We are back to one of my favorite races of the early season and they have not been keen on changing the route after the show it helped put on last season. Nonetheless, small changes are indeed here but the race looks almost identical.
The Bellegarde climb at the finish. It will be a showdown between sprinters and puncheurs. We had echelons on this stage last season.
A change in the route for the second stage, but racing in the same area. We had echelons on this day last season and we saw Le Coq beating Mads Pedersen. This year, the stage is easier.
The stage that looks like a semi-classic. Short hills and not the toughest gradients. They have changed the direction they are going in the finale, meaning they will be ascending the climbs in the finale they last year descended and vice versa. Benjamin Thomas took a solo win here last season.
The mountain stage! It is a short mountain, takes the best just over 13 minutes. We had a quartet flying up here last season, all quite young riders with Johannesen taking the win ahead of Vine, Tiberi and Champoussin. Last year, we had 15 riders within ’33 seconds – and that was the fastest ascend on the climb. It can be a big GC day, but not solely the biggest.
The TT is the same. 8,75 km run in to the climb. Ganna has won here the last two editions. We usually have bigger time gaps against the clock than on the mountain stage.
Stage 1: Sprint (with echelons)
Stage 2: Sprint (with echelons)
Stage 3: Semi-classic (with echelons)
Stage 4: Mountain-top finish.
Stage 5: ITT.
Cold, windy. Just like last year. Therefore, I am to suspect echelons on stage 1 and stage 2. That will be a big impact on the race.
The three categories you have to be comfortable in is echelons, time trial and climbing. Then you are set. Most of the riders in the top-10 last edition where not even pure climbers.
Benjamin Thomas – the surprise winner of last year. The Frenchman had a terrific season last year and I think he will have another one. His strenghts for the race lies in his decent sprint, his skillset in echelons and just his overall durability. Not to forget he will be one of the fastest against the clock on the last day.
Mattias Skjelmose – the Dane took a big step last year after his first GT appearance. It is a race that suits him well. He can TT, do crosswinds and he has a decent sprint too. He ticks all the boxes, but he is one of the better climbers here for stage 4 too.
Neilson Powless – took a win in GP Marseille. He is rarely competitive in week-long races, but the race suits him. A big engine and a shorter mountain top finish should be to his liking. Furthermore, his TT is not too bad.
Kevin Vauquelin – another French rider who had a great season last year. I feel like he can do the same as Skjelmose, and that is probably why he finished only 5 seconds behind him in Skoda Tour Luxembourg last season. The question is, can he cope with the echelons?
Dylan Teuns – if you look at the profile of the stages, this is not half bad. An uphill sprint, a semi-classics day and a steep mountain top finish – these are some of the things Dylan Teuns is known for. Plus, he is not too bad against the clock. You never know which version of Teuns shows up, but he could challenge for the podium.
Pavel Sivakov – I am unsure how well he will do, if the wind starts to blow. In August last season, it seemed he had another gear in him – a gear I hope he will find this season. He can cope with the climb and the semi-classics day. If he can survive the echelons, he can surprise.
Benoît Cosnefroy – rumours in France is he is flying. He won here back in 2020, finishing 5th on the mountain top finish and 7th against the clock. That is what form can do for you in February. I don’t think he is the favorite, but I will not be surprised to see him being one of the strongest.
Who will win?
I will be taking a win for Mattias Skjelmose.