Sprinter shows progress in USA Pro Challenge
While Peter Sagan dominated the sprint finishes at last week's USA Pro Challenge, winning four of four, another 23-year-old with a fast finish quietly posted his best results of the season in Colorado - Team Colombia's Edwin Avila.
While Avila's squad's maxim states "Inspired by climbing", the young Colombian, in his first season as a professional, has a world-class track background with the 2011 points race world championship the crown jewel in his palmares. And in the rarified air of Colorado's high mountains, it would be Avila who notched Colombia's best stage finishes at the USA Pro Challenge: 4th in Fort Collins behind WorldTour fast men Peter Sagan, Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), plus 6th in both Steamboat Springs and Denver.
"The results are very good but it was a result of a job that started at the beginning of the year," Avila told Cyclingnews through a translator, Team Colombia's press officer David Evangelista. "I've been working all year to get to compete with those guys (peloton's sprinters) so it was good to finally get there and to be in the mix."
While in Colorado Avila usually had to rely on the skill and acumen which won him a points race world title in the closing kilometres of the sprint stages as he can't count on a dedicated lead-out train through to the finish as other sprinters have at their disposal.
"Not all of them (teammates) have the experience and the capacity to stay up there at speed - we're a team of climbers - but if they're feeling good I expect people like [Jarlinson] Pantano to help me get a good position ahead of the sprint," said Avila. "I sometimes feel alone, because all the other guys are doing a different business (climbing), so when you're the sprinter you're kind of on your own.
"Of course I always have the backing of my teammates - they're usually able to help me until about 10km to 5km to go to get me positioned. Then I'm usually on my own, but I don't lack the support of my teammates."
The compact Avila believes his best opportunity to win his first professional race will come on a hillier parcours where the pure sprinters are at a disadvantage, but improving on all fronts is paramount to the first-year pro.
"As of now the fact that I'm small in stature kind of favours me on the climbs so I would say I'm more of a rider who can get to the finish on a hillier stage in which the pure sprinters get dropped. But of course I need to improve on both the climbs and the sprints so I can win in both situations: flat stages against pure sprinters or hillier routes as well. There's still a big learning curve, but I have the ability."
Avila certainly showed his stamina and toughness earlier this season as he finished a particularly taxing Giro d'Italia in his first year as a professional.
"It was incredibly hard, particularly in the second week because I got sick," said Avila. "I had two or three days in which it was very hard to get to the finish. But in the third week I managed to bounce back and win the challenge which I really wanted to win for myself."
Team Colombia's press officer David Evangelista believes the Giro marked a turning point in the young Colombian's development as a pro cyclist.
"I noticed that after the Giro d'Italia something clicked in his head and he's turning into a more all-around rider," Evangelista told Cyclingnews. "He's a rider who finished inside the top-30 on the climb to Lagunas de Neila on the final day of the Vuelta a Burgos (a stage and overall race won by compatriot Nairo Quintana), despite riding the final 2km with a flat tire.
"I've seen his learning curve this year, much of which involved learning what being a real professional was all about. At the beginning he was struggling with his weight - being from the track it's different. He wasn't training that hard and that much, he was eating differently, so it was a complete change this year.
"He's someone who can climb and I'm convinced that he will turn out to be a significant rider in cycling in the next few years," said Evangelista, believing Avila will be a factor in one-day Classics.
But with the 2014 track world championships looming (February 26-March 2, 2014) on home turf in Cali, Colombia - the city in which the Bogota resident was born - Avila expects to make another appearance on the track.
"At the beginning I was thinking I would commit totally to road racing but now with the [track] world championships in Colombia in 2014 I'm getting some pressure to return to the track. It's my objective to get to the Worlds in good condition, so there's at least the Worlds in my mind regarding additional racing on the track."
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