Tour de la Provence Stage 3

Day 3 of Tour de la Provence almost didn’t happen after some late night, heavy snowfall. Yet the stage was cleared to go and sees the riders take on a 154km and the professional peloton climb the first summit finish of 2021 on the famous Mont Ventoux, a difficult one to start off with. Prior to the climactic finish lies a rolling, fairly mundane stage where a breakaway escaped. It included a young Florian Vermeesch [Lotto-Soudal]; For the second day in a row, Jerome Cousin [Total-Direct Energie]; his teammate Damien Gaudin [Total-Direct Energie]; Louis Louvet [St Michel – Auber93]; Nicola Bagioli [B&B Hotels p/b KTM] and Alessandro Fedeli [Delko]. The sextet forged on to gain a maximum gap of 3m30s ahead of a chilled peloton, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Whilst Kasper Asgreen [Deceuninck-Quickstep] kept a serene stage ticking over and the breakaway in check, the commentators – on my stream – provided the entertainment which the bike race was not. Despite the serene first 130 km being very calm, the summit finish and the vast abundance of established talent on the start-list would provide us with an interesting display of prowess and dominance. The result could well shape up the rest of 2021. Today’s finale will certainly clear the fog as to who’s had a good winter and who’s had a great winter.

Mont Ventoux, looms. 9km at 9% awaits. The rider’s legs filling up with lactate just at the sight of the slopes rising up in front of them. They also contended with bitterly cold conditions, -1 degree Celsius by the top of the climb. Strange then riders stripped down to spring attire with legs open and arms covered. I’ll say they better have the infamous, photograph specific, stinky Belgian leg cream to keep the muscles warm, if not they are making some big mistakes in life. Importantly, but anticipated, winner of stage 1 & 2, Davide Ballerini [Deceuninck-Quickstep] was dropped on the early slopes likely saving his legs to have a crack at the win for the following stage.

Into the finale of the race. 5km to go and the young Spaniard who followed in the footsteps of Remco Evenepoel, Carlos Rodriguez finished his incredibly strong turn on the head of the peloton. After which Ivan Sosa [Ineos] launched a searing attack, to put the other leaders under pressure as they had very few domestiques to chase him down. But unlike his teammate Egan Bernal, Sosa was struggling from the outset of his attack, breathing heavily and looking tired. Ineos did indeed stick to their guns of promising an attacking season, and shone tactically in this stage, no doubt with the help of new Tactical Director (official title to be confirmed), launched from with a neatly placed Bernal blocking the other GC riders from bridging across. Smart tactics as everyone, naturally, looked at Bernal for advice on the matter. He duly refrained.

In these conditions it is a good thing to press on in order to remain warm, and you can be sure that the cold damp cloudy conditions on the slopes of Ventoux means you will feel it right down in the lungs. Don’t be too surprised if these riders struggle tomorrow or even fall ill post this stage race if they don’t wrap up warm after the finish line. With 3 km to go Alaphilippe, the show man of this edition of Tour de la Provence, launched an attack and “danced” out of the group, with the help of Wout Poels and an ominously comfortable Bernal monitoring things closely IMO.

1km to go and Bernal performed a little test, which dropped Wout Poels [Bahrain-Victorious] and annoyed Alaphilippe who pushed hard to close the gap. I don’t know why Alaphilippe showed disdain, because he knows, surely, as world champion and rider for Deceuninck-Quickstep that a rider with a teammate up the road will not give chase. Alaphilippe showed last year he’s yet got things to learn, maybe this is another to his list. Whilst stares were given behind, Sosa was pushing hard all the way to the line and in the end walking away with the victory by 15 seconds. To add fuel to the fire, Bernal attacked the world champion to grab the secondary bonus seconds. Jesus Herrada [Cofidis] won the “bunch” kick for the line. Ineos now hold 1-2 on the overall general classification of the Tour de la Provence. With tomorrow being another sprinter’s affair, I don’t see Sosa relinquishing the 19 second lead over his teammate, Bernal and the 21 second buffer over Julian Alaphilippe

IMO‘I suspect Bernal was not going 100% because, simply, there is no need in these freezing conditions. No need to risk the effort, and show your cards this early in the season. It is far more valuable to appear strong and sit back leaving rivals wondering where his form is at, knowing that he’s got tonnes of space to go to hit his big targets running. From returning from that slipped disc, I must say he looks dominant. Far improved from his 2020 Tour appearance, and one that can genuinely launch an attack for the Maglia Rosa this May.’

1st Ivan Sosa [Ineos-Grenadiers]

2nd Egan Bernal [Ineos-Grenadiers]

3rd Julian Alaphilippe [Deceuninck-Quickstep]

4th Wout Poels [Bahrain-Victorious] 5th Jesus Herrada [Cofidis] 6th Guilio Ciccone [Trek-Segafredo] 7th Bauke Mollema [Trek Segafredo] 8th Mauri Vansevenant [Deceuninck-Quickstep] 9th Jack Haig [Bahrain-Victorious] 10th Patrick Konrad [Bora Hansgrohe]

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