Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Less then a week after finishing the first uci stage race of the season top juniors will head to the North of Czech Republic to take part in 44th edition of Course de la Paix.

The four day event which start on Thursday is usually considered as a Tour de France for juniors. First because of being part of Nations Cup which is a guarantee for strong international lineup. Second, because it's a difficult race with time trial, mountains, sprinters stages and uphill finishes. All what you really need for a proper stage race. Finally, the race has a long history and tradition, not only as junior event. The first junior race was held in 1965 and is running every year since 1974 with impressive list of previous winners like Cancellara, Kwiatkowski (twice), Kreuziger or Velits. Last four editions was won by Danish riders, lastly by Magnus Bak Klaris, who fought exciting battle until last stage with Rayanne Bouhanni.

The four day event brings a traditional route which is pretty much the same as last year. On the first day riders will face 98,5 km long stage around Litomerice featuring two categorized climbs: Sedlo after 14.2 kilometers and Mukaˇrov after 65.4 km. Similar stage last year won Italian Gianmarco Begnoni after sprint from reduced peleton of seventy riders.

On the second day riders will face two stages: morning time trial in Třebenice and hilly stage around Roudnice nad Labem with uphill finish in the afternoon. The morning time trial (11.6km) is held on the same course since 2009. A year before, Michał Kwiatkowski won 400m longer time trial with avarage speed over 50km/h and he's still the only rider who passed 50km/h mark on this course. Last year, Matthew Gibson won (avg. 47.617) ahead of Will Barta, Igor Decraene and Lennard Kamna.

In the afternoon riders will ride a big loop around Roudnice nad Labem which is flat in comparision to the other stages with a total distance of 62,4 km. The last kilometers is slightly uphill, around 4% avg and may cause some splits in the main bunch. Erlend Blikra won definitely last year ahead of Aleksandr Kulikovskiy from Russain and French track specialist Correntin Ermenault. Peter Sagan won this finish in 2008.

Third day brings a queen stage of the race. Riders will start in Teplice and finish in German town Zinnwald facing two difficult ascents to Komáří Vížka and a total distance of 100 kilometers. The end of the second climb is around ten kilometers before the finish line. Last ten kilometers are slightly uphill with last 800m kicks harder again. Last year Lukas Erikssen has beaten Magnus Bak Klaris and Aurelien Paret Peintre on the line with Rayanne Bouhanni just four seconds behind. It will be a crucial stage in terms of the gc.

The final stage from Terezín to Litoměřice is also a difficult one as riders will have to pass a GPM three times before heading back to Litoměřice for a flat finish. Last year we had an exciting battle for bonus seconds between Bak Klaris and Bouhanni while the stage won Polish rider Patryk Soliński.

Video review of 2014 edition


Adrien Costa. There is no other rider's name to start my list of juniors to watch during Course de la Paix. Adrien  has had a stellar start of the season on American domestic scene including third place overall in Redlands Classic where he was beaten only by Phillip Gaimon and Gavin Mannion. For a rider born in 1997 it's an incredible result and only show how talented Costa is. The course of Czech's race suits Adrien perfectly. The riders will face time trial where Costa already won a silver medal during Worlds in Ponfferada last year and difficult mountainous stage where Costa, considered as one of the best climbers in junior category, can seal the overall victory. Basically Costa is the best climber of the field and one of the best time trialists. It's going to be a very difficult task for anyone to beat him in the next few days. American team is very strong in general and should be able to help Costa defend the jersey if he managed to grab it during time trial. Having such a strong leader is actually the only reason why I won't name guys like Hecht, Reynolds or even McNulty as race favorites but each of them can reach top 10 overall or a stage win.

Denmark team has managed to win last four editions of this race with four different riders. I'm pretty sure they will try to win once again and I can see two strong contenders in their team. Niklas Larsen is a very strong time trialist and could be one of the Costa's biggest challengers in the time trial. He had a quiet start of the season having only one uci race on his calendar so far (18th in Roubaix despite flat tire in final kilometers). Last year he proved himself as a strong contender for GC in junior races being third in Le Trophée Centre Morbihan and sixth in Grand Prix Rüebliland where he also managed to win all star lined up time trial. The second contender which can be considered more like an outsider is Anthon Charmig. He won Grand Prix Matoušek last year, which is pretty much Course de la Paix for cadets in dominating style winning four of five stages. This year he showed his strength in Ster van Zuid-Limburg where he was third overall and won young rider's jersey.  He's a great time trialist but it's yet to be seen how far he can go in mountains. If not this year, he's gonna be a serious contender for 2016 edition for sure.

Belgium brings very strong and balanced team. Stan Dewulf is surely a rider in shape with third place in Paris Roubaix and solo win in Vlaams Brabantse Pijl recently. He can cope with the climbs and should be Belgium's favorite for GC. For the sprints stages it should be Robbe Ghys fighting for a victory.

Dutch riders had the best possible start of the season winning almost every one day races so far with four different riders. Pascal Eenkhoorn was sixteenth last year in Course de la Paix and for sure will try to improve his position this year while Bram Welten will try to win one of the stages for sprinters.

Similar to Belgium, French team is strong and well balanced. Each of their riders are able to get a stage win while Enzo Bernard should be the strongest contender for the overall classification.

Despite lacking Erlend Blikra who won a stage last year and talented Sedrik Engebo Ullebo, Norway has card to play for gc. Tobias Foss proved already last year that he is one of the hot favorites for the race when he finished seventh in GC. This year he won Tour Nivernais Morvan showing great shape before one of the biggest goals of the season which for sure will be the Czech race.

Other strong contenders: Leo Appelt, Max Kanter, Ottavio Dotti, Ziga Jerman, Jakub Otruba, Sergei Rostovtcev.

For the sprints stages watch out for: Alexandr Kulikovskiy, Alan Banaszek & Dusan Rajovic

Provisional startlist

My bet is Adrien Costa for the GC. Also can't imagine the podium without a Danish rider so either Larsen or Charmig will be there. Final slot on podium is wide open.

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