Helping to fill a notable gap in the transition from the junior category to the elite, a women’s Tour de l’Avenir is crucial in developing the sport. Let’s look at how this year’s men’s race unfolded, and learn more about the legacy of this critical event, to see what it tells us about how the image of women’s cycling is changing.
Cian Uijtdebroeks solidifies his reputation
Cian Uijtdebroeks, who already had an established reputation thanks to his performances in the junior category, dominated the pack at this year’s race. The 19-year-old Belgian completed the race firmly among the leading GC group on the final stage, a 134km race over the Col de l’Iseran to Villaroger. Ultimately, he took the race by 1:23 ahead of Norwegian Johannes Staune-Mittet and two minutes ahead of Germany’s Michael Hessmann, both of whom represent Jumbo-Visma.
The culmination of two impressive stage wins, Uijtdebroeks’ success included a dominant victory on stage 7’s summit finish at Saint François-Longchamp and the top spot in stage 8 to La Toussuire. His Belgian team also took second in the mid-race team time trial.
“From a young age, I dreamed of wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France one day,” Uijtdebroeks said after his win. “To take the yellow jersey and to win it now is a dream. I don’t know yet what the future will bring, but I am very happy that I won here.”
🏆Historic! Cian Uijtdebroeks is the youngest ever winner of the Tour de l’Avenir 👏
🏆Historique! Cian Uijtdebroeks est le plus jeune vainqueur du Tour de l'Avenir 👏#TDAV22
📸Anouk Flesch pic.twitter.com/jlQpwPptu4
— Tour de l'Avenir (@tourdelavenir) August 29, 2022
History of the Tour of the Future
As Uijtdebroeks’s comments make clear, the Tour de l’Avenir (Tour of the Future in English) is a huge stepping stone for young riders. Playing a unique and vital role throughout its 61 years, the race has undergone several developments to become what it is today. It began as an event similar to the Tour de France but for amateurs and semi-professionals known as independents.
The race was initially created to allow participation from teams within the Soviet Union and other communist nations that had no professional riders to enter the Tour de France. Until 1967, it took place earlier on the same day as some of the stages of the Tour de France and shared the latter part of each stage’s route, but it moved to a separate course from 1968 onwards.
It was restricted to amateurs from 1961 to 1980 before opening to professionals in 1981. After 1992, it was open to all riders under 25 years old. Since 2007 it has been for riders 23 or younger. Notably, Felice Gimondi, Joop Zoetemelk, Greg LeMond, Miguel Indurain, Laurent Fignon, Egan Bernal, and Tadej Pogačar all won the Tour de l’Avenir before going on to win Tours de France.
What this means for junior women cyclists
Regarded as the U23 Tour de France, the Tour de l’Avenir is indeed the most important stage race for young male riders, and from next season—the same will be true for aspiring women.
During the Tour de France, Tour de l’Avenir organisers announced a women’s edition of the race, “contested under the same format and open to up-and-coming cyclists under the age of 23, in perfect harmony with the general movement initiated this year with the Women’s Tour de France.”
Not many details have been made available regarding race specifics, but we know that it is following a similar trajectory to the introduction of the Tour de France Femmes. For example, it will unfold over five days (compared with the ten stages of the men’s) and will start on the Wednesday after the men’s race finishes.
National teams contest the men’s race, and while the following is yet to be confirmed, the fact the women’s event “will be contested under the same format” as the men’s suggests national teams might tackle the new race too.
This is a big step forward, as women’s racing mostly lacks a distinct U23 category and a calendar of U23-specific opportunities. As it stands, women riders are forced to make the significant leap from the junior ranks into the elite field.
Indeed, there are still systemic issues that need to be addressed in making the transition more organic for young riders, but this will help offer the opportunity for U23 women to race against their peers in a highly visible event that carries significant prestige. As we’ve seen, races like these often help pave the way for future success and will help contribute to a general increase in visibility and coverage for the women’s road racing program.
A big congrats to Cian Uijtdebroeks on his win at this year’s event, and we will be looking forward to seeing the group of formidable young women who will get the chance to race in 2023!