Ag2r-La Mondiale boss Vincent Lavenu is as surprised as anyone to see Carlos Betancur flying at Paris-Nice.
It’s not that he’s surprised he’s won two stages and holds the overall leader’s jersey going into Sunday’s finale, but the veteran French director is surprised that Betancur is winning so early.
“He had some family problems, and he started the season late, and he’s clearly overweight right now,” Lavenu said Saturday after Betancur defended yellow. “We are not surprised to see him posting results, because that is what we expect of him, but we are surprised to see him winning so early. He’s clearly not yet in top shape.”
Just how much is Betancur tipping the scales? His ideal racing weight is 60kg, and Lavenu estimates the Colombian is four or five kilos too heavy, but that clearly is not slowing him down this week.
Betancur admitted he’s far from top condition, but added that the extra weight he’s packing right now is giving him more power in his sprints.
If Betancur can lean down in time for the Ardennes classics, his next major goal still more than a month away, the results could be downright scary.
Betancur was impressive at the Ardennes last year, finishing third at Flèche Wallonne and fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège to announce his arrival to the world elite.
“He already demonstrated last season he can be with the best riders in the world,” Lavenu continued. “He has an interesting future. He clearly has the motor and he’s very ambitious. He is a classic puncheur. He reminds me a bit of Joaquim Rodríguez.”
Lavenu said the team won’t be putting too much pressure on Betancur for his planned Tour de France debut this summer, simply because they won’t have to.
“He wants to race and gain results, but we are not putting too much pressure on him,” Lavenu said. “He will be our co-leader, along with Jean-Christophe Peraud, so maybe he can win the white jersey or win a stage. The big question mark is how he handles the heat. We know from the Giro he does well in the cold, and he can get up the long climbs with the best. A top-five [on GC] could be realistic.”
Betancur’s grip on yellow at Paris-Nice looks solid going into Sunday’s 128km finale. Geraint Thomas (Sky), who started the stage as his closest threat, eight seconds back, crashed with 5km to go Saturday, and tumbled out of contention. World champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), now second overall at 14 seconds, seemed more focused on winning a stage after finishing second Saturday for the fifth time this season.