By Kenny Pryde
Britain's under-23 road team starts the first of three key races this weekend - the seven-stage Tour de l'Avenir. That's followed shortly after by the Tour of Britain and the road world championships. We asked Great Britain under-23 manager Keith Lambert how his young squad was shaping up.
Compared to 2013, the 2014 run-up to the road world championships for the GB under-23 team has been much smoother. For one, unlike last year, the team had scored enough points to garner an invite to ride the Tour de l'Avenir stage race and, secondly, for road team manager Keith Lambert, his young team are a year older than they were last year. It sounds simple, but isn't.
Nevertheless, Lambert was optimistic. "Last year we lost five riders from the squad who were over-age and we had a bit of bad luck in some races with crashes too" said the experienced Yorkshireman, "this year all the lads have benefitted from that extra year of maturity and experience. It's a big step from junior to under-23, physically there can be a big spread of maturity. But right from the start of the season, we got off to a good start in Australia and it kept going really."
The core of the team for the Tour de l'Avenir (24-31 August), the Tour of Britain (15-22nd September) and world championships will almost certainly include the Yates brothers Simon and Adam, with Owain Doull, Sam Harrison and Al Slater though, with the Tour of Britain and the Worlds still a few weeks away, that still might change.
As part of the run-up to the Florence road race championships, his squad has a great programme - the l'Avenir has stages in the Alps, the Tour of Britain with a short gap to the world title race in Florence to be held on a hilly course.
"Adam and Simon Yates have been in the Alps with Adam's French club team, CC Etupes, Sam Harrison has been back on the track and I've had other lads out on Crag Vale on a zigzag route that takes in Stanage, Saddleworth and Holme Moss. Cragg Vale is a little bit like Mont Ventoux," laughed Lambert, "but without the sunshine! It's a long climb that goes through the trees before breaking out into the open.
"I think it's the longest road climb in the UK, not steep, but long and steady - it's on the Tour de France route next year. I was behind them in the car, to give them some support, it was a tough ride and it's good to be there even if it's just for moral support."
Lambert sounded optimistic about his team's chances of performing in the l'Avenir and in the World's road race - not forgetting the Tour of Britain.
"I think the course in the World's should suit the Yates brothers and they've been going well and I don't want anyone on the team to forget that just getting to the Tour of Britain isn't the end of it. It's their national Tour and they should be going there with a mindset that means they want to show themselves and get involved in the race, not just be there."
Clearly though, both the Tour de l‘Avenir (a mini Tour de France for under-23 riders) and the world championships will be fierce affairs, gathering the best riders of their generation.
"There was a young German at the Thuringen Rundfahrt who was impressive, Silvio Herklotz, he's only 19 or the French lad Julian Alaphilippe because the French Espoirs are always well prepared but, you know, we've got a good team who've been riding well all year, so I'm hoping for some results."
"Looking at the profile of the World's course I'd say that it would suit Adam and Simon best and the rest of the boys are riding strongly too, which will be a help. If we can get a good run-up with the l'Avenir, then the Tour of Britain before we go to the World's where we will have four or five riders in the race, I think we're in good shape."
And the Tour de l'Avenir? "I'd say a top 10 on GC is the least we should be looking at."
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