Thursday, 25 May 2017

After an exciting editions of Course de la Paix and Trophee Centre Morbihan, we are heading to Switzerland for Tour du Pays de Vaud, race made for climbers.

Tour du Pays de Vaud first edition was held in 1967, won by Arthur Dahinden. On the list of previous winners we may find quite a long list of current pro's including Michael Schar, Ian Stannard, Chris Juul-Jensen or Moreno Moser. In recent years, US juniors has a quite impressive winning streak with four consecutive wins between 2012 and 2015. Adrien Costa who won in 2014 and 2015 is one of two riders in race history who managed to win twice. Second one was Italian Stefano Bertolini in late 1980s. Last year, Marc Hirschi didn't win a single stage but was up there with the best on all stages and was a part of crucial attack on day two which gave him overall win ahead of Kazakh Dinmukhammed Ulysbayev and world champion, Felix Gall from Austria.

2016 race podium (photo tpv.ch)
 Route

This years route is definitely one for climbers, especially with two hard stages on third day which should be decisive in terms of GC. The race starts as usual with a late evening short prologue which should create first gaps in GC as we have a short hill in the first part of 3,5km long time trial in Montricher.

On the second day of racing riders will face 113km long stage between Concise and Cottens with three categorised climbs. The last and longest climb, Dizy (5,7km) is 20km from the finish and it should be a good opportunity to attack.



The third day of racing is a crucial one with two road stages with uphill finishes in Saint‐Cergue. The morning 65km long stage 2A starts in Ballens. After 25km of racing riders will face first long ascent, Le Saugex, which is 8km long. Once over the top, we have twenty kilometres of hilly terrain before a descent to Saint‐Cergue where we start 10,7km long climb to the finish. If we have a big group together at the bottom, the strongest climber should win it.

The evening stage is a typical "course de côte" stage which is a basically short road stage going uphill to Saint‐Cergue once again. We start in Nyon and after 10 kilometres of flat riders will face the well known climb from the morning stage. Will be interesting to compare these two stages results as we climb the same mountain twice on the same day but on two different stages.



The last stage from Gollion to Vullierens is 90km long with two categorized climbs in the middle (Mont d’Orzeires & Col du Mollendruz) and lots of smaller hills through the whole stage. With GC pretty much set up after stages 2A & 2B we can expect plenty of attacks and the winner could come from a breakaway.

Favorites: 

Switzerland might find it hard to defend last year title but Valère Thiebaud, winner of Tour du Leman, should lead Swiss team in their home race.

Danish team is strong as always and I think it's worth to keep an eye on Mattias Skjelmose, who crashed on first stage in Course de la Paix and couldn't show his full potential. Jakob Hindsgaul was on GC podium in Course de la Paix heading to final stage where he crashed too so with more luck he might be one of the favorites in Tour du Pays de Vaud.

Matteo Jorgenson who finished second in two stage races in USA, Valley of the Sun and San Dimas Stage Race, should lead US team together with Ruben Saatjian who won San Dimas Stage Race and Subaru Sea Otter Classic.

With amount of climb we face in 2017 edition, Karel Vacek has to be one of the favourites to win the race. First year junior from Czech Republic showed his climbing skills with impressive solo win in queen stage of Course de la Paix. Just a few days ago he added another win in Trofeo Enzo Magliore in Italy thanks to his climbing skills.

Norway arrives with a very strong team which includes Course de la Paix winner, Idar Andersen and one of the best time trialist in junior category for now, Andreas Leknessund who finished second in both Course de la Paix and Trophée Centre Morbihan. He has also won time trials in both races. Favorite for the prologue.

Other names to watch: Thibaut Ponsaerts, Jacob Eriksson, Ken Conter, Fabio Mazzuco, Igor Chzhan, Theo Nonnez.

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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

After an exciting classics campaign top riders in junior category now starts the second part of the season with one of the most important and prestigious stage races of the year,  Závod míru juniorů aka 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 of a strong international lineup. Second, because it's a difficult race with time trial, mountains, sprint 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 a 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 Peter Velits. Most recently, after four consecutive wins by Denmark, American juniors won it twice: Brandon McNulty (2015) and Chris Blevins (2016).

Last year, Blevins managed to win the race without winning a single stage but he was a part of crucial move on first one and finished fourth on the queen stage which gave him an overall win. Blevins is currently racing for Axeon Hagens Berman team.

Chris Blevins receiving his yellow jersey (photo: Patress.cz)

Route

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 crucial in terms of GC as the strong riders went away a lots of pre race favorites lost over a minute.

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 speed over 50 km/h. Two years ago,  Brandon McNulty was very close with a average speed of 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. Tadej Pogacar from Slovenia 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 Evgenii Kazanov won the stage with Chris Blevins finishing fourth and taking the yellow jersey. Big gaps were made on the first climb already.


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 reduced bunch sprint and Nils Eekhoff was the fastest on the line.


Favorites

The list of favorites starts from US team as usual. This time I would say they have a strong, aligned team capable of winning the overall once again. Camden Vodicka might be the first option. Racing for the same team as McNulty last year, Vodicka won Valley of the Sun Stage Race earlier this year thanks to a win in time trial. Cole Davis and Conor Schunk are other possible protagonists, both with solid results in US domestic races this year. All three, together with Bjorn Larson were a part of impressive show of strength in Molenstede, Belgium where US team grabbed 1st 3rd, 4th and 5th dropping everyone bad Bjron Vandebeek from Acrong Balen team.

Denmark had an impressive series of wins in GC here with four straight yellow jerseys between 2011 and 2014 and I believe they have a team that can aim an overall win, especially with a duo from Team Børkop Cykler – Carl Ras Roskilde, Mathias Larsen, third in Paris Roubaix recently and Mattias Skjelmose who is yet to prove his level on international scene but had some nice results in Denmark this year and several wins last year as an u17 rider.

Italy brings a very strong team with Samuele Manfredi, one of the favorites for the overall. Manfredi was impressive in u17 category on national scene winning impressive amount of races in last two years. His transition to junior category went better then anyone could expect as Manfredi already had three wins and fourth place in Trofeo Loano (first behind three escapees). He's yet to prove his level in race like Course de la Paix but I strongly believe he may aim for overall win here. Filippo Zana, recent winner of Piccolo SanRemo, might be another strong contender while Davide Ferrari can aim for a stage victory on sprint stages

Dutch team can rely on Maikel Zijlaard, winner of Ronde Van Vlaandren, who was also a protagonist in almost every one day race on international level he entered this year while Belgium favorite for GC should be Sebastien Grignard, recently crowned national champion in TT who had a very consistent classics campaign this year.

Czech Republic may surprise many this year with strong team including Richard Holec who is racing in USA with LUX Dev team ut already managed to gain seventh place in Paris Roubaix this year and can aim for a strong ride in TT. Karel Vacek is another prospect who impressed in u17 category last year winning smaller races in several countries and also Course de la Paix for cadets, called GP Matousek.

Other names to watch: Nik Cemezar, Jeremy Montauban, Igor Chzhan, Andreas Leknessund, Jacob Erkisson.

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Saturday, 8 April 2017

The hardest one day race of the season for juniors finally arrived. Just a few hours before we are going to watch Tom Boonen's final race, young riders will tackle the same cobbled sectors in their own battle for glory.


History

Paris Roubaix Juniors has a pretty short history with first edition dating back in 2003 but it's a big event with impressive list of past winners (just to name a few: Geraint Thomas, Guillame van Keirsbulck, Jasper Stuyven or Florian Senechal with Sagan, Debusschere and Demare all finishing second in different editions). Since 2008 junior version of cobbled classic is a part of UCI Nations Cup meaning we will have national teams instead of club teams at the start in Saint Amand les Eaux. This is also a guarantee that we have the strongest possible lineup as all invited teams will bring the strongest possible, in form, team to be competitive and have a chance to fight for a win. In the last two editions we saw impressive performances by Dutch riders. Both in 2015 and 2016 their riders finished first and second here with Bram Welten winning in 2015 and Jarno Mobach last year.

Jarno Mobach won solo last year (photo: Mathilde L'Azou)
Route

The route is pretty much the same as last year. Juniors will cover 111 kilometers from Saint Amand les Eaux to Roubaix facing sixteen cobbled sectors. Mostly the same ones as last sixteen in elite race. So actually the only difference between elite and junior race is the distance as the crucial cobbled sections are pretty much the same. The juniors will tackle total of 28,9km of cobbles.

Favorites

Since 2008 and second place by Peter Sagan, only six countries managed to place their rider on podium in Paris Roubaix Juniors: France, Belgium, Great Britain, Denmark, Netherlands and USA. This shows how important is to be part of strong team and be able to stay in front on crucial cobbled sections. Also shows how difficult the race is as those six countries are probably the strongest nations in youth racing.

Denmark has won three editions in row between 2012 and 2014 and they can definitely aim for a win tomorrow having won two important junior races this year with two different riders. Ludvig Anton Wacker, recent winner of Gent Wevelgem should be one of their leaders together with Johan Langballe who won Kuurne Brussels Kuurne earlier this year and Mathias Larsen who was already nineteenth in Roubaix last year and should be able to improve as second year junior. Danes are missing their biggest prospect in my opinion, Julius Johansen but he's aiming for track World Champs in HK and couldn't mix it with road racing and Roubaix.

I have asked Ludvig Wacker about the course and possible rivals:
We are going for a reckon this Friday, two days before the race and we will try the first three cobbled sectors, and try out tire pressure. I think the course looks extremely tough, and I am sure that it will be very stressful and unpredictable. So it is all about being up front. I think the first cobble sector will be very crucial for the whole race, and of course Carrefour de l'Arbre, as the decisive one. Well, guys from The Netherlands has won the last two editions, and looks strong again, but also the Italians and Belgians will be guys to look out for. The Belgians has rode hundreds of races on these kind of roads, they looked strong at The Tour of Flanders.

Belgium brings very strong team with Wesley Vercamst eighth recently in Guido Reybrouck Classic and sixth in Ronde Van Vlaanderen and is looking for his first big win of the year. Last year, Wercamst finished fourteenth in Roubaix. Second option for Belgium should be Arne Marit, winner of Nokere Koerse and fifth last week in Ronde. Other options could be Sebastien Grignard and Ward Vanhoff, both having finished in top ten in cobbled classics this season.

American team brings youth to Roubaix as three of their riders are first year juniors and I'm curious to see what they can bring in such a big race as Roubaix. Sean McElroy will lead the team and should be able to easily  improve his last year's 55th place. Also, keep en eye on Liam Flanagan, he can surprise many this year.

The obvious favorite, as in every classic in junior races, is Tom Pidcock, current cyclocross world champion who, after a short break, came back quiet successfully to road racing with fifth place in Gudio Reybrouck Classic and eleventh in Gent Wevelgem plus winning the opening race of British junior series. If nothing bad happens, he's the man to beat for Sunday (not the first time this year). He can expect a strong support from his team mates, especially Fred Wright and Joe Nally, who was eleventh in Roubaix last year.

French team is packed with talent and I would expect them to try control the race. Maxime Bonsergent, winner of Bernaudeau Junior is one of the guys to watch, together with Florentin Lecamus who won Trophée Louison Bobet this season and already know how to ride in Roubaix as he finished twelve last year. Donovan Grondin is another interesting name in French team as he had some impressive results in U17 category and already won Route d'Eole this year with also seventh place in Bernaudeau Junior.

Last but not least in the Dutch team who will try to defend their win from last year. The obvious leader should be Maikel Zijlaard who has just won Ronde Van Vlaanderen and finished sixth in Guido Reybrouck Classic but Dutch team brings other strong riders who may surprise with Daan Hoole, Vincent Hoppezak and Tom Peters.

Other names to watch: Niklas Markl, Richard Holec, Matus Stocek, Michele Gazzoli, Samuele Manfredi, Nik Cemezar, Alex Vogel

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Saturday, 25 March 2017

It's finally time for first Nations Cup event of the season, Grote Prijs André Noyelle (aka Gent Wevelgem U19).

History of the race started in 1983 when Reginald Vandamme won the first edition. In 1996 race was named after André Noyelle, the only Belgian Olympic gold medalist in cycling who was born in Ypres, city host of this event . On the list of previous winners you may find some big names like Meersman, Stannard and Devolder. Dutch riders have won three consecutive editions (Looij in 2013, Cornelisse in 2014 and Eenkhoorn in 2015). Last year we saw Alexys Brunel riding away solo while Ethan Hayter and Marc Hirschi completed the podium.

Alexys Brunel celebrates his solo win

Since last year the race is officially a part of Gent Wevelgem which has seven races held on the same day, from elite men to u17 women, with more then 1000 cyclists involved. Race will start and finish in Ieper and it's 129 kilometers long. The main difficulties are of course the cobbled climbs. We have five of them with two passes over famous Kemmelberg with the second one 30 kilometers from the finish just before the final climb of the day, Monteberg. The route is slightly different than last year as it's nine kilometers longer and also the last climb is nine kilometers further from the finish. Can we expect a big bunch coming to Ieper ? Probably not but we can see more tactics playing after the final cobbles.

I have asked Jacob Vaughan what he thinks about the route and possible favorites:
The course looks pretty tough and I'm most dreading the Kemmelberg. Tomorrow I will recon the final finishing circuit and I think the climbs are going to be the most crucial points. Tom  Pidcock from GB is going really strong along with Wesley Vercamst of Belgium who has rapid sprint but there are also a couple of really strong Dutch riders.



Race profile
Favorites

It will probably be an usual thing for one day races to write about favorites starting from Great Britain. The obvious favorite is Tom Pidcock, current cyclocross world champion who, after a short break, came back quiet successfully to road racing with fifth place in Gudio Reybrouck Classic, despite crashes and flat tires. If nothing bad happens, he's the man to beat for Sunday. He can expect a strong support from his team mates, especially Fred Wright and Joe Nally, who both managed to finish this race in top20 last year (as well as Pidcock).

But it's not the end of favorites from GB! Apart from national team, organizers also found a slot for South East cycling team lead by Jacob Vaughan, guy in form, who recently won Guido Reybrouck Classic (and smaller race in De Klijte few weeks back). If you want to read more about his recent wins check his blog here. Current national champion is racing well on cobbles for a few weeks already and we can expect him to be one of the strongest guys in peloton.

Belgium will be led by Wesley Vercamst, sixth here last year and eighth recently in Guido Reybrouck Classic, once place behind his team mate, Ward Vanhoff who can be another option for Belgian team. Also take an eye on Thibaut Ponsaerts who had amazing results in u17 category and is going to ride for a national team for a first time as junior. Apart from the national team we have a several regional ones on start including Flemish Brabant lead by Nokere Koerse winner, Arne Marit and West Flandres lead by Thomas Vansteelandt, 2nd in Guido Reybrouck.

Dutch team is another strong one where pretty much every rider can aim for top place. Maikel Zijlaard was sixth in Guido Reybrouck Classic and won Zepperen-Zepperen in Belgium earlier this month. Daan Hoole was eighth in KBK, third in Nokere Koerse and sixth in Zepperen-Zepperen.

Denmark will be lead by Kuurne Burssels Kuurne winner, Johan Langballe but also keep an eye on Mathias Larsen.

Michele Gazzoli already scored his first win last week in Italy and will try to improve his nineth place from last year.

Other names to watch: Remi Huens, Niklas Markl, Matus Stocek, Nik Cemezar, Jeremy Frehen.

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Saturday, 25 February 2017


Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne is the first UCI rated race of the season for juniors, first official race for many riders and first important test for all the big names that will test their legs before the rest of the classics part of the season. This year's editions is the seventeenth one. Last year, Ethan Hayter from Great Britain surprised the other favourites with his solo attack in final kilometres. He won with notable margin over classic specialists: Frenchman Clement Betouigt-Suire (currently racing for Sunweb Development Team) and Belgian Jasper Philipsen (BMC Development Team).


Despite it's just the first race of the season and the fact that on the startlist we can find teams mostly from Belgium and the Netherlands the race is a big one. The list of previous winners include guys like Moreno Hofland, Barry Markus and Geraint Thomas. In recent editions, most of the strongest juniors looking for glory in classics start the season here. Last year, the favourites and the strongest classics riders in U19 ranks were already in shape here fighting for the victory. Actually, the first six from last year have won a uci race later on including big ones like E3 Harelbeke (Philipsen), Paris Roubaix (Mobach) or GP Gènèral Patton (Kron).

2016 podium
Route

The route is exactly the same as last year. The race is 120 km long and starts in Kuurne before heading to Oudenaarde for the most important part of the race with all the heiligens. Edelare is the first one (1,5km long, avg. 4,2%, max 7%) after 30km of racing. The next 55 kilometres is the crucial part with all the bergs that will surely split the field. Riders will tackle one after another: Stokstraat (38km, 1.1km, avg. 5%, max 8%), Kanarieberg (47km, 1km, avg. 7.7% , max 14%), Hotond  (53km, 2.7km, avg. 3% , max 7,5%), Oude Kwaremont (63km, 2.2km, avg. 4% , max 11,6%), Tiegemberg (74km, 0,75km, avg. 5.6% , max 9%) Holstraat (78km, 1km, avg. 5.2% , max 12%) and finally Nokereberg (85km, 0,35km, avg. 5.7% , max 7%) which ends 35 km from the finish line. After that, riders will head back to Kuurne on flat roads with one 15 kilometres lap at the end in Kuurne.



Last year winner, Ethan Hayter believes that Kanarieberg and Oude Kwaremont are the crucial bergs:

The most important parts are the Kanarieberg where it's possible to split over the top, although probably too early, and the Kwaremont where the race was decided last year. I think it's a really good route, hard enough for the race to split but not super hard for the first race of the year for most people.

I have also asked Ethan how the race unfold and how he picked up the right moment for his final move:

I looked after myself early on, and then made sure I was in a good position when I needed to be. I was able to follow when Jasper Philipsen attacked on the Kwaremont, and we worked over the top and a few more riders got across. There were six of us left on the finishing circuit, and I knew I would have had a good sprint but I was still feeling good so had considered going solo. I saw an opportunity with about 6k to go at the end of the headwind section about 200m before the bridge across the river with Philipsen (who had looked the strongest) boxed in, I got a jump on them and made it stick! I was a little bit worried when I saw the 5k to go sign as I thought I was closer! I held back a little then went harder and harder until I finally realized there was no way I was getting caught and I was going to win! 

Also Ethan shared his advice for the riders looking for a win on Sunday:

I would say to make sure you are eating and drinking, don't make silly efforts, keeping yourself in a good position when it matters, and to not be afraid.

The favourites

As always, it's very hard to name favourites for the first race of the season. Last year, riders born in 1998, second year juniors, dominated the junior ranks much more then usual and not many first year riders were strong enough to call them a favourites for first big races few months later so I believe we have to wait few weeks to see who is doing well. It's a general thought, not only regarding Kuurne or cobbled classics.

Unusually for Belgium classic I will start with GB riders as the favourites. Great Britain will have a total of fifteen riders here in three teams: the national squad, HMT JLT Condor and South-East Cycling Team, each of them including a rider who can take a win on Sunday.

South-East Team defends the title after last year win by Ethan Hayter. This time Jacob Vaughan, national champion could surprise many. He has already proved being in a good shape taking 2nd place in Perfs Pedal racing against the elite riders. HMT JLT Condor brings strong team in general with Ben Turner coming straight from great CX campaign finished with 3rd place in World Championships in Bieles while the national team might be the strongest from the three with Fred Wright and Joe Nally being my personal favourites.

Traditionally Acrog Balen Bc team should be considered as one of the strongest ones. Wesley Vercamst was eighth last year and had a very good and consistent spring campaign and we can expect him to improve this time. Tristan Five is another one to watch and will try to improve his 21st place from last year.

Arne Marit won Nokere Koerse U19 last year and should be another strong contender. CT Spider king - EFC which is Trek Segafredo satellite team brings two guys who already scored a win this year in smaller races: Greg Luysen and Adne Koster. Especially take a look at Koster, he's one of the names to watch this year coming from u17 ranks.

Nathan Vandepitte is another possible French wunderkid. He won Trophee Madiot last year and started his first junior with a win in Spain. I'm curious what he can do in Belgium, keep an eye on him.