Ethan Vernon is off to a lightning-fast start to 2023. In four road starts since late January, the young Soudal-QuickStep sprinter has landed on the podium all four times, three times a winner. Most recently, he swept the opening two stages at the Tour du Rwanda.
In between his victory at Trofeo Palma in Spain and the Rwanda double, Vernon earned a silver medal in the team pursuit for Great Britain at the UEC Track Elite European Championships. Team GB, which saw Daniel Bigham, Charlie Tanfield and Oliver Wood ride with Vernon, was eclipsed by the Filippo Ganna-led Italian team, the reigning Olympic Games champions in the discipline.
After a demonstrative start at the eight-day Tour du Rwanda, the 22-year-old wears the leader’s jersey and claims the best young rider’s classification as well.
“It wasn’t easy today. We had to control the race in order to keep the yellow jersey and, at the same time, to aim for a second stage victory. But we did it thanks to a great team effort, and I am very satisfied with the way things panned out,” Vernon said in a team statement.
On stage 1, the day’s breakaway escaped from the start in Kigali for 115km across the Eastern province of Rwanda. The soudal-QuickStep development squad reeled in the group and remained in control for the last 20km and the final circuit in Rwamagana. Vernon attacked in the final 250 metres to win by several bike lengths.
“It’s great to be in Rwanda, the course was nice, and the crowds were amazing, never seen something like this before. It was nice to ride with the boys, they were all really strong, riding at the front from kilometer zero until the finish. I am happy I could repay them with a victory,” he said after the finish Sunday.
On Monday, the squad was down to four riders, losing Lars Craps as a DNF on the opening day, but helped catch a six-rider breakaway on the 132.9km route. It was William Junior Lecerf who countered a dangerous move with 6km to go and set the stage for Vernon to accelerate to the front with 150 metres to go.
“The next opportunity for the sprinters will most likely come in the weekend, so it’s good that we took advantage of the chances we had so far,” Vernon said about the upcoming six days of racing in Africa, which ends with circuits around Kigali that total 75.3km and an uphill finish on Canal Olympia.
Last year and just three months into his pro career at the WorldTour level, the freshly-minted QuickStep rider scored his first pro victory on stage 5 of the Volta a Catalunya. At the time, it was also extreme motivation for the young sprinter to echo a win in the same race where 15 years before, his then-teammate Mark Cavendish had earned his first career win. Cavendish now has 161 career victories and counting and is tied with Eddy Merckx on the all-time list with 34 stage wins at the Tour de France.
“He’s been a role model of mine since I started the sport, I’ve been lucky enough to share a room with him through the winter at training camp, and he’s been great with me. Hopefully, I’ll follow a similar career to his, so I’m pretty happy with that,” Vernon told Cyclingnews in 2022 in Spain.
When asked by Cyclingnews this year about his ambitions for the new year, he replied: “I would like to beat the three wins I had in 2022. And to keep learning.” Job well done.
His other main goal was to earn another world title on the track. Last year he was part of the GB squad that unseated Italy for the men’s team pursuit world title. In 2023 he said he would only compete in two track races, so his next chance to complete his track to-do list will be in August at the UCI Track World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.