Six under-23 riders for the USA are contesting the seven-day Tour de l’Avenir, the final and toughest event of the UCI Under-23 Nations’ Cup, in France this week. The race started Sunday, August 26 and continues until Saturday, September 1. Four riders, Ian Boswell, Nathan Brown, U23 national road champion Rob Bush and Larry Warbasse each competed in the 2011 edition of the race for USA Cycling, while Evan Huffman and Nate Wilson are racing their first Avenir.
“The team is doing well. Myself, Bush, Brown, and Wilson all raced Aosta and then did a three-week training camp at altitude in Livigno, Italy. Ian and Larry and both came over straight from Utah so everyone is really fit and motivated.” Huffman told podiuminsight before the start of stage 3.
The U23 time trial national champion added, “I actually felt pretty bad in Stage 1, but much better yesterday so I’m hopeful I’ll be good the rest of the week.”
The plan for the team is to work for Boswell, keeping Warbasse in reserve. “Boswell showed he can climb with some of the best guys in the world at Utah so we’re hoping he can do it again here and land on the final GC podium. Larry is plan B. We really have to wait until after the first big climb tomorrow (Thursday) to see where everyone’s at.”
The six-stage race started off with a 3.7-kilometer prologue won by 19-year old Jay McCarthy (AUS) who clocked a time of 4:15. Brown registered the USA’s best result, placing 18th, only nine seconds behind the winner.
“We would have like to have done a little better in the Prologue, but it’s really not that important. We don’t have a real specialist and there’s a lot more time to be gained and lost in the mountains. We’re here for the GC.”
The next three stages were for the sprinters and breakaway artists before the big mountains start on Thursday.
Huffman described the racing so far as fast and aggressive. “The start of the stages are very crucial to determine which teams are in the break. You have to calculate how many riders are there and if there are enough teams unrepresented that have a reason to chase.”
The break stuck in the 178-km stage 1, where Silvan Dillier, of Switzerland, outsprinted his three breakmates for the win and the yellow leader’s jersey. Escaping after 22 kilometers, the original break consisted of six riders with no representation from Team USA, worked well together before dwindling down to four riders with 36 km to go. Leading the chase, the Australian team reduced the gap to 58 seconds by the time they crossed the finish line. Five of the six USA riders finished in the main pack with Wilson further back.
“We probably should have had someone in the break on Stage 1, but of course hindsight’s 20/20 and I’m sure everyone said that after seeing it stick to the finish.” added Huffman.
The 139.3-km stage 2 came down to a bunch sprint where the Dutch team swept the podium with Moreno Hofland taking the win. The early three-rider break was caught with only 2 km to go on the finishing circuits with the Dutch squad leading the chase. All six Team USA riders finished safely in the main group.
The plan for today’s last flat stage was simple. “It’s just about making sure nothing too big or dangerous gets up the road without us in it. And then make sure Ian and Larry stay well fed/hydrated, out of the wind, and don’t lose any time.”
Another break made it on stage 3, 155 km from Pont d’Ain to Annemasse where Lukas Pöstlberger of Austria took the win.
Lots of attacks early in the stage until five riders including Wilson escaped 46 kilometers into the stage. The five pushed the gap up to 2:50 by the feedzone, 50 kilometers later, as the rain started to fall. With the gap hovering around the one minute mark, the break was down to three by the second KOM of the day as Wilson and another rider fell off the pace. A few kilometers later, Pöstlberger made his way across and then dropped the break. He would soon be joined by two other riders, Vegard Breen (Norway) and Bob Jungels (Luxenbourg) to battle it out for the stage win. In the field, Warbasse, Brown and Boswell crossed the line 29 seconds after the winner.
After three stages, Brown (Bontrager Livestrong Team) is the USA’s best-placed rider, sitting in 18th place, only :58 behind the leader Dillier. Warbasse (BMC-Hincapie Sportswear Cycling Team) is sitting 1:07 back in 49th while Boswell (Bontrager Livestrong Team) is only five seconds behind Warbasse in 62nd. Huffman (California Giant Berry Farms-Specialized) and Bush (Chipotle-First Solar Development Team) are in 90th and 97th, respectively. Nate Wilson (California Giant Berry Farms-Specialized) is in 103rd, 9:29 behind Dillier.
Racing continues on Thursday with the 157-km stage 4 from Seyssel to Valoire and includes three KOMs, including the 13-km climb up Col du Télégraphe, 23 kilometers from the finish.