Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Olympia's Tour Preview: Prelude to Doha

With the Doha World's being pushed back to beginning of October, the Olympia's Tour decided to make the move to the late season and serve as a tune-up race for the U23 ranks. Normally a race that was just a 2.2 that featured some big time non-U23 talent from the Netherlands (i.e. Wim Stroetinga, Jetse Bol, etc.), this year's event if going to a full U23 format that shuts out older riders but brings nearly all of the big teams for some hard nose, gutter-filled racing. Always hosted in Mid- to Late- May, the wind will still be a factor in the calendar switch however the chance of rain might subside slightly.

This race has been a staple of development racing for the last 60 years with Rabobank Continental using it as their training grounds for the last 15 years. Thomas Dekker, Thomas Berkhout, Lars Boom, Jetse Bol, Dylan van Baarle, Joost Poosthuma, Stef Clement...need I go on? In the 00s, Taylor Phinney is the only racer to break up the Dutch hegemony but this year looks as good as any to bring down the Dutch dominance. Seeing as Rabobank Development is ending its run as the leader in Dutch development this year, they will be hungry to get one last win here for the boys in Orange.

The 7-stage, 6-day race starts in Hardenberg with a team time trial. The course itself is fairly straight forward with nothing more than a handful of turns and no more than a 10 meter difference in elevation. It wouldn't be an Olympia's Tour without a team time trial.

Espoirs Central favorite: BMC Development

(I did write this before the TTT finished so being true to my word, I won't put in the USA just to save face. BMC didn't do too bad with a top 5 placing and only 22 seconds backs.)

Stage 2 begins and ends in Assen but does a big loop around Drenthe that has a few up and downs along with the ever present Dutch wind. Espoirs Central is thinking a reduced sprint or perhaps a small breakaway followed by a bigger peloton. If it plays out like the l'Avenir sprints, the smaller teams will not be able to hold the race together unless there is a very cohesive effort.

Espoirs Central favorite: Gabs Cullaigh

Stage 3 is a split day that features a morning time trial that finishes in Germany and an afternoon split stage, which should end in a sprint. The time trial is 15 kilometers, which isn't too long but for many U23 riders, this could be one of their only time trials of the season. It is also unique as it has a few kickers that are rather sharp that go up about 50 to 60 meters in elevation.

Espoirs Central favorite: Remi Cavagna

The afternoon stage is another loop circuit that finishes in Gendringen that is another prototypical Olympia's Tour stage with a mainly flat parcours filled with road furniture and a bit of a technical finish. Full blown sprint should be on tap.

Espoirs Central favorite: Kristofer Halvorsen

I'm a little dissappointed that Stage 4 has all of its hills in the first half of the race while the final half involves two laps around Zutphen, which are more or less flat. However, flat doesn't mean sprint in the U23 ranks so while I think it will come together as a sprint, it certainly could explode due to wind or tactics. If it does come to a sprint, the final kilometer is very tight with multiple turns and a 100 degree turn with less than 300 meters to go.

Espoirs Central favorite: Cees Bol over Chris Latham & Enzo Wouters

The Reuver stage has been a sprint stage in the Olympia's Tours of recent past but this year's stage 5, it looks to be the first key road stage for those with any GC ambitions. Wim Stroetinga won the last three Reuver stages but the old man won't be present. The first two big loops are bumpy but the final loops are going to be where any cracks appear. I don't think the race will go to bits but a reduced sprint should be in order. The last two kilometers are a dead straight shot into the finish line so any teams that can stay together will be whipping the pace up.

Espoirs Central favorite: Ivan Garcia

Smoke 'em if you get 'em. A twisty loop around the Dutch countryside that features climbs and descents at nearly every turn. The winner of this stage either be some no-name from a breakaway or more likely, will be on the GC podium as everything that comes before this will be baby steps compared to this. The finish itself is not an uphill one however there are some short, sharp climbs just before it that could serve as a launchpad for a sizzling attack.

Espoirs Central favorite: Michael Storer

Overall Prediction:

1. Neilson Powless (USA)
2. Michael Storer (Australia)
3. Lennard Hofstede (Rabobank Development)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Thoughts on the Tour de l'Avenir

It's been two weeks since the Tour de l'Avenir has ended and I am just getting around to writing this. I have been trying to think of something meaningful to say. With social media these days, it seems like many people only really care about the information that is slapped together and sent out rather than stuff that has some actual thought behind it.

The mountains really make the race at l'Avenir and they certainly didn't disappoint this year. David Gaudu and Edward Ravasi separated themselves with the attack on stage 6 and they seemed fairly even through the rest of the race, with Gaudu having a little bit more top end at the end of the climbs. It seems that Adrian Costa was just a little bit off his best form but in only his first U23 season that has been fairly big in terms of racing days, a podium here is exceptional as he separated himself from the others behind him.

Tao Geoghegan Hart was good but was another that didn't seem to be on his best form as he wasn't as sharp. Perhaps a chink in the armor that he could be limited in the higher mountains compared to some others like Gaudu, Costa and Ravasi? SKY will turn him into a robot next year and their track record with developing young talent is so-so at best really compared with some teams like Movistar and Etixx-OPQS. Geoghegan Hart should be put on a one-day/Ardennes track but seeing as SKY's focus on those races is middling at best, it is a shame he might not shine in those races doing forward.

Hot take - Pavel Sivakov is the most versatile rider in the U23 ranks. He can ride the classics very well as he was a contender in the Paris-Roubaix and was 2nd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He was up there in sprint stages in the Tour de Berlin. Now in both Valle d'Aosta and l'Avenir, he has shown that he is able to climb some big mountains fairly consistently for a rider that can also do the above as well. With a year under his belt, next year could be very interesting for Sivakov.

It was also announced that l'Avenir will again expand with a 9th stage being added, which will make it the first time since 2009 that the race will be this long. The race course is not finalized as a start in Bretagne is being tossed around, which would certainly be a nice change of pace. I am all in favor of adding some legitimate sprint stages to this race and see teams bring in their best sprinters along with their best climbers. Obviously with small teams, selections are pretty tight but if there were say, 4 stages that could be designated for sprinters and 2 or 3 big stages for climbers, we could see a rounded roster as opposed to the teams in recent years which have been more or less all climbers and perhaps a big engine time trial rider.

It just comes down to my point that sprinters need their chances too and that includes on the biggest stages. While some people might salivate for climbers showdowns, I really would love to see Pascal Ackermann go up against Enzo Wouters, Chris Latham, Kristoffer Halvorsen, Cees Bol, Consonni/Minali/Maronese along with some other pros that are still U23. Well that would basically be a preview for this year's Worlds in Doha but one or two stages in the U23 circuits biggest event doesn't seem like enough.

Anyways, I think it is high time that I start writing more on here...