Archie Ryan 'Delighted' After Tour de l'Avenir Return And Stage Win
Archie Ryan celebrates winning stage 7B in the Tour de l'Avenir (Image: Anouk Flesch/Tour de l'Avenir)
Getting to the start line of the 2023 Tour de l'Avenir was something of a win for Archie Ryan before he could think about stepping on the podium.
The 21-year-old announced himself as one of Irish cycling's top prospects last summer with a brilliant performance at the 2022 edition before going on to take victories in the Ronde l'Isard and Tour of Slovakia as the cycling world took note.
But during the winter off-season, Ryan suffered a knee injury that proved difficult in recovery. After a long road back to racing, the Tour de l'Avenir would be his first big test after just one race day.
Representing Ireland in a strong squad for the U23 showpiece dubbed the 'U23 Tour de France', Ryan battled through some challenging opening stages that saw Irish riders involved in crashes before making his move for stage glory on stage 7B last Saturday.
A mountain stage finishing at Val Cenis at over 2000m altitude, Ryan was at home in the high mountains as he soloed to victory ahead of all the big favourites in chase.
Archie Ryan looked back on a winning return with Ireland:
"Up to this point, it's been a terrible year being injured. Getting here was a victory in itself - a lot of people tell me that. To come home with a stage win is really good and I'm just really happy."
"I had a bad crash earlier on that ruined my GC (ambitions). I had a bad day the day before I won because the body was a bit hit up too hard. To come home with a stage win; I'm just delighted given everything that's happened the past few months."
While happy to have made it to the prestigious race after a long time on the sidelines, Ryan admitted that he had ambitions to compete in the general classification (GC) as he looked to improve on his brilliant 4th place in last year's edition.
And despite a crash early in the race ultimately ending his GC challenge, Ryan was confident that he had the form to make an impact later in the race as he delivered a brilliant stage win.
"It was a weird one in that I was going to it only having done one race day the weekend before. I knew I was in good shape. I had a good couple of weeks of training in the legs and I knew I had some decent form but an eight day stage race is a different ball game."
"I just didn't know if I'd be able to do it in the high mountains because you need a couple of stage races in the legs just to really be able to do that. I knew I was in good shape, so I did go out with intention to ride in GC and go for stages."
In an injury recovery that featured multiple setbacks, Ryan contracted Covid-19 as he returned to training with the Jumbo Visma Development Team in July, further pushing back his return.
Soaring to victory in France, it could be argued that the win was built in the early summer as he got back on the saddle on the roads around his native Co. Wicklow.
"I went home in February when I got injured. I did all my physio at home in Dublin and started really easy riding at the end of May. I was home until the end of June and then did a camp with the team in July. But (during the camp) I got Covid. So I just sat in my hotel room for 12 days - which was fun!"
A strong Irish team of six riders made the trip to France for the race, including Jamie Meehan, Odhran Doogan, Dean Harvey, Patrick O'Loughlin and Kevin McCambridge. The only noticeable absentee was Darren Rafferty, who was unavailable for the race but represented Ireland earlier this month in the Road World Championships.
Despite a strong core of U23 riders, things didn't go to plan in the early stages as Harvey battled illness before withdrawing while Doogan and O'Loughlin battled well in service of Ryan before bowing out due to crashes.
But the team rallied in the later stages as Ryan's victory reflected the hard work of riders and staff. McCambridge played a crucial role, one of the more experienced riders in the race, he helped Ryan with positioning in vital moments to tee up a stage victory. 2023 U23 road race champion Meehan was also active at the front, joining a breakaway on the final stage before finishing in the reduced main group with Ryan.
Ryan paid tribute to his teammates:
"We went off to a rough start with Dean (Harvey) being sick because he's a pivotal part of our squad but we fought really well. We've got a great crop of U23's coming through and it's a really good squad. I was saying to the lads (Tour de l'Avenir squad) 'we're not here to make up the numbers. We could win this race'. It's just about trying to get that message across, sitting at the front every day with the other big teams because I consider us a big team because we had options for stage wins if we go for each other."
"We all huddled really well together. It was a shame to lose Patrick (O'Loughlin) and Odhran (Doogan) later on. The first couple of days they looked after me well. Kev (McCambridge) especially - a 'super-domestique' in my eyes. He knew where to put me in the early days when I got top tens. Jamie as well was phenomenal - especially yesterday (Sunday's final stage). It's a great squad."
Ryan will hope to use the race as a springboard for the remainder of the season as he looks to gain as much race experience as possible ahead of a big 2024 season.
Ryan recently signed with World Tour team EF Education Easypost for 2024 and is one of Irish cycling's riders to watch in the coming years.
"I actually don't know what I'm going to do next, but I'll give my coach a ring and I'll find out. I just want to do as much racing as possible because in a month and a bit it's all over. I'm keen to get stuck in while I can and then have a little rest and refocus for next year."