Cian Uijtdebroeks a week ago became the youngest Tour de l’Avenir winner ever and did it in fashion, pushing very high w/kg for his age. Uijtdebroeks is one of the most talented 19-year-old climbers ever and in his first pro year has been performing well for Bora-Hansgrohe. In this article we will focus on the mountain stages of this year’s Tour de l’Avenir, analysing the w/kg estimates and climbing times.
Stage 7 was the first big mountain stage that finished with the Saint Francois Longchamp – Col de la Madeleine climb (13.7 km, 8.12%). The gradients and length are extremely similar to Piancavallo (13.7km, 8.12%) and Alpe d’Huez (13.8km, 8,08%).
There were multiple medium shallow climbs before the big climb but the fatigue in the riders’ legs was not huge. Riders in the peloton had spent 13,19 kj/kg/h for 3:44h before the climb, which we consider to be medium difficulty at WorldTour level. The French team was confident and paced the first part of Saint Francois Longchamp for the climbing star Lenny Martinez.
The problem for Martinez was that he had already crashed in Tour de l’Avenir but also is a very light rider, perhaps less than 55 kg. Like Quintana was at a disadvantage compared to Froome before final climbs, Martinez will have arrived at the base of the final climb relatively more fatigued than bigger riders such as Cian Uijtdebroeks, Johannes Staune-Mittet and Michel Hessman. This is a problem for such riders at WorldTour level like Juan Pedro Lopez, Kenny Elissonde and Mikkel Bizkarra. The relative weight of 6.8kg bikes compared to their body weight and watts/CdA is working against smaller climbers compared to bigger guys.
The tempo was too slow for Cian Uijtdebroeks who attacked with 10.5 kilometres to go when the GC group was still around 20 riders deep. The Belgian’s acceleration was extremely powerful with no one even close to following him in the first moment. Frenchman Alex Baudin was the only one who tried to bridge but he quickly blew up, making a mistake even trying to follow Uijtdebroeks.
Uijdebroeks won with a big margin doing an estimated 5.88 w/kg for 41:15 minutes, which is a high level performance by WorldTour standards.
Uijtdebroeks practically performed at his Tour of Norway Stage 3 level, where he finished 6th behind Remco Evenepoel, Jay Vine, Luke Plapp, Tobias Johannessen (2021 l’Avenir winner) and Laurens Huys. Uijtdebroeks on the Gaustoppen-Stavsro climb in Norway did an estimated 6.10 w/kg for 31:51min, showing big climbing potential. On Saint Francois Longchamp he proved that he can perform again.
Usually mountain stages in Grand Tours are harder than this Stage 7 of Tour de l’Avenir, but not always. The Vuelta Queen stage to Sierra Nevada was around the same difficulty prior to the final climb. If Uijtdebroeks can perform at such a level after stages with multiple big mountains and can keep this level for three weeks he can comfortably Top 10 a Grand Tour in 2023. Aleksandr Vlasov and Alexey Lutsenko who finished respectively 5th and 8th in the 2022 Tour de France GC did not perform at this level in any of the climbs this Tour but of course as mentioned previously, the stages were way harder and the key to GC results is performing every day for three weeks.
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Stage 8 was hard with two huge mountains but very short, only 100 kilometres long. The Norwegian team worked hard for their leader Johannes Staune-Mittet on Col de la Madeleine (25.6 km, 6.2%) and they reduced the peloton to 20 riders. The French puncheur Romain Gregoire attacked at the top and gained 1:30min on the long descent and valley but blew up on the final climb, which was La Toussuire (16.6 km, 6.8%). The peloton had spent 15.7 kj/kg/h for 1:59h, which is hard, before the final climb but accrued during a short period of time.
2021 World Junior Road Race Champion Per Strand Hagenes was the last one to pull for Staune-Mittet. When he finished the GC group was reduced to six riders and the race leader Michel Hessmann was dropped for a while, who was climbing surprisingly well on big cols for his size. Hessmann performed well already in the previously mentioned Tour of Norway stage 3, where he attacked with 33 km to go and was caught on the final climb. After Hagenes had done his job Staune-Mittet accelerated and only Archie Ryan and Uijtdebroeks were strong enough to follow.
Staune-Mittet was brave to pull with Uijtdebroeks to increase gaps to their GC rivals, while Ryan was fully at his limit and stayed in the draft practically the whole time. With 2.5 km to go Uijtdebroeks accelerated and dropped Staune-Mittet but Ryan still was holding on to his wheel somehow. The small Irish climber was fighting hard and managed to lose only two seconds to the Belgian supertalent.
Uijtdebroeks did a great performance, an estimated 5.54 w/kg for 45:38min. Ryan who finished two seconds back did 0.11 w/kg less due to drafting but Staune-Mittet who was working regularly, did 5.49 w/kg with a slower time than Ryan.
The peloton did the Col de la Madeleine at around 68 minutes with an estimated 5.3 w/kg, a very hard pace which evidently fatigued many of the riders. On the w/kg x time curve for Uijtdebroeks, the Col de la Madeleine effort is around the same level as La Toussuire, which was the final climb.
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The final stage included the mighty Col de l’Iseran climb, where Egan Bernal attacked in the 2019 Tour to win the race and which was, conveniently for comparisons, used in the 2021 edition of Tour de l’Avenir. Col de l’Iseran tops out at 2754 metres above sea level and is one of the highest paved roads in Europe. Stage 9 was for the breakaway, which was never caught.
In the GC group Uijtdebroeks was tested by Italian climber Alessandro Fancellu, who was wearing the KOM jersey (Uijtdebroeks was the leader of this competition but was wearing the leader’s jersey) and is three years older than the Belgian. Uijtdebroeks, Fancellu and William Junior Lecerf were not fully committed and they were caught near the top by Gregoire, Staune-Mittet and Martin Lopez.
They climbed Col d’Iseran nine seconds faster than the GC riders in the 2021 Tour de l’Avenir. Ecuadorian Harold Martin Lopez was in the GC group both in the 2021 and 2022 editions. Compared to Bernal’s monster performance, Uijtdebroeks group was 3:11 minutes slower. The stage before the climb also was not too hard, 13,10 kj/kg/h for 1:55h, which is an easy difficulty.
Lorenzo Milesi won from the breakaway. The Italian attacked on the final hill (4.8km, 6.0%) and got a huge gap over second placed Alec Segaert. The GC group did not care about the stage and many riders caught up with the GC leaders on the descent. Gregoire was the fastest in the sprint from the GC group.
Uijtdebroeks became the youngest Tour de l’Avenir winner ever. He is also the only one first year U23 rider to win the race. In recent years there have been many second U23 year riders who have won Tour de l’Avenir. Despite his historical performance in Tour de l’Avenir, Uijtdebroeks is somehow still not the best teenage rider in the world, with Juan Ayuso currently climbing at an even higher level in the Vuelta a España.
Below there is a list of seven youngest Tour de l’Avenir winners, according to procyclingstats.com. All of them except Gianbattista Baronchelli (won in 1973, finished eight times in top six in Giro d’Italia) won the race from 2010 to 2022. Every one of them has finished fourth or higher in Grand Tours and all of them still are active.
Youngest Tour de l’Avenir winners
Best results in Grand Tours by youngest Tour de l’Avenir winners since 2010:
- Tadej Pogačar: 1st Tour (2020, 2021), 2nd Tour (2022), 3rd Vuelta (2019)
- Egan Bernal: 1st Tour (2019), 1st Giro (2021)
- Nairo Quintana: 1st Vuelta (2016), 1st Giro (2014), 2nd Tour (2013, 2015)
- Miguel Angel Lopez: 3rd Vuelta (2018), 3rd Giro (2018)
- David Gaudu: 4th Tour (2022), 8th Vuelta (2020)
Three out of five have won two grand tours, four out of the five have podiumed at least two grand tours, all five have been in Top 10 at least twice and all of them still are active and can improve their palmarés.
Since 2007 only U23 riders are allowed to compete in Tour de l’Avenir. Below there is a table with all winners since 2007. As you can see older winners, who won at age 21 or 22, like Bakelants, Fernandez and Sicard did not Top 10 in Grand Tours in their career. Bakelants and Fernandez still are riding for World Tour teams but it is extremely unlikely they will Top 10 a Grand Tour ever whilst Tobias Foss came ninth in the Giro d’Italia 2021 but perhaps has largely struggled to live up to his GC expectations to date. Meanwhile, younger winners all have been at least in Top 10 in Grand Tours except Uijtdebroeks who just won Tour de l’Avenir. It seems that the younger the winning age, higher the chance to excel at Grand Tours.
Some remarks: 1) Mollema’s best result is 3rd in La Vuelta. He moved onto the podium after Juan Jose Cobo’ win was stripped after he was found guilty of doping by the UCI. 2)Tobias Johannesen won Tour de l’Avenir at age 21 and 365 days.
It is clear that Uijtdebroeks’ potential is very high however it will be very difficult for him to win a Grand Tour in the coming years as there is Tadej Pogačar, Jonas Vingegaard, Remco Evenepoel, Juan Ayuso, Carlos Rodriguez and many more talents who are relatively young. Each year even more big talents emerge and the competition gets stronger with w/kg levels in the peloton continuing to improve. Regardless, Bora-Hansgrohe seem to have been managing Uijtdebroeks very well, sending him mostly to .Pro stage races in his first professional season and allowing him to participate in Tour de l’Avenir. We look forward to seeing what the talented Belgian can achieve at WorldTour level in the near future.