Sometimes a first-year pro blasts onto the scene and makes everyone take note. In a season where many youngsters took impressive results, Axel Laurance, is a rider who caught my eye. The 21-year-old, who rides for B&B Hotels – KTM, was a constant threat in the second half of 2022, and he even managed to notch up his first professional win. With a talent clear to see, he’s already attracting interest from some of the biggest teams in the world, they’ll be watching him closely in the coming year.
After a solid opening half of the season, where Axel made it onto the podium on several occasions, his breakthrough moment was in the Bretagne Classic, his home race. That day he was only beaten by Wout Van Aert, quite an achievement for the young man when you consider the difficulty and length of the race.
“Before the start I wasn’t sure how I’d finish the race because it was 250km and it’s huge, so yeah, it was a surprise for me to have the legs at the end to fight against Van Aert.
Plouay was my home when I was young, each year I came to see the riders and to take bottles off them, so it is my dream race. It was really special because it was my first year as a pro, and my first world tour race, finishing second behind Wout Van Aert was unbelievable and it’s why I do cycling.”
Now, I’m no stat nerd, but finishing second in your first world tour race is surely a rare achievement. I think it hints at what’s to come for the fast-finishing Frenchman. For those wondering about the type of rider Axel is, he’s got a very fast finish, particularly after a tough day in the saddle.
“My asset is explosiveness, so I keep working on climbing and my sprint. I think I’m gonna be a puncheur with a really good sprint and now in cycling you have to be fast to win races.”
The second place in Plouay acted as a springboard for the rest of the season, and Axel moved into a leadership role in the Luxembourg Tour and CRO race.
“My father taught me so many things about tactics and how to manage a finale, also in the youth categories I learned the role of leader. For me, age is not important if you have a character that allows you to take matters into your own hands. In this role you have to give confidence to your teammates, and they give confidence and help to you.”
The Tour of Luxembourg saw Axel finish 4th, 6th, and 6th in three out of the five stages, it was a good return in what was a tough race, then he headed to the CRO race. He was 4th in the sprint finish on stage 2, and then he was 6th the following day on a finish of 1.6km at 5.9%, he’s more than just a fast man. The very next day came his breakthrough moment, his first professional win. That day was another lumpy one, with a series of kickers in the closing stages, making it too hard for the pure sprinters. In a technical finish, Axel managed to get on the wheel of Mohorič and power past him in the closing metres, collecting his first win, hopefully the first of many.
“I was always in the top 10 in the last races of the season and it’s so frustrating because I was always looking for victory. This win gives me confidence for the future.
I will enjoy the winter, but a new season is a new season, it’s not written that I will win next year. You have to start from scratch, but I think a win gives you a lot of motivation to work hard.”
2023 will be a big year for Axel, his impressive finish to 2022 will see him start races with more pressure on his shoulders. Such a good year means that we’ve already seen rumours about bigger teams taking a close look at him, especially as 2023 is contract year.
“It’s satisfying to see, but it’s the game. When you do a big season, and are young, and not in the best team the others are interested.”
With a big year to come, I sense a hungry young rider. Yes, there will be the extra pressure, but Axel seems to have the right approach.
“I have so much work to do to reach the level of the best rider. Just focus on one season, do the best and do the same each year and see where it takes me. The most important things are perseverance and determination. A lot of guys were stronger than me this year, but in the end, I was in front of them because I didn’t let go. If you are determined, you can do a lot.”
With so many fast men getting better at climbing, winning bike races is certainly not easy. The generation of the Super Sprinter is upon us, and Axel is yet another looking to survive in tough races. His fast sprint is important, but I think his climbing ability could be more important, I think he can still make big improvements in this area. With so many races catering for the puncheur, this is where I see Axel making his mark. My first rider to watch in 2023 is Axel Laurance.