The Under 23 Great Britain Academy team will ride this year’s Tour de l’Avenir stage race which begins in Dreux, near Paris on Saturday.

The nine-day stage race is organised by ASO, who also organise the Tour de France, and is traditionally considered the stage race for future Tour stars.

A strong ride in the l’Avenir traditionally leads to a professional contract. Former winners include Laurent Fignon, Miguel Indurain, Johan Bruyneel, Denis Menchov and more recently Lars Bak. Last year Belgium’s Jan Bakelants won it before turning professional with the Topsport-Vlaanderen team.

In recent years riders from the Great Britain U23 Academy have taken part in the Tour of Britain but the red, white and blue GB jerseys will be back in France just like when Robert Millar, Graham Jones and many other Brits rode the race to try and seal places in European professional teams.

It is the first time a Great Britain team has taken part in the Tour de l’Avenir since 1998. That year Charly Wegelius (32nd overall), Darren Barclay (49th) and Russell Downing (51st) were the only British finishers in a race won by Christophe Rinero, a Cofidis rider who had just finished fourth in the Tour de France.

The Tour de l’Avenir reverted to a national team format in 2007. A good performance in the Tour de l’Avenir will also help the British-based Team Sky’s chances of getting a place in the 2010 Tour de France.

Under 23 team manager Max Sciandri has selected six riders for the race and will direct them from the Great Britain team car. In the team are: Pete Kennaugh, Luke Rowe, Andy Fenn, Erick Rowsell, Mark Christian and Jonny McEvoy.

They travelled from their base in Quarrata in Tuscany on Friday ready for the opening 130km circuit stage around the town of Dreux.

The race then heads east to northern France before descending down through the Vosges region for the finish in Besancon. The race will probably be decided on stage six’s uphill finish in Gerardmer and the 28km time trial around Ornans on stage eight.

“The Tour de l’Avenir is a key build-up race for the world championships but we also want to do well and try and win stages,” Max Sciandri told Cycling Weekly.

“The guys rode the recent Giro della Val d’Aosta in the Italian Alps last week. It didn’t go well because three of them got sick but they’ve all recovered and have been training well in the last few days.”

“We’re one of the strongest teams in the world at Under 23 level and so it’s right we ride the Tour de l’Avenir. In the past the race was pretty tough but the organisers have toned it down quite a bit, which makes it easier to handle so close to a world championships. It’s where most of our rivals for the worlds are competing and so we’ll be able to see who is on form.”

Tour de l’Avenir stages

Saturday 5th September: Dreux – Dreux 130 km

Sunday 6th September: Dreux – Tourville-la-campagne 138 km

Monday 7th September: Le Thuit-Signol – Compiègne 189 km

Tuesday 8th September: Margny-les-Compiègne – Sedan 197 km

Wednesday 9th September: Sedan – Guénange 166, 5 km

Thursday 10th September: Château-Salins – Gérardmer 146 km

Friday 11th September: Gérardmer – Ornans 182, 5 km

Saturday 12th September: Ornans – Ornans 27 km (C.L.M.)

Sunday 13th September: Besancon – Besancon 116, 5 km

George Atkins third in the Junior Giro della Lunigiana

A sign of the growing strength in depth of Junior British riders was clear on Friday when George Atkins finished third on a tough uphill finish at the Giro della Lunigiana stage race in Italy.

The four-day stage race held south of Genoa, is considered the most prestigious stage race in Junior European cycling, with the winner usually going on to bigger and better things as an U23 and professional.

It is the first time a junior from Great Britain has ridden, but Atkins quickly showed his talent.

Atkins joined the key break of stage that already included team mate Alexander King and then just failed to stay with stage winner Pavel Gorenc of Slovenia on the climb to the line. Atkins finished nine seconds down and is now sixth overall at 1-05.

Also in the Great Britain team are: Tim Kennaugh, Sam Harrison, Jonathan Mould and Daniel Mclay. Coach Daren Tudor is managing the team.