive on hilly stages in Alsace and others that could blow the race apart in Picardie or in the cobbles of the North. It might sound hopelessly idealistic but there should be a stage suited to every type of rider in a stage race like this. For future editions, I would like to see the return of a medium-length ITT (~20km) and hilly, transition stages that could be perfect for breakaways containing a GC contender, with the field being hard to contain with small teams. One of my favorite editions, 2008, featured Jan Bakelants (Radioshack) taking the race by the neck and going solo from a long way out on a lumpy stage to Carmaux. His advantage from this stage eventually sewed up the overall for him 4 stages later.

-More Teams/Countries and/or Mixed Teams

A reason I love U23 racing and the Tour de l'Avenir is the variety that it can provide in terms of teams and countries. In this year's edition, there were 20 different countries present but only 4 of them were outside of Europe (Kazakhstan, Eritrea, Colombia and Australia). I would like to see more variety in the countries chosen or the addition of a couple more mixed teams, so riders from other non-traditional cycling countries can get a chance to show off their talents on a big stage. There are areas of the world that possess cycling talent that have been relatively untapped and it would be nice to see their inclusion in this race.

There might be more interesting races in the U23 ranks, stage races and one-day races alike, but the Tour de l'Avenir will always have a place at the top of espoirs cycling. It truly is a showcase of young talent that almost no other race can match and I have my fingers crossed that there is greater media coverage of this race in the future.

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