Movistar's Alejandro Valverde heads a strong field that will gather in Lectoure in south-west France on Friday for the 38th edition of the Route du Sud. The three-day event, traditionally the last stage race before the Tour de France, features two tough days in the Pyrenees, including a summit finish at Val Louron, the penultimate climb on Tour stage 17 to Pla d’Adet.
Stage one runs from Lectoure to Payolle, which sits at the foot of the Col d’Aspin. There are two third-category climbs on route, the second of them just a few kilometres out from the finish at Ste-Marie-de-Campan.
Saturday’s second stage is the toughest of the three. Starting in Bagnères-de-Bigorre, it crosses the first-category climbs of the Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin. It finishes at the Val Louron ski station, where Miguel Indurain ousted Greg LeMond from his Tour de France throne in 1991.
The concluding stage starting in St-Gaudens features two third-category climbs before a likely sprint finish in Castres.
Fourteen teams will be lining up, including six WorldTour outfits – Ag2r, Europcar, FDJ.fr, Movistar, Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo. There is a strong Pro Continental presence, headed by IAM, Bretagne, Cofidis, Colombia and MTN-Qhubeka.
Movistar’s team includes five of the 13 riders on its long list of starters for the Tour de France, most notably Valverde, who has not made a competitive appearance since finishing second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège at the end of April. Joining him will be Benat Intxausti, Iván Gutiérrez, Jesús Herrada and Sylvester Szmyd.
Tinkoff are also fielding a powerful team, led by double Giro d’Italia stage winner Michael Rogers and Nicolas Roche. FDJ.fr sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, winner of three stages at the Giro, will get a final chance to stake his claim for a place in their Tour line-up. Sky’s team features Edvald Boasson Hagen, Kanstantsin Siutsou and Bernhard Eisel.
While Valverde will start as favourite to succeed Thomas Voeckler as the Route de Sud champion, the Val Louron summit finish will also suit Bretagne climbers Eduardo Sepúlveda and Brice Feillu as well as a strong contingent on Team Colombia led by Colombian national champion Miguel Angel Rubiano. Other potential contenders include IAM’s Sylvain Chavanel, Ag2r’s Alexis Vuillermoz and Cofidis’ Jérôme Coppel
Friday, 20 June: Stage 1, Lectoure - Payolle, 171.7km
Saturday, 21 June: Stage 2, Bagnères-de-Bigorre - Val Louron, 178.6km
Sunday, 22 June: Stage 3, Saint-Gaudens – Castres, 179.4km