By David Hunter
The race that was simply known as Haut Var now has a ridiculously long name, sad times for preview writers! The three-day stage race is about as hard as you can get, if you’re a sprinter and you’ve been sent here then it’s clear the DS doesn’t like you. I’m looking at you, Christophe Laporte!
This is a weird one, it resembles a training ride thought up by a sadistic coach. We have three ascents of Col de Gourdon. The climb is 10km at 4.4%, but the final kilometre is harder, it averages close to 7%.
On paper this is the easiest of the stages, it should really be held together for a big finish. We start and finish in Fayence, which has been used as a finish in Paris-Nice before, I remember Carlos Betancur dancing up the steep slopes to a famous victory in 2014, Simon Yates also won with a long-range attack in 2017. This is the same hill that was used then, but the organisers have chopped the final 500m off the climb making it “just” 1km at 10%. It is a brutal finish.
This stage is like a cycling tour around the sites of Monaco. It features Col Saint-Roch, Col de Braus and Col de la Madone de Gorbio. Just 138km in length, this stage features 3562m of climbing, it’s a very demanding day in the saddle. With many teams having multiple leaders, this day could become very tactical.
Ineos – Thomas, Dennis, Geoghegan Hart, Pidcock, Narváez, Van Baarle and Sivakov. This is bordering on the ridiculous. Figuring out team hierarchy is obviously fairly tricky, but I’ll give it a bash. Thomas was off the pace at Bessèges, I think this race is still too early for him. Stage 3 should be too hard for Narváez and Van Baarle, and I would imagine Dennis will be used as a worker too. That leaves Geoghegan Hart, Pidcock and Sivakov, who all make their season debut. I think most of us will be very excited to see Pidcock in action, but given his next races are the classics, he might not have spent much time focusing on long mountain peaks. If I had to pick, I’d say that Geoghegan Hart and Sivakov would be team leaders, but that is pure guess work. Whoever gets the nod, they will be the best of a very strong team and Ineos have to start as the big favourites to take home the crown.
FDJ – Pinot, Gaudu, Reichenbach and Madouas. This is also a very strong team, one that can compete for the victory. Team hierarchy is also tricky to work out, but I would imagine that David Gaudu will be their chosen man given his climbing pedigree. The team have not long returned from Tenerife, I expect them to be at a high level and capable of pushing Ineos all the way.
Trek Segafredo – Mollema and Ciccone both impressed in Provence, particularly the Italian. Given the strength of Ineos and FDJ, having two options is essential for the third stage. Ciccone will like the look of the opening two stages; we all saw in Provence that he was sprinting well. Beating Ineos will not be easy, but both riders will hope to be fighting for the podium.
Astana – Fuglsang and Gorka Izagirre. I’m looking forward to seeing Fuglsang, he always goes well at the start of the season. Astana are a team that usually start the season well, but that certainly didn’t happen in Provence. I’m not sure what form Fuglsang will have, the older a rider gets the more selective they need to become about peaking. Gorka will like the route, but the final stage might be a little hard for him.
ISUN – the opening two stages are very good for both Woods and Martin, but stage 3 features a lot of tricky descending, which is normally not great for Woods. Dan Martin had something of a rebirth at the Vuelta, it was good to see him back at the pointy end of a big race. Both are making their season debut, so form is unknown, but I would expect both to be fighting for the top 10.
Nairo Quintana – after having knee surgery during the winter, it’s hard to see how Quintana will be challenging for the overall win. He’ll be using this race to get back into the racing way, with one eye on upcoming goals.
Jesús Herrada – 9th place in Provence was a good start for the Spaniard, and this is a race that should suit him well. Herrada is a rider who normally excels in the medium mountains, so the opening two stages are his cup of tea. Stage 3 is a tough one, he’ll need to be riding well to stay with the main group, and he won’t have much help from his teammates. Another top 10 on GC would be a good weekend for him.
AG2R – O’Connor and Champoussin give the French squad two good options. The Aussie was 16th in Provence, he’ll be better here. Champoussin already has a big reputation, but the disrupted 2020 season means he doesn’t have a pro result to back that up. With a full season ahead, expect this to change.
David De La Cruz – similar to Woods, I think the Queen stage has too much descending for him.
Ineos are far too strong not to win the race, but who will be their chosen son? I’ll take a win for the Pavel Sivakov.
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