Thursday, 5 May 2016

After exiting classics campaign the best riders in junior category now starts the second part of the season with one of the most important and prestigious races of the year, 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.

Final podium: Costa, McNulty, Ilichev (photo: Patress.cz)
 Last year, American team dominated the race scoring 1-2 in time trial, queen stage and GC. Brandon McNulty won the whole race surprising many as he didn't have any big results on European soil before. Adrien Costa confirmed his status as future GC contender, won the queen stage and finished second in time trial and general classification. Nikolai Ilichev from Russia completed the podium.

McNulty and Costa celebrates their impressive 1-2 in Zinnwald (photo: Patress.cz)
The four day event brings a traditional route which is pretty much the same as last year. On the first day riders will face 102,5 km long stage around Litomerice featuring two categorized climbs: Sedlo after 14.2 kilometers and Mukarov after 69.4 km. Last year, the stage was five kilometer shorter and in crash marred bunch sprint Russian track specialist Sergey Rostovcev won ahead of Bram Welten and McNulty.


On the second day riders will face two stages: morning time trial in Třebenice which is always a crucial event in terms of GC and hilly stage around Roudnice nad Labem with uphill finish in the afternoon. The morning time trial is usually around 11 kilometers long and run on the same course each year. In 2008 Michał Kwiatkowski was the first and only rider who managed to set time with average over 50 km/h. Last year Brandon McNulty was very close with a time 49,979 km/h

In the afternoon riders will ride a big loop around Roudnice nad Labem which is flat in comparison 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. Aleksandr Kulikovskiy from Russia won last year. Peter Sagan won the same finish back 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 Adrien Costa caused big splits on the climb and still managed to hang on with the race leader, McNulty. The duo finished together aiming one of the greatest wins of the season.


The final stage from around Terezín is also a difficult one as riders will have to pass a GPM three times before heading back to Terezín for a flat finish. Last year the stage ended with a successful breakaway. Rasmus Lund won ahead of Vadim Pronskiy. Bunch sprint for the third place won Leo Appelt.


Favorites

This year we have a totally different situation in the favorites lists. The American team does not bring the last year winner Brandon McNulty (who will join the team for the next block of racing including Pays Vaud and Karlsberg). For me the leader should be Chris Blevins who showed his climbing abilities in Tour du Pays de Vaud last year working for Costa. Also, I would take a look at Cameron Beard as he had some impressive results in US domestic scene and lately has won a one day race in Nieuwerkerken.

Denmark had an impressive series of wins in GC here with four straight yellow jerseys between 2011 and 2014. Last year no one could compete with the duo from USA but as those guys are not here I would say Denmark should be back as top favorites for the overall win even tough there is Tour de Himmelfart held on the same time and some of the top juniors from Denmark starts there (like Johansen and Charmig). Rasmus Lund won the final stage last year and I think he could improve his tenth place in GC this time. If not, maybe Jakob Egholm who has recently won two events of Danish Cup for juniors will prove his level here and fight for the victory.

World Champion Felix Gall is also here. He was already 11th in GC last year and seventh on the queen stage and lately this year he did well already in Piccolo SanRemo where he finished sixth.

Dutch team can rely on Niels Eekhoff. Dutch rider recently finished second in Tour de l'Eure in France and did great in Roubaix earlier this year when finished second.Last year as a first year junior Eekhoff was very consistent in stage races and scored several top tens. This race could be his breakthrough and first big win.

Finally Tadej Pogacar, recently seventh in Piccolo SanRemo from Slovenia who finished seventh in GC last year could aim to improve his result.

Also watch out for Niklas Markl from Germany. First year junior could surprise many here. He can climb and time trial but now it's time for him to prove it in junior category.

Other notable starters: Alexys Brunel, Dinmukhammed Ulysbayev, Aynur Galeev, Jacob Eriksson, Jakub Otruba, Sedrik Ullebo

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