Johnson, 20, was not part of the original USA national team for the Tour de l’Avenir but illness saw another rider drop out and the Aevolo athlete was given the green light to pack his bags and head to Europe.
This won’t be Johnson’s first time on the continent, with a stack of races already under his belt this season, but the Tour de l’Avenir is another level up from anything the young rider has participated in so far.
“My perception of l’Avenir is that it’s a pretty brutal race but I know that guys like Tejay van Garderen and a few others have done really well there and it’s boosted their WorldTour careers, and that’s awesome,” Johnson told VeloNews during a call on Wednesday morning.
“But then in recent history, riders like Tadej Pogačar and Egan Bernal both won the race. It’s crazy that those guys were riding at the same race that I’m about to do. It means a lot that I’m able to be there. It’s super cool to rep the stars and stripes, it’s really awesome.”
Hailing from Tennessee but currently based in Colorado Springs as he puts his finishing touches to his current form, Johnson’s role at the Tour de l’Avenir has yet to be finalized but it’s likely that the US U23 national champion will ride as a domestique for both leaders Lamperti and Riccitello before branching out and targeting breakaways. Johnson, after all, won his U23 road title earlier in the summer due to a 60-kilometer-plus solo break.
“The aspirations are to help deliver Luke and Matthew into good positions and then see what we can do for the GC with Matthew for the GC and Luke for the sprint,” Johnson told VeloNews. “Then we want to find some breakaways through the 11 days and find some new experiences through race.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s the longest race of my career so far so the rest day should make it interesting because I’ve never had one of them in a race before and then we have three mountain stages right after that. It’s going to be fun and it’s exciting for the entire team. Luke is riding really well right now and then the first five or six stages should end in either a bunch sprint or a reduced field sprint. We’re going all-in on Luke for those stages.
“And I’m definitely good in the breaks. There have been a couple of other European races where I’ve gone on the attack as that means the selection comes to you and you get to see what happens. Any day that I have the green light I’d like to try and get in the break. It’s always hard to do that but I love that fight.”
The Tour de l’Avenir will still represent a steep learning curve for many of the U23 riders on the start line of stage 1, and Johnson is no different. However, the fact that he has been able to build up a steady body of work when it comes to European racing in 2022 should stand him in good stead. He already has four stage races under his belt this season.
“The biggest learning curve would probably be the fact that you have to pay attention all day long,” he said when asked about the biggest takeaway from his European adventures so far.
“Once you’re on the back foot in these races in Europe it’s just so hard to get back on the initiative. It costs you so much and then even if you do manage it you’re almost always done from that point on. You’re just always going to be paying attention because you never know when you’ll need to be attentive. But I’ve really enjoyed traveling to Europe though and taking in the differences when it comes to language and culture. Everyone on the Aevolo team is an English-speaker, so that’s really helped us create a bubble. The race is super hard, but I’ve really enjoyed that aspect, and it’s really been racing of attrition whenever I’ve gone over to Europe this year. I really hope to do a lot more there next year.”