Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), Mads Pedersen (Trek Segafredo) and Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) return to racing at this week’s Circuit de la Sarthe-Pays de la Loire as they look to polish their form for Paris-Roubaix.
The four-day race in central France offers several chances for the sprinters and so Mark Cavendish leads a QuickStep-AlphaVinyl squad that also includes Yves Lampaert and Tim Declercq. Cavendish will take on fastmen of the calibre of Elia Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers), Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma), Nacer Bouhanni and Hugo Hofstetter (Arkea-Samsic).
Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) are also on the start list.
Between 1953 and 1974 Circuit de la Sarthe was an amateur race, but it has since offered a solid block of racing and often a thrilling finale on the final hilly stage. The French Cup event was not held in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but is now back and has attracted seven WorldTour teams plus TotalEnergies and other quality ProTeams.
With Paris-Roubaix moved back a week due to the French Presidential elections, the Circuit de la Sarthe offers a final chance to improve and test form before the Hell of the North.
Ganna has not raced since Milan-San Remo and was sick for much of the week after the Italian Classic. He is hoping to find some form before heading back to Italy for some track work and then will go on to northern France for Paris-Roubaix.
Peter Sagan rode the E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Gent-Wevelgem but then opted to miss the Tour of Flanders due to poor form and doubts about the reasons why. He spent time in Monaco and underwent tests and rides the Circuit de la Sarthe in the hope of finding some form for Paris-Roubaix after his spring was wrecked by a second COVID-19 infection and then illness.
Cavendish has already won three sprints in 2022 and will be looking for more this week as he begins to prepare for the rapidly approaching Giro d’Italia.
Tuesday’s opening stage includes 2500m of climbing on a hilly circuit around Mamers, and so may not be for the sprinters, but the subsequent three days should inspire sprint battles and a close fight for the overall.
In his quest for a stage in his first ever participation in Sarthe, Cavendish will have support from Declercq, Lampaert, Bert Van Lerberghe and neo-pro Stan Van Tricht.
“Sarthe can be a complicated race, due to the narrow roads and open fields, which together with the rain and wind expected this week could make things really difficult,” said Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl sports director Tom Steels.
“We have to take into account that we start with just five riders, but we will do our best and try to get a stage victory with Mark.”
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.
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