By David Hunter
Guilherand-Granges > Guilerand-Granges 171.5km
With all eyes on Belgium, some might need reminding that we have two big races happening in France this weekend.
First up is the Ardèche Classic, a race that is as brutal as it is beautiful. If you want a comparison, this race is about as hard as Strade Bianche, in terms of intensity and challenge, it also has 3000m of climbing. Last year, Remi Cavagna won with a solo move, but with more world tour teams at the start this year the race is going to be much more competitive.
The race is dominated by this climb, Côte de Val d’Enfer, which the bunch have to do on three occasions, with the final ascent cresting with just 6km to go. The climb is 1.5km at 10.2%, which makes it harder than the Mur de Huy and Mur de Fayence. The first ascent is early in the race, but the second one comes with 45km to go and marks the start of the finale.
The Mur du Cornas comes with 30km to go, and just before the big climb of the day, which is brilliant placement. 1.1km at 8.3% is tough, especially with some riders wary of going to deep with the climb that comes straight after.
Saint Romain de Lerps is 6.1km at 7.3%. It’s not the steepest climb of the day, but the length and gradient mean it’s very difficult. The crest comes with 20km remaining and a fast, untechnical descent takes the riders down to the final climb of the day, which is the third ascent of Côte de Val d’Enfer. The crest of this climb comes with just 6km to go.
We have DQS, Astana, Trek-Segafredo, ISUN, FDJ and EF at this race, it should be very competitive. With many of the riders already having raced in the recent French races, the level should be high.
The route is a very hard one, but with so many big teams present I would expect the day to be controlled until the second ascent of that little beauty of a climb. Then we’ll see attacks and teams looking to get riders up the road. Everyone knows that if we simply roll along to the final climbs then the best climber will take the win, some teams don’t want this to happen.
Once Saint-Romain de Lerps has been dealt with the peloton will be small, but it will be hard to get a gap on the descent that follows, which means the winning move has to go before, or on the final mur. The route is great, it’s over to the teams to do the rest.
Cloudy, but temperatures will be nice, and it should be sunny for the end of the race. The wind will be around 20km/h, coming from the north. This means a tailwind for the final climbs.
DQT – as usual, the Belgians arrive with multiple cards to play. Cavagna is the defending champion, but to defend his crown he needs to go long. That will allow Bagioli, Knox, Devenyns and Honoré to try and take their chance later in the stage. Bagioli will love the look of the wall climbs in this race, but Devenyns also copes well with this type of effort. They have one of the strongest team in the race, and will expect to dictate how the race unfolds.
AG2R – Champoussin used Haut Var to get racing in his legs, he should be better here. The youngster has a big reputation, but he’s one of those riders whose reputation is maybe a little bigger than it should be. The team also bring Paret-Peintre, the winner of GP La Marseillaise. They might be young, but they are both talented riders.
David Gaudu – wasn’t at his very best in Haut Var, but he still managed to finish 6th. With three intense days in his legs, Gaudu should be one of the best in this race. FDJ might not have all their big hitters at the race, but the team still has a lot of power. If an early break doesn’t come back, they might look towards Bruno Armirail, a rider who seriously impressed on Sunday. The team also have Thibaut Pinot to call on, we’ll have to see how his back reacts to his efforts in Haut Var.
Jesús Herrada – had two good stages in Haut Var, but the final stage was too hard for him. That was a big disappointment for the Spaniard as he had previously performed well in Provence, but he should like the look of this race. Herrada can sometimes struggle with consistency in a stage race, but I do like him in one day races.
Hugh Carthy – it’s the season debut for big Hugh. After his incredibly end to 2020, I think we’re all excited to see what he can do in 2021. He’s a rider that’s normally more associated with stage races, but I like the fact that he comes here with some ambition. If the race is still altogether for the final two climbs, he’ll be up there challenging for the win.
Alberto Bettiol – he’ll need to attack early to stand a chance of winning, allowing Carthy to wait for the late climbs. The Italian has the power to cope with the steep climbs, but not up against a rider like Woods. He provides EF with a strong attacking option.
Jakob Fuglsang – Astana arrive with a very strong team. Not only do they have the Dane, but they also have Vlasov, Ion Izagirre and Fraile. Although he didn’t win, Fuglsang looked very strong in the final stage of Haut Var. Astana normally start the season well, but not this time round. Looking at the other teams in the race, Astana look the strongest to me, but how will they approach the stage? Will Fuglsang be held back for the finish, or attack early?
Rui Costa – without Hirschi, UAE will look towards the former world champion. He didn’t do anything in Haut Var, but that was just used as training for upcoming races. Costa gives the squad a strong option, but they also have Conti and Covi. When teams go well in one race, they usually pick up in others too, watch out for UAE.
Warren Barguil – was okay in Provence, he’ll be better here. His days of being an effective stage racer seems over, but he can still do well in one day races. This is exactly the type of race where Barguil can throw off the shackles and perform with freedom, which is when we normally see him at his best.
Quinn Simmons – after all he is one of my riders to watch in 2021. Just 19 years old, but do not underestimate him. I’m looking forward to seeing what his shape’s like after working hard up in the mountains over the winter. I’m expecting big things this year, so is he!
Astana and QuickStep are the strongest teams here, I think they’ll play their cards early in order to put the other teams under pressure. I’ll take a win for Jakob Fuglsang, he looked strong on Sunday.
Join us on facebook: Ciclismo Internacional
Copyright © 2012-2021 Ciclismo Internacional. All Rights Reserved