Etoile de Bessèges 2018 Overall Preview

By David Hunter

After GP La Marseillaise, the French racing scene kicks into action with this 5 day race. The defending champion is Lilian Calmejane and he’s back to try and retain his crown.

The Route

Stage 1

The race begins with a sprint stage finishing in Beaucarie. There is a little climb in the lap circuit, meaning the sprinter teams need to be careful and not allow attackers too much room. Contesting the sprints will be Coquard, Laporte, Boudat, Sarreau, Barbier, Jones, Dupont, Rickaert, Dehaes, Maronese and Jans. Not the top level of sprinters, but still some fast men in there.

Stage 2

The second stage features a new finish in Générac, with five times round a rolling circuit. Again, this should really be one for the sprinters.

Stage 3

The third stage will start to see the first of the GC battles, thanks to Col de Trélis, which has to be climbed on three occasions. The climb is 4.6km at 5% and the riders also have to climb Col des Brousses. The stage begins with the climb, which means we could see an immediate selection and a long day for some riders. This stage has been used in the last two editions of the race and it’s been a selective day on both occasions.

Stage 4

The fourth stage features an uphill sprint in Laudun, which is a tricky little finish. GC riders need to be wary about positioning, as it can be easy to drop some seconds. Bryan Coquard will be looking forward to this one.

Stage 5

The race ends with the usual ITT in Alès. Just 12km long, but it is possible to put big time into your rivals. Pacing is crucial, riders must leave enough in the tank for the finishing climb.

Weather

Poor conditions can have a huge impact on this race, but the forecast seems to be okay. It looks like the bunch will stay dry and the wind won’t be too much of a factor until later in the week.

Contenders

Lilian Calmejane – was very impressive here in 2017, taking the win by 5 seconds from Tony Gallopin. That was the beginning of a huge year for the Frenchman, which culminated with a stage win in the Tour de France. He’s committed to Direct Energie for another 2 years and he’ll be looking for more success this season. To win this race you also need to have a strong squad and he arrives with Chavanel, Boudat, Cousin, Hivert, Gene and Grellier. This is a great team for this race and Calmejane will have lots of support as he looks to defend his title, something that has only happened once and that was back in 1972! He started his season with a solid 3rd place in Marseillaise, seems that he has worked hard over the winter.

Tony Gallopin – had a solid debut for AG2R in GP La Marseillaise, helping Alexandre Geniez to the win. This is a race that Gallopin knows very well, but it seems impossible for him to win. He has finished 2nd in the last three consecutive seasons, he is due a win here. His TT continues to improve and he’ll be looking forward to testing his new bike in the final stage. If he can pick up some bonus seconds during the week, he might just eventually win this race.

Johan Le Bon – the talented Frenchman has just moved from FDJ to the new team, Vital Concept. Looking at some of their riders, I think he should be team leader for a number of races, particularly those that have an ITT. An impressive rider against the clock, he’ll be hoping for a big performance in the TT and a top 5 place on GC.

Sean De Bie – this should be a big target for him. He is a rider that can climb, sprint and do a solid TT. Riding for his new team, Vérandas Willems, he’ll be hoping to start the season with a good result. It will be difficult for him to take the win, but a place in the top 10 should be achievable.

Christophe Laporte – he’ll be the Cofidis sprinter and if he takes a couple of stage wins, he’ll start the final stage with a lead to defend. He’s not the best TT rider in the world, which will ultimately cost him the win, but he should be aiming to improve on his 7th place in 2017. He is a rider that usually shines when given a leadership opportunity.

Valentin Madouas – a new name for you to watch out for. Just 21 years old, he enjoyed a fine start to the season, finishing 7th in GP La Marseillaise. He should headline a young FDJ squad, but do not underestimate them.

Prediction Time

This should be a straight fight between Calmejane and Gallopin, continuing their fight from last year. Given the fact that Tony Gallopin should be able to collect more bonus seconds than Calmejane, I think we’ll see him eventually win in Bessèges.

David Hunter

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