L’Avenir: The Young Guns Salute
– By Gordon Cameron –
It’s always gratifying when you can pinpoint a moment that becomes significant much later on, when you can look back and say “I was there when..” or even “Didn’t I tell you?”
When the Tour de l’Avenir finished on Saturday afternoon, it marked the real big-time arrival of Evgeni Petrov. For us at PezCycling News, the result allowed a little smug celebration as we’d suggested at the start that he was favourite to win. The Russian has been tipped for big things for a couple of seasons since he arrived at the Mapei espoirs team, and had focussed on this race since the beginning of the season. Although his winning margin was the slimmest possible – a single second – the way he achieved it augurs well for his career ahead.
Petrov commanded the devoted attention of his team-mates to nullify any threat to him after assuming the race leadership following stage 7 to Superbesse over 180km. And for the final 3 stages he watched his rivals try to dislodge him, while carefully guarding a lead that hovered at just 2 seconds.
A gap that tenuous can be lost through something as inconsequential as a slipped gear or pulling a foot from a pedal in a sprint to the line. But retaining this slender lead in the ‘little’ Tour de France indicates that Petrov is unlikely to wilt under greater pressures which will surely come when he tests himself in the Grand Tours in a couple of seasons from now.
Although he didn’t win a stage, his team-mate Fillipo Pozzato (who finished 16th on GC) took up that challenge for Mapei snaring the opening time-trial to take the race lead, then nabbing a bunch sprint on stage 5. Along with Sinkewitz (18th), Chuela, Gasparre and Eisel this made up a superb team performance for Mapei.
And who else shone? Other PezCyclingnews.com tips were to the fore as Phonak’s Alexandre Usov took stage 2 in a sprint finish then survived the hillier, latter days to win the points competition. This would suggest that Usov has the guts and recovery capabilities to be a major player in similar competitions in future. An impressive showing from Aussie Matt Wilson (FDJeux.com) garnered him stage 3 and a day in yellow.
The mountains competition was hard-fought, too, but was eventually snared by Jean Delatour’s Christophe Laurent. His fellow Frenchman Jimmy Caspar, who burst onto the scene 3 years ago as a teenager recaptured some of his promise after a couple of lean years to take a lone win on stage 9.
But you need consistency and strength to make the top 10 in a race like this, and lying in those placings are the guys we expect to see come through in the next couple of seasons. Pierrick Fedrigo (France, Credit Agricole) and David Munoz (Spain, Kelme) rounded out the top 3, 4th placed Aitor Silloniz (Euskaltel) took stage 7 to Superbesse – the toughest day in the race, and ONCE team-mates Arroyo and Caruso (7th and 8th) might well feature in the smaller Spanish stage races in the next year or two, helping to prepare Beloki and Gonzalez de Galdeano for another shot at the Tour de France.
Yaroslav Popovych from Ukraine finished 9th. You might be wondering why this is a notable result, and the reason is that Popovych has survived the jump from best under-23 rider in the world last year to the tougher pro ranks this season. Like his earlier results this season, he was solidly consistent, finishing with the lead group right through this race, and we can expect the wins to start coming next year.
But the undoubted star is Petrov. With Mapei pulling out of the sport at the season’s end, there are rumours that he’s off to a new Russian team sponsored by Itera. Wherever he ends up, the podium of the Tour de l’Avenir probably won’t be the last time we’ll see him in yellow. And remember, you read it here first.
2002 Tour de l’Avenir Overall Results
1 PETROV Evgeni RUS MQS en 35h 41′ 44″
2 FEDRIGO Pierrick FRA C.A а 00′ 01″
3 MUNOZ David ESP KEL а 00′ 13″
4 SILLONIZ Aitor ESP EUS а 00′ 14″
5 DE WEERT Kevin BEL RB3 а 00′ 31″
6 WEENING Pieter NED RB3 а 00′ 34″
7 ARROYO David ESP ONE а 00′ 37″
8 CARUSO Giampaolo ITA ONE а 00′ 42″
9 POPOVYCH Yaroslav UKR LAN а 00′ 47″
10 MARTINEZ Egoi ESP EUS а 01′ 02″