The high mountains will be a moment of truth for Alex Peters, as the Tour de l'Avenir climbs some iconic ascents from Thursday. "He will relish the 'cols' and you will see who is the real Alex," his coach Neil Martin tells Cyclingnews.
The leader of the U23 Team of Great Britain will be a stagiaire with Team Sky this season (and a full-time team member from 2016). He has certainly done well on some UCI races like the An Post Rás (second on GC last year) and the Tour de Bretagne (second overall and stage winner this year), but he remains quite unknown and has no big records in the very hilly races.
However, Peters is ambitious for the "mini-Tour de France", aiming to claim final victory. "I can be top five, perhaps in the top three, perhaps I can win," he says in his quiet tone, without a hint of arrogance.
At first, these expectations seem too big for the 21-year-old climber who has never fought against riders such as Colombian Sebastian Henao (a member of Team Sky), Italian Simone Petilli (Lampre Merida in 2016) or Belgian Laurens De Plus (neo-pro with Etixx next year). He also followed a different preparation than his adversaries, training in the Geraneia mountains, Greece, while the latest explored some famous passes in the French and Italian Alps. All many points, he looks different than them. But according to his character and unconventional background, Peters will be a strong dark horse of the 2015 Tour de l'Avenir.
"Alex is following his own path but he could be one of the best talents Britain has produced for a long time," warns Martin.
A former pro rider in the '80s, Dan Martin's father met Alex Peters two years ago in this Mecca of cycling called Girona. “We had a bike ride together and I liked him right from day one," his sports director recalls. "Alex has a very interesting route, let's say 'old fashion'..."
Peters, indeed, never applied to the U23 Academy of British Cycling, who promotes track riders at first, and he went instead to Europe. Some of his fellows did the same before him, notably Neil Martin in the '80s or his son, the Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner in 2013, who joined VC La Pomme Marseille team in France when he was 19.
A member of a British Continental team, Madison Genesis, for the past two seasons, Peters has spent most of his time on the European roads, though. He shared an apartment in Girona with Tao Geoghegan Hart, another Team Sky stagiaire, who took top 10 at the USA Pro Challenge last week. Peters also went to Loutraki, a town on the Gulf of Corinth, on the advice of Vasilis Anastopoulos, his Greek performance coach at SEG Racing - his new Continental team backed by the Dutch sports and entertainment company who manages several cyclists' career, including his own.
The European option is quite natural to a rider who is fond of long climbs. “This is a problem, he always wants to climb, this is an obsession, all his life is focused on that direction," Martin laughs.
"I also went to Europe to learn and to train because this is impossible to do so where I live, in Hackney," Peters says. "There's only one direction I can go riding. When I was younger I did some mountain bike in the Epping Forest. Now I train on the roads by canals when I am in England."
The London area was enough to ride his bike at the beginning, because it was not his favourite discipline at that time. "When I was 11 I dreamed of being a marathon runner," Peters explains. "I was fascinated by hard and endurance sports. Unfortunately, I couldn't take it because I had a few injuries. I started with cycling to keep fitness. I loved it and it became more serious when I turned 15."
Alex Peters is discreet, almost shy, with a low and relaxed voice when he tells his story. “He is such a nice, polite and calm kid," says the U23 British national coach Keith Lambert. "He is a deep character, a bit introverted," adds Martin. "Many Catalan people are the same in the Girona region: very worried and cautious. You need to know them..."
So what is there inside his head, once the ice is broken? "Alex always wants to do his best, he is angry with himself when he can't," Martin says. "He is very serious to try to achieve his dreams on the Tour de France one day. And, more importantly, he is very pleased on what he is doing, he is an happy man. Believe me, in the Col des Saisies Thursday, on the Col de la Madeleine Friday, Alex will really relish..."
Pierre Carrey, the founder and president of DirectVelo, is Cyclingnews' correspondent at the Tour de l'Avenir.