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Crashes and a gutsy TTT: US team fights on to focus on stage wins at Tour de l’Avenir

Down to four riders, the US team has enjoyed the highs and lows of the French U23 race.

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With the team’s GC hopes virtually over and two riders heading home to nurse broken bones, the remaining four US riders at the Tour de l’Avenir are fully focused on leaving the race with a stage win.

The original six-man team came into the French 10-day stage race with high hopes built around sprinter Luke Lamperti and climber Matthew Riccitello.

Lamperti picked up two top-10s within the first three stages but crashes forced Finn Gullickson and Jared Scott out of the race to leave the team with just four riders. Gullickson broke a collarbone on stage 4, while Scott fractured his right wrist on stage 1.

GC hopeful Riccitello was also caught behind one of the crashes that have peppered the race so far and currently sit over six minutes down on the leader’s yellow jersey.

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With a rest day Thursday and then three demanding days in the mountains left, the US team will turn its attention to Riccitello and his quest for a stage on his favorite terrain.

While the results have been hard to come by in the last few days the young Americans don’t appear shy when it comes to belief and determination.

“We’ve had a lot of up in the team and then quite a bit of down with crashes and guys being caught behind them. It’s been quite a stressful race so far but we had some up too in the first five days. It’s fair to say that it’s been up and down,” Lamperti told VeloNews in a call following stage 6.

Lamperti, who is still deciding on whether he will turn pro next year or continue in the U23 ranks, came into the race as the team’s designated sprinter. He bumped shoulders with the best fastmen in the world and managed to net a fifth and seventh. Those efforts put the 19-year-old into the white jersey for a stage.

“On the three days that came down to sprints, I was up there and in the fight. I was definitely happy with that, and especially after losing guys in crashes and being more on my own in the finals because of that. So far it’s been quite good for me in that sense,” he said.

The team had to rally on stage 5 with a 27.9km team time trial on the menu. Down to only four riders due to crashes, the quartet had to finish together with times taken on the line from the fourth-placed rider. That meant time on GC was conceded but the rider stuck to the plan and came through what was a difficult situation.

“We were down to four guys for the TTT but with four guys it was quite hard. We just slowed it down at the start in order to keep it smooth and then opened it up a bit towards the end. We got through it but it was hard with four guys. That was all we could really do. We couldn’t burn a guy because we had to finish together. That’s just how it goes,” Lamperti said.

“For me, it’s always nice to wear a jersey in a race, and to be in the white jersey for a day was great. I was up there with some of the best sprinters in the U23 category. I didn’t come away with a win or a podium but I was consistent, so I’m definitely happy about that.”

Thursday’s rest day will allow the team to recalibrate and refocus before the final block of stages in the mountains. Lamperti does not have another sprint to compete in for the rest of the race but he will focus on helping Riccitello as much as possible.

“We’ll focus on the mountains with Matthew and either getting him up the road or helping him win from the GC group. Our focus is on stage wins and he’s definitely capable of that,” Lamperti said.

“He’s one of the best U23 climbers in the race, so he’ll be able to get up there. From here on out we’ll go for stage wins. He was caught out behind a crash earlier in the race but we’re all in for him for the last few stages.”