The Tour de l’Avenir’s Past and Present

Esteban Chaves, Moreno Hofland and Rohan Dennis wear the leaders’ jerseys in a race. A glimpse of the future? No, it’s a scene from the past: the 2011 Tour de l’Avenir. The race is on this week. There are several stage races for U-23 riders that matter but none more so than this one. It’s length, international field and mountainous profile make it an essential rendez-vous. If it didn’t exist we’d have to invent it.

A History of the Future
The race was started in 1961 by L’Equipe and more specifically Jacques Goddet. Often seen as a stern type from the old school, Goddet was an innovator and if this piece is about a new race, remember he renewed Paris-Roubaix with the innovation of cobbles around the same time too. Goddet told cycling journalist Jacques Marchand to make a race for amateurs that was open to all.

For years sport was split between amateurs and professionals and only amateurs could compete at the Olympics. It was a clear distinction, just look at a licence, but a false label. If riders behind the Iron Curtain were forbidden for dogmatic and economic reasons from joining a professional team, there was nothing amateur about their support. These amateurs were full-time riders with a support entourage and often enjoyed privileged positions in society, making them more equal than others back in their communist home countries. They enjoyed their own calendar with stage races such as The Peace Race and Goddet wanted to invite their best to France. Only it wasn’t easy for the politics, admin… and the mountains. As Marchand told L’Equipe, the eastern Europeans “were brilliant rouleurs but as soon as the road rose up they vanished.” Despite political tensions it was a moment for exchange with Marchand telling how he’d eat caviar for a week as the Russians brought goods in exchange for products they could not find at home.

But the format has never been settled. At first it was for amateurs and run simultaneous to the Tour de France, a few hours before the pros raced. By the late 1960s it was separate and held in September. It became the Grand Prix de l’Avenir in 1970, the Trophée Peugeot de l’Avenir from 1972 to 1979 and the Tour de la Communauté Européenne from 1986 to 1990. Nevermind the name changes, it was restricted to amateurs from 1961 to 1980, before opening to professionals in 1981. After 1992, it was open to all riders of less than 25 including top level pros and is now for U-23 riders racing for national teams. Perhaps the format was appropriate for each era as today’s race seems to offer the perfect chance for the best U-23 riders to compete and it’s part of the UCI’s Coupe des Nations (“nations cup”) series. Indeed if it didn’t exist you’d have to invent it.

Alternative races
There’s the Giro della Valle d’Aosta which has been see the likes of Fabio Aru, Thibaut Pinot and Dan Martin shine in recent years; the Ronde de l’Isard in the Pyrenees and sadly the now defunct Giro Bio. Finding a mountainous stage race with an international field is not easy. The Tour de France’s ASO had run this race but surrendered it to Alpes Vélo in 2012 but continues to support it with staffing. As the owner’s name suggests the race looks set to remain in the Alps and Eastern France but this year’s edition is unusually mountainous according to an article in L’Equipe this week. The time to get towns to sign up for the race coincided with municipal elections earlier this year and many mayors were distracted by the politicking. As a result the ski resorts, always willing for some action in summer made up a large chunk of the willing hosts.

Non-cycling futures
It’s not just riders who get training. The UCI uses the race for commissaire practice and others do too whether police outriders or radio-tour operators.

Julian Alaphilippe

Talent Detection
Is the Tour de l’Avenir the place to spot new talent? Not really because the field is the crop of the world’s best riders on the U-23 teams. These are riders who have been busy all year in big races and made their national team. Take Julian Alaphilippe – pictured – who won a tough mountain stage last year. He was part of OPQS’s development team, on the French squad and his stage win was just a small step on a steady path to the pro peloton.

There are few discoveries but the race can reveal climbing ability and other attributes such as recovery. But it might be the first time you come across the names as the Tour de l’Avenir’s reputation reaches far. It’s also worth noting the race is not as always as selective as the bigger pro races. Today’s stage is a big one but typically the summit finishes are shorter, 5-10km instead of 10-20km long.

Hindsight risk
Yes the photo at the top is a glimpse of the future but it was taken mid-race in 2011. It’s suggestive of the future in largely because we recognise the riders. But the recognition is only because of hindsight, it’s only thanks to more recent performances that we know Chaves, Hofland and Dennis. Chaves would go on to take the yellow jersey and the mountains jersey went to Garikoitz Bravo, a rider who has yet to make a name for himself and rides for Portuguese UCI Continental team Efapel-Glassdrive.

For every star of the future there are plenty who vanish. Many winning amateurs go on to be competent rider but not a team leader. The hard part is to see if the Tour de l’Avenir is the summit of a career or just an intermediate point on a longer climb to the top. As such the Tour de l’Avenir is really about the present day, it’s hard to call who will go on to triumph and who will fade into obscurity. Take your pick of champions and domestiques from the table below:

2000 Drapeau de l'Espagne Iker Flores Drapeau de la France David Moncoutié Drapeau de la Suisse Sven Montgomery
2001 Drapeau de la Russie Denis Menchov Drapeau de la France Florent Brard Drapeau de la France Sylvain Chavanel
2002 Drapeau de la Russie Evgueni Petrov Drapeau de la France Pierrick Fédrigo Drapeau de l'Espagne David Muñoz
2003 Drapeau de l'Espagne Egoi Martínez Drapeau de la Croatie Radoslav Rogina Drapeau de la France Samuel Dumoulin
2004 Drapeau de la France Sylvain Calzati Drapeau de la Suède Thomas Lövkvist Drapeau de la France Christophe Le Mével
2005 Drapeau du Danemark Lars Ytting Bak Drapeau de la France Christophe Riblon Drapeau du Kazakhstan Assan Bazayev
2006 Drapeau de l'Espagne Moisés Dueñas Drapeau des Pays-Bas Robert Gesink Drapeau de la Belgique Tom Stubbe
2007 Drapeau des Pays-Bas Bauke Mollema Drapeau de l'Allemagne Tony Martin Drapeau du Danemark André Steensen
2008 Drapeau de la Belgique Jan Bakelants Drapeau du Portugal Rui Costa Drapeau de la France Arnold Jeannesson
2009 Drapeau de la France Romain Sicard Drapeau des États-Unis Tejay van Garderen Drapeau de l'Allemagne Sergej Fuchs
2010 Drapeau de la Colombie Nairo Quintana Drapeau des États-Unis Andrew Talansky Drapeau de la Colombie Jarlinson Pantano
2011 Drapeau de la Colombie Esteban Chaves Drapeau du Canada David Boily Drapeau de l'Italie Mattia Cattaneo
2012 Drapeau de la France Warren Barguil Drapeau de la Colombie Juan Ernesto Chamorro Drapeau de l'Italie Mattia Cattaneo
2013 Drapeau de la France Ruben Fernandez Drapeau de la Colombie Adam Yates Drapeau de l'Italie Patrick Konrad

Only four winners have gone on to win the Tour de France: Felice Gimondi, Joop Zoetemelk, Greg LeMond, Miguel Indurain. Laurent Fignon did win too but this was when the race was the Tour of the European Community and for pros of all ages.

Tour de l'Avenir, Adam Yates, Ruben Fernandez, Patrick Konrad

The format and name has changed over the years and the current version seems ideal for the calendar.  A vital race but these days talent detection starts early and there are few surprises, if a rider can make their national team then they’re already on the radar for teams, agents, journalists and more. Scan the results this year and many will go on to have illustrious careers but working out which ones will succeed and which ones will fade is for the future to decide.

Photos: Top image by Gilberto Chocce / Colombia es Pasión 4-72 via Flickr’s nuestrociclismo. Second and third by Flickr’s petitbrun.

9 thoughts on “The Tour de l’Avenir’s Past and Present”

  1. “Many winning amateurs go on to be competent rider but not a team leader.” might be the best line in this story. Thanks for reminding so many of the “I coulda won the Giro if I’d only had the time” punters that nobody gets to be a pro without being really, really good, though they may never win a race. I still remember how many times the guy making our espresso in a bar in Italy would tell us how he used to kick Super Mario’s a__ when they were juniors. What it takes to get to the pro level is sadly incomprehensible to the average pro cycling fan…as well as a lot of sports-writers in the USA!

  2. You’ve made the point about the Tour de l’Avenir not necessarily being indicative of future success before, but that’s not actually a bad pile of riders from Bauke Mollema onwards.

    I wonder whether in earlier years promising natural talent was liable to wilt in what we might euphemistically describe as a rather different elite cycling ecosystem.

    • Not quite, it’s all via teams and clubs. But you can combine studies with cycling, several French feeder teams for the pro teams insist members continue with studies in order to remain on the team, eg FDJ, Ag2r, Europcar etc.

    • Not sure about Europe, but the collegiate cycling championships still exist in America.

      This year they were held in Richmond Va over the same course to next years WC’s.

  3. I don’t know how other countries work, but in the U.S. if you run out of money to go to USA Cycling’s events all over the world, then you are done.

    It is possible to ride as a continental pro in the U.S. funded more by the Bank of Mom and Dad than anything else and maybe get a shot at the WT. Even if you get the opportunity, chances are excellent someone else, not the team, is funding your UCI minimum salary.

    Phil Gaimon’s NYVelocity interview is good. I haven’t read his book yet.

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