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By Andrew Hood
It’s the “Tour de France” for the Under-23 crowd.
The 45th Tour de l’Avenir clicks into gear Friday with an opening prologue followed by nine days of racing on a course that slices straight south across France toward the Pyrénées.
Nineteen teams of six riders aged from 19 to 22 for a total of 114 riders will fight for the honors in the most prestigious U23 race on the calendar.
Former winners include the likes of Felice Gimondi, Joop Zoetemelk and Greg LeMond, so success in the Avenir typically bodes well for a strong career in the pro ranks.
Recent winners include Denis Menchov (2001), Egoi Martínez (2003) and Moises Dueñas (2006), a heralded young Spanish climber who was booted out of the 2008 Tour de France after testing positive for EPO.
The U.S. brings a strong squad that will be both bucking for stage wins and the overall victory. Included in the squad are: Tejay Van Garderen, second overall in the Circuito Montanes in Spain this year; Thomas Peterson, Peter Stetina, Chris Barton, Bjorn Selander and Peter Salon.
The Avenir always served up large portions of hearty racing and this year’s challenging course is no exception. Hilly stages across Burgundy and Auvergne will provide plenty of attacking.
It’s the decisive climbing stages that should crown the winner, with the Port de Lers and the Col d’Agnes serving up vertical challenges to open up gaps.
Teams (based on order of current standings in the Nations Cup)
Switzerland, mixed team
45th Tour de l’Avenir, Sept. 5-14
? Prologue, Sept. 5: Chalette-sur-Loing, 7.5km (ITT)
? Stage 1, Sept. 6: Chalette-sur-Loing to Avallon, 131km
? Stage 2, Sept. 7: Vézelay to Commentry, 195.5km
? Stage 3, Sept. 8: Néris-les-Bains to Saint-Symphorien-sur-Coise, 209km
? Stage 4, Sept. 9: Saint-Symphorien-sur-Coise to Saint-Flour, 181.5km
? Stage 5, Sept. 10: Saint-Flour to Carmaux, 212.5km
? Stage 6, Sept. 11: Blaye-les-Mines, 21.5km (ITT)
? Stage 7, Sept. 12: Saint-Juéry to Revel (Saint-Ferréol), 134km
? Stage 8, Sept. 13: Revel to Guzet, 149.5kmStage 9, Sept. 14: Seix to Mirepoix, 144.5km