Rising stars: An insider’s look at the Tour de l’Avenir’s best climbers

As the Tour of the Future heads into the mountains, here are the riders to watch out for.

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Joe Laverick knows a thing or two about the U23 racing scene, not least because he’s part of that very scene as a rider with US Continental team Hagens Berman Axeon. In the following article, Joe gives us the lowdown on the climbers to watch at the in-progress Tour de l’Avenir – the biggest race on the U23 calendar.

Le Tour de l’Avenir, literally ‘The Tour of the Future’, is an under-23 stage race currently taking place in France. It is the crème de la crème of U23 races, and practically a baby version of the Tour de France.

Being raced by national rather than trade teams always leads to interesting dynamics. The organisers have some weird ideas up their sleeves too.

The prologue this year was a 3.9 km team time trial, but all GC times were cancelled out. Stage 5 brings another TTT, this one 27.9 km long, but all GC losses are limited to two minutes. This bizarre setup is slightly understandable given the difference in equipment and funding between nations, and given some nations have already lost half their riders!

The first week of the 2022 Tour de l’Avenir is relatively straightforward on paper with plenty of flat stages favouring the sprinters. However, a combination of it being raced with national teams and a lack of race radios has meant that breakaways have been having success.

With the race’s flatter first few days behind us, let’s take a look at who to watch out for in the mountains, and ultimately for the overall win.

Leo Hayter (Great Britain)

This year’s Baby Giro and U23 British TT winner has an Ineos Grenadiers contract in his back pocket and is one of the best U23s in the world. On his way to winning the Baby Giro he produced perhaps the finest ride the U23 ranks have ever seen by winning the 5,000m+ elevation queen stage by almost five minutes.

Leo Hayter (centre) after winning the U23 men’s ITT at the 2022 British Road Championships, ahead of Callum Thornley (left, silver) and Charles Bailey (right, bronze). (Photo by Steve Welsh/PA Images via Getty Images)

You’ve got to go all the way back to 1973 to find a rider who’s done the Giro-l’Avenir double: 20-year-old Gianbattista Baronchelli. Even then it was under different circumstances as they were ‘amateur’ rather than under-23 races. (Thanks to @LosBrolin of First Cycling for this tip.)

While he’s not the punchiest of riders, Hayter’s ability to simply time-trial away from his rivals has been proven over and over again.  Can he become the first rider to do the modern-day Baby Giro – Tour de l’Avenir double? 

With the Brits having two cards to play in the mountains, I wouldn’t be surprised. That leads me nicely onto …

Tom Gloag (Great Britain)

Now, it might seem convenient that this British writer’s first two picks are also British, but Tom Gloag is one of the best climbers in the world. Don’t just take my word for it – Jumbo-Visma has signed him for 2023 and beyond.

Coming into the race, the Londoner had had an up-and-down season battling illness but he put all that behind him by winning stage 4 from an elite group (with one aero sock around his ankle I may add).

Gloag was flying high in the mountains at last year’s edition of the race, before a nasty crash caused him to pull out on the penultimate stage. He’s already proven his form this week, and we’re not even in his favoured terrain just yet.

The Gloag-Hayter duo is one to watch out for, and the perfect opportunity for the Brits to take more stage wins or target the overall classification.

Cian Uijtdebroeks (Belgium)

Whatever your opinion on WorldTour riders being able to drop down and compete in the U23 category, Cian Uijtdebroeks is on the startline and for many, the hot favourite to take home the yellow jersey.

The 19-year-old Belgian is only in his first year at the senior level, but skipped the U23 ranks altogether in favour of joining Bora-Hansgrohe. Stepping straight into the WorldTour can be a risky move, but for Uijtdebroeks it is one that has paid off. He has already finished in the top 10 overall at the Tour of Norway, and third at the often under-appreciated Tour of Sibiu in Romania.

Uijtdebroeks after winning last year’s junior men’s time trial at the European Championships.

Like the Brits, the Belgians have a strong team with arguably the best climbing duo in the race. Depending on how things play out on the road, Uijtdebroeks has Lennart van Eetvelt as a co-leader or super-domestique. Van Eetvelt won a stage and finished second place to Leo Hayter in the Baby Giro, so his climbing prowess is clear. 

The Uijtdebroeks-Van Eetvelt vs. Hayter-Gloag showdown is something we may see in the mountains and with neither team having a clear leader, it makes it an even more exciting prospect.

Lenny Martinez (France)

The best climber in the race, Lenny Martinez is a force to be reckoned with the second the road goes uphill. Another first-year senior, Martinez is a part of the golden 2003 generation which has been ripping up the U23 calendar this season.

He showed his climbing ability at the Baby Giro with an outrageous long-range attack, and even though it was a little too audacious and he blew himself up, I wouldn’t put it past him to try again. He’s a man in form, and led a Groupama-FDJ one-two in GC at Valle d’Aosta, widely regarded as one of the hardest races on the U23 scene.

Martinez finished 14th at the Tour of the Alps this year, racing for the Groupama-FDJ WorldTour squad.

Martinez has stagiared with Groupama-FDJ’s WorldTour team, and proven that he is able to handle racing at that level. At U23 level, he is a climber who, on his day, can blow the opposition away. He’s a Frenchman that races with heart and emotion, and I bet that he will win a stage of this race.

The outsiders

While all of my picks so far are almost guaranteed to perform in the mountains – barring accident or incident – the Tour de l’Avenir is unpredictable and always has breakaway days. 

Darren Rafferty has been enjoying an active first year in the U23 ranks. The Irishman has a nose for a breakaway, and has already won the U23 Strade Bianche this season. Frenchman Romain Grégoire is one of the punchiest climbers in the race. The U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner is sure to be sniffing out a stage.

Now 19, Romain Grégoire won last year’s U19 men’s road race at the European Championships, then took silver at the same event at Worlds.

American Matthew Riccitello is a talented climber who’ll be looking to get up the road and EF Education-EasyPost’s Georg Steinhauser (Germany) is sure to feature at some point. For the Aussies, Matt Dinham has been on flying form in the mountains of late, and Norway’s Johannes Staune-Mittet, who has a deal with Jumbo-Visma until 2026, will be eyeing stages and the overall podium too.

The beauty of the Tour de l’Avenir is that there are so many riders who are capable of winning. There are the big dogs of the U23 ranks who already have their pro contracts signed and sealed, then there are those lesser-known riders who are desperate to show the world what they can do.

The Tour de l’Avenir is a shop window of cycling’s future and a great way of learning a little about the riders you’ll be watching in the years to come.

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