The Tour de l'Avenir shows that it's possible for young British riders to succeed outside British Cycling's U23 Academy Programme. Adam Yates, who was considered as “not good enough” to join the system, went second in the general classification last year after he developed himself within the French clubs of Troyes and CC Etupes.
This year Britain's new performer is Dan McLay, who took stage victory from a bunch sprint on stage 3 in Paray-le-Monial, in Burgundy, ahead of Europe Tour leader Magnus Cort (Denmark) and track champion Fernando Gaviria (Colombia).
“I never applied to the Academy”, McLay told Cyclingnews. “In fact I wanted to race in Belgium because I love classics.”
The New Zealand-born rider has been part of Lotto-Belisol's development squad since 2012, but he moved to the north of Belgium one year earlier. In 2010, he took second at the junior Paris-Roubaix, behind the Belgian Jasper Stuyven and ahead of American Lawson Craddock.
“In Belgium I learned how to race aggressively, especially when there's wind,” he says.
Flemish skills were a serious asset to capture the stage win at the Tour de l'Avenir on Tuesday. A crash occurred with 3.5km to go, involving sprint favourite Caleb Ewan (Australia) and points classification leader Davide Martinelli (Italy). “I was ready for anyone to crash so I left a little bit space around me,” McLay explains. “But because of the crash, there were a lot of attacks so it was a hard sprint, from a long way, about 500 to go.”
McLay took some top achievements on UCI races this year (stage victories at the Tour of Normandy and Paris-Arras Tour) despite breaking his collarbone in April. His palmarès also includes medals in three disciplines: track cycling (he was junior world champion in the Madison, paired with Simon Yates), road (he was junior national champion) and even cyclo-cross (he took bronze at nationals).
“First I am a sprinter,” says McLay. “And I have always liked the Classics: Flanders, San Remo, Roubaix, it would be a dream to win one of them. I am also a sprinter who can be good in a lead-out.”
U23 National coach Keith Lambert says the young rider “needs to improve his climbing in the big mountains, but he can be a good professional, because he's definitely a good speed in the finish and he is built for the Classics.”
About his future, the Tour de l'Avenir stage winner says he has “nothing solid” and is “open to offers.”
For now, he wants to pay his teammates back and is ready for a domestique role in the Alps stages, from Wednesday to Saturday.