AG2R-Citroën duo Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen will start the 2021 season at the Étoile de Bessèges next week following the postponement of the Vuelta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the Vuelta a Andalucía.
Van Avermaet and Naesen had been due to race in Spain in February, but they will now line up in Bessèges from February 3-7 and then ride the Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var (February 19-21) as they build towards Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Naesen told Sporza that the alteration to his race programme would not have an undue impact on his build-up to the Classics.
“This change has little influence on my preparation," said Naesen. "Just like Valencia, the Étoiles des Bessèges is also a five-day race. The course is slightly less difficult, but I’m happy that we can still compete. It’s mainly the intensity that’s important for me. I have already ridden twice in Bessèges and you can really enjoy yourself there. There is something for everyone.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a number of races in January and February postponed or cancelled, but the slate of racing in France remains in place for the time being, with the French season set to open at the GP La Marseillaise on Sunday.
Naesen expressed hope that the Étoile de Bessèges and Tour du Haut-Var will go ahead as planned, acknowledging that replacing two stage races with training camps “is not the same.”
Race organisers in Belgium have already indicated that this spring’s events are likely to take place without spectators at the start and finish, but Naesen is optimistic that the cobbled Classics will be able to go ahead, citing the successful holding of the Tour of Flanders last October.
“We have now proven that we can organise the races safely, so that shouldn’t be a problem,” said Naesen.
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