Fresh from winning Paris-Nice, Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) has his sights set on next month’s Ardennes classics and then on landing the white jersey of best young rider in his debut Tour de France in July.
Last season, Betancur claimed the best young rider classification when he finished 5th overall at the Giro d’Italia, and the 24-year-old will aim to replicate that feat when he lines up at the Tour.
"This is a real morale boost ahead of the classics," Betancur said. "The rest of my programme for the season culminates with the Tour de France, where I have real ambitions.
"I think it's the biggest race in the world. When I was young, I always wanted to watch it, inspired by [Lance] Armstrong and [Santiago] Botero. I've done the Giro d'Italia twice; it's an important and hard race, but it's every rider’s wish to go to the Tour because that's where you graduate. The white jersey is a dream and I'm going to work very hard to get it."
Betancur claimed Paris-Nice in impressive fashion, winning back-to-back stages at Rive-de-Gier and on the uphill finish at Fayence, and then defending his yellow jersey confidently over the weekend.
Although he began the season some way short of his best condition and in excess of his ideal weight at the Tour de San Luis, Betancur was quickly up to speed once he arrived in Europe. Last month, he claimed a stage and the overall at the Tour du Haut-Var, and he now joins Simon Gerrans atop the WorldTour standings following his Paris-Nice triumph.
"He's a winner, he's a killer," Betancur’s Ag2r teammate Romain Bardet told L'Équipe. "He reassures us during stages. He tells us that he is going well, and so that helps us ride at 110%. He has huge potential."
The centrepiece of Betancur's spring will be the Ardennes classics, where he already performed impressively in 2013, finishing 3rd at Flèche Wallonne after attacking early on the Mur de Huy, and then taking 4th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège the following Sunday.
"For me, he has the same qualities as a rider like Joaquim Rodriguez, very strong in a very hard race, whether it's a classic or a Grand Tour," Ag2r manager Vincent Lavenu said, according to L'Équipe. "He has everything to become world number one."
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