I’ve decided in a spur of the moment thing to try and write some written reviews documenting this 2nd Professional Stage race of 2021. Let’s see how this goes shall we. Let me know with some feedback if you like this and want to see some more?
So stage one of Tour de La Provence down in the South East of France on the Mediterranean coast, so naturally a fair bit warmer than other climes at this time of year. The vast majority of riders began with layer of knee warms and normal spring attire, quickly stripping down to summer wear #sunsoutgunsout am I right? The Course was a lumpy one but still bookmarked to finish with a bunch sprint. In any other year it would’ve been a casual affair pootling around South France waiting for the bunch kick, and it did appear to begin like that, with an initial Cat 1 climb out of the neutral section.
But with 71km to go in the stage, Remi Cavagna launched an attack at the bottom of a fairly steep long climb, which made it difficult for the pure sprinters such as Arnaud Demare [Groupama-FDJ] – French National Champion – this was a tactical move from Deceuninck – Quickstep to make the climb as hard and attritional for these pure sprinters as possible, so that their own sprinter Davide Ballerini [Deceuninck-Quickstep], who has a track record of being able to get over the shorter climbs, could have a solid chance of obtaining one of the most adopted favourite leader’s jersey of recent years. One that reminisces back to the Jerseys of old at the Tour de France. Anyway, Cavagna bridged to the breakaway duo of Lilian Calmejane and a Delko rider, with ease. But Cavagna was only a mere few metres ahead of the peloton.
The evolution of this climb came about when Deceuninck Quickstep continued to make it difficult for the sprinters by pressing the pace with Mauri Vansevenant [Deceuninck-Quickstep], a devoted climber. As the climb flattened and Vansevenant had completed his immense turn to split the peloton, Guilio Ciccone [Trek-Segafredo] launched one over the top, initiating the second breakaway* of the day. This attack drew out some insane fire-power from the peloton in the form of the controversial Gianni Moscon, who has been very quiet for the last two seasons, and the flamboyant Wereld-Kampioen [World Champion] Julian Alaphilippe. This was unexpected and drew our attention back to the incredible season of 2020, leaving us envious that this 2021 season could yet again be a super attacking and exciting affair.
*This attack was launched at 71 kilometres to go to the finish, and for the next 20 kilometres this super strong breakaway would consistently increase their gap to the peloton with a maximum time gap of 1m20s.
The trio held this until the final climb of the day when the gap was slashed in half by the peloton to a deficit of 30 seconds. On the descent however rapid, the peloton was gaining with the sprint trains of Arkea Samsic drawing that gap ever smaller. Rudy Molard was a super soldier for FDJ in the final being the sole FDJ rider up at the front drawing the reel in on the breakaway. But I must say, this formidable lead out Arnaud Demare had in 2020 did not look the same in 2021, they were spread throughout the top 50 in the peloton barely looking coherent.
Philippe Gilbert looked like an absolute machine, don’t put it past him to win the Milan San Remo this year and complete his collection of 5 monument victories. He turboed at the front of the peloton, and had clearly done his homework, choosing the correct lines through all the technical roundabouts and abundance of road furniture. Once he was done the Endgame was well and truly on. The break within touching distance. What happens? You guessed it Alaphilippe launches one on a little kicker with Moscon on the Frenchman’s wheel and dispatching of Ciccone. Eventually with a couple of kilometres left the duo were caught, and Moscon gave a calm gesture of respect for once.
The sprint was a crazy one, one filled to the brim with road furniture. UCI what did you say you were doing about safety again? Low lying road separators littered the course finale, causing some near crashes, thankfully no one came down, and stayed in one piece. But it was a close call with one incident in the final kilometre as riders at the rear of the peloton could not see this potentially lethal road furniture.
In the final kilometre, TEMPORARY barriers lined the street, with an opening for vehicles at 200 m to go… very strange if you tell me. Demare launched early, into a strong crosswind of 45kmh, he launched far too early, leaving room for Deceuninck-Quickstep’s Davide Ballerini’s to find the slipstream and have the overspeed on Demare to snatch the victory from the French rider by over a wheel’s length. It was a messy, yet super exciting finish with barging and sneaking past just before the barriers snatched your handlebars. A shout out to Matt Walls of Bora-Hansgrohe. The neo-pro Brit was a stand out in that sprint, getting his tactics and positioning slightly wrong, launching a bit too early but still a solid performance for his first outing with the World-Tour outfit. In the future he’s going to be one challenging the top dog at Bora-Hansgrohe you watch.
Top 10 as follows:
1st Davide Ballerini, Deceuninck-Quickstep;
2nd Arnaud Demare, Groupama FDJ;
3rd Nacer Bouhanni, Arkea Samsic;
4th Clèment Venturini, AG2R Citroen; 5th Matt Walls, Bora-Hansgrohe; 6th Ide Schelling, Bora-Hansgrohe; 7th Bryan Coquard, B&B Hotels p/b KTM; 8th Phil Bauhaus, Bahrain-Victorious; 9th Matteo Moschetti, Trek-Segafredo; 10th Alexander Kristoff, UAE-Team Emirates