|Tour L'Avenir - 4th-13th of September 2003|
Stage 1 - 10.7km ITT
Although Ben’s strength is the individual time trial, he holds the same speed whether the race is 10km or 50. Unfortunately, the only ITT in the tour was this opening prologue. Ben rode strongly to finish 25th, 38secs down on the winner, Bradley Wiggins, from FDJeux.
Stage 2 - 147km road stage. (RS)
This stage finished in a bunch sprint. Ben was 63rd at bunch time.
Stage 3 - 172km RS.
On a day where fellow Aussie Hilton Clarke was 3rd in the bunch finish, Ben was 99th, losing 35secs. This meant Ben slipped to 61st in the general classification at 1:13.
Stage 4 - 233km RS.
Again, a bunch finish was the result, save for two breakaway riders 32secs up the road. Ben was 30th in the safety of the bunch
Stage 5 - 155km
This wet stage with 5 climbs was where the tour was decided. A group of 8 made huge time gains, putting over four minutes into the main group. Ben was in the main group, 31st at 4:09.
Stage 6 - 137km RS
Not deterred by being excluded from fighting out the overall win, Ben was extremely aggressive in this stage, getting himself in a group of 8 chasing a breakaway of three. This was the turning point for Ben as, despite the extremely hilly terrain (and a questionable race-course which sent Ben off-track), he managed to finish 7th at 43secs, launching him up into 19th in the general classification. A huge effort, but it would not be easy to hang onto.
Stage 7 - 173km RS
A group of five managed to escape the bunch in this stage. The chase to bring them in split up the field but Ben rode very strongly to stay in the main group. Finishing 17th at 38sec, the time gaps behind this front group of 16 meant that Ben moved up even further in the general classification to 13th at 5:42. However, with three stages and many hills still remaining, holding onto this position would be no mean feat.
Stage 8 - 164km RS
A bunch finish occurred again however, the front bunch was reduced to 32 riders. Ben finished 25th at 2 sec to hold onto his 13th spot on GC.
Stage 9 - 120km RS
The abridged stage and fast finish obliterated the field on this day and Ben rode extremely strongly to take 12th, only 7sec down on the winner. To give you some idea of the carnage at the finish, of the 82 finishers, the biggest finishing group was a group of 6… Unfortunately for Ben, nearly all the riders ahead of him on GC were in front of him in the stage, so there was no change in his overall position.
Stage 10 - 128km RSHowever, this strong finish meant that Ben held onto his high GC position and proved himself a real talent in the hilly race…a huge result that will really turn some heads, especially when they realise that the tour didn’t even offer him the chance to show his greatest talent: the mid-length time trial.
The final stage. Ben’s 34th place in this stage at bunch time in the 50-rider sprint does not really reflect his efforts. Despite this being the final stage, there was no truce called. The bunch split in two early on the, at 44km, Ben got himself into a group of 8 who worked to take nearly one minute out of the chasing field. However, they were brought back and a sprint finish resulted.