A solo victory on the final stage of the Tour de L'Avenir for Lotto-Belisol's neo-pro Louis Vervaeke sealed victory for Belgium in the U23 UCI Nations Cup. The 21-year-old's win on the summit finish of La Toussuire also ensured that he finished in fifth place on the final general classification.
The Nations Cup was launched in 2007 by the UCI and is the premier competition for U23 riders.
Vervaeke had made his way into the early breakaway on the day with his Belgian national teammate Loïc Vliegen as he explained.
"On the first of three climbs I bridged to an early breakaway, with my teammate Loïc Vliegen in it," he said. "He did the work on that climb and in the beginning of the Croix de Fer. About fifty kilometers from the finish I went solo. I got an advantage up to three minutes."
Having started the day several minutes down on Colombia's Miguel Angel López who won the overall, Vervaeke knew that a stage win was the only possible reward with the overall out of reach.
"On the final climb to La Toussuire I had to battle against myself and the group of the yellow jersey," he said. "I knew it was impossible to take over that leader's jersey because I was almost two minutes behind. In the valley I was alone in the wind and on La Toussuire I couldn't hold on to that gap either. I did think about the podium."
With the news that compatriot and friend Igor Decraene had died in tragic circumstances filtering through at the start line, Vervaeke added that the memory of the 18-year-old kept him going on the stage.
"At the start I had just heard that Igor Decraene had died," he said. "In the beginning of the stage it was difficult to concentrate. When I was riding alone I thought about Igor, Kristof Goddaert and my grandfather."
Vervaeke pointed the heavens with both arms when he crossed the line in remembrance of the Belgian cyclist who both died this year.
"This is a big victory," he added. "I'm very satisfied I could show what I'm capable of in the mountains. Especially the way I did it makes it beautiful. Earlier this week I got a penalty of 20 seconds. Inside the last ten kilometers I had taken a water bottle from someone and thrown it over my head. At that moment that was really important for my position in GC. But with this stage win the race was successful for me."
Vervaeke will return to racing his trade team at the two Canadian WorldTour events later this month; Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec and Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal.