Etoile des Bessèges 2023 – Stage 3

Another day gone filled with echelons. I would say it was a natural split due to echelons and the big crash with 35 – 40 km left surely helped it. It was a short section with cross-headwinds and EF pulled the hammer down. I think it was a fine decision to neutralize the race, unfortunately, the smaller races do not have as many resources as the larger ones.

Tomorrow is better suited for the GC men.

The route

Just like the stage last year, it starts hilly. It was different opening climbs last year. They move on towards the same area as last year, and do one and a half lap but they approach the lap from the south in 2023. They are going the opposite direction compared to last year. Lets compare the laps.

In 2022, the tougher climb was closer to the line. It is 2.5 km at 6% and the crest was 9.7 km from the line with a long descent until 4 km from the line.

In 2023, it is opposite. The tougher climb is the first, with a crest close to 20 km from the line. The climb, however, is tougher with 3 km at 6.1%. That leaves the smaller climb is 2 km at 5.4% – which is about the same as last year. After the descent, there are 7 km left.

This is the 2023 finish from an aerial view.

What difference will it make with a newer finish. The first climb will end up being there to get everyone in to the red zone and that likely means the second climb will be the key sector. It is easier but we should still see a selection followed by a cat and mouse game to the line. It was actually on the last descent in 2022 the gaps started to appear – one of the factors was the crash of Carapaz. I think the last descent in 2023 will play a big role too. The road is narrow and there are a few hairpins in there.


The wind is even kinder to the riders tomorrow, with speeds down to 4-5 m/s. They will have a cross-tailwind on the harder climb. On the second climb, a cross-headwind – almost all the way to the line! Sunny, and no rain. Mainly crosswind on the last lap.

Key factors

  • The headwind home will not favor the mice. It will favor the cats.
  • The change of direction is also better for the cats, with a longer flat section after the last climb to catch the group.
  • The GC contenders must make a move. They only have today and tomorrow, if they are good climbers.
  • If you are playing the role of mouse, you must pack a big engine to hold of a chasing group in the headwind.


We have two teams wanting a sprint and the rest wants a GC battle.

Arnaud de Lie – I wouldn’t be too sure they can drop him tomorrow, but they must try. He recently climbed well in Spain and last year won races near 3000 climbing meters. The gradients are just not steep enough. If he is dropped, he has to hope Brent van Moer or De Buyst has a good day on the bike and can help bridge the gap. They will look at him, if he isn’t in the front group.

Mads Pedersen – same category as De Lie. He was dropped last year – on the harder climb, closer to the line. At this point of the year, he could get dropped. He is not 100%. If some of the teams do not start the finale at the 1. climb (the harder climb), he could well be in contention for a stage win.

Benoît Cosnefroy – crashed today, but not the big crash. We will have to see how the body responds. It is perfect climbs for him, but he can not win it solo. Not from the top of the last climb. If he is feeling well, he will be on of the tougher riders to beat.

Benjamin Thomas – he has not looked as strong as I thought he would, he has missed the splits. Nonetheless, it is the best stage for him. He has the climbing, he has the engine and he has the sprint. It was a coincidence he won here last time. The chances of him repeating it looks very difficult though.

Axel Laurance – he has not had a good result so far, and there are no news of him crashing today. He will be in the mix tomorrow.

Neilson Powless – he was in the front group after the split. He is going well at the moment. Recent winner of GP Marseille should look at these semi-mountains and be willing to attack. He strikes me as a rider with a slow finish, but remember he beat Mohoric, Honoré and Rota in San Sebastian once.

Andrea Piccolo – fits the same bill as Powless. If they have two riders in the front group, Piccolo will be the overlooked one. A sneaky late attack from a group of favorites is likely his best shot.

Mattias Skjelmose – I do not think he is on Mads duty. He shouldn’t. I highly doubt they can distance him, and he can play the game up front if Pedersen is in a group behind him. And if you didn’t know, he is not half bad in a sprint.

Kevin Vauquelin – I have high hopes for him this season. He did really well on shorter climbs last season, both early in Tour of Oman and later in Skoda Tour Luxembourg. He is quicker than you think – one of the quickest GC contenders, but he would need to get to the line without De Lie or Pedersen in the group.

Who will win?

The change of route means I think the GC battle will open up earlier. That means a reduced set of riders can win. I think EF will have the numbers – a win for Piccolo.

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