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Vanmarcke returns to racing as defending champion at Bretagne Classic-Ouest France – Preview

EF Pro Cycling's Sep Vanmarcke topped the podium at last year's Bretagne Classic-Ouest France. He'll return to try to defend his title in 2020, and will also ride the Euopean Championships road race the next day for the Belgian national team
EF Pro Cycling's Sep Vanmarcke topped the podium at last year's Bretagne Classic-Ouest France. He'll return to try to defend his title in 2020, and will also ride the Euopean Championships road race the next day for the Belgian national team (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The UCI WorldTour continues on Tuesday with the men's Bretagne Classic-Ouest France one-day race in Plouay, France, where EF Pro Cycling's Sep Vanmarcke will return to competition for the first time since the racing restart.

In fact, Vanmarcke will then swap jerseys – and hopefully shorts – and represent Belgium at the following day's European Championships road race, also in Plouay, as will just a handful of other riders, including Vanmarcke's EF Pro Cycling Portuguese teammate Ruben Guerreiro and Great Britain's Dan McLay (Arkéa-Samsic).

"Finally, it's also my turn to race again," Vanmarcke wrote on social media on Monday. "First race tomorrow with the Bretagne Classsic, [from which I have] good memories, as I was able to win the French Classic last year.

"On Wednesday, it's then race day again, as I've been selected to race the European Championships with the Belgian national team," he wrote.

Plouay stepped in last month to announce that the Breton town would host the UEC Road European Championships after they were cancelled from taking place at their original venue of Trento, Italy, due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the new venue holding the championships in tandem this week with the men's Bretagne Classic and the women's GP de Plouay one-day WorldTour race – both on Tuesday.

The elite men's and women's European Championships time trials took place on Monday, and were won by Stefan Küng (Switzerland) and Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands), respectively, while the European titles for the elite men's and elite women's road races will take place on Wednesday and Thursday.

The contenders

Like in past years, the route of the Bretagne Classic enjoys nary a metre of flat, and the undulating course appeals to Classics specialists – like Vanmarcke – and all-rounders like last year's runner-up Tiesj Benoot, then at Lotto Soudal but now at Sunweb, as well as accomplished climbers, like last year's third-place finisher Jack Haig.

Benoot will not be in Plouay this year as the Belgian prepares for the start of the Tour de France in Nice this Saturday, while Haig will not line up in Plouay, either, which is a little surprising, as he's not in his Mitchelton-Scott team's line-up for the Tour de France, but will ride the Giro d'Italia in October. The Australian has also announced that he'll make a move to Bahrain McLaren for 2021.

Despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that a lot of the big names will be missing, it should be a good race, with Vanmarcke going up against the likes of the in-form Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Sunweb's Michael Matthews and UAE Team Emiraes' Fernando Gaviria and Rui Costa, with riders such as Bora-Hansgrohe's Jay McCarthy and Mitchelton-Scott's Dion Smith also potentially being in the mix.

While the 2020 racing calendar has become almost unrecognisable due to races being moved or cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Bretagne Classic is one of very few races in roughly the same calendar date as it normally is, although it usually takes place on the weekend, and has to enjoy a squeezed-in Tuesday date this year instead.

The route

While the elite men's European Championships road race on Wednesday will be held over 12 laps of a hilly 14km circuit that starts and finishes in Plouay, Tuesday's much longer Bretagne Classic – at 248km – takes the riders north-east to Saint-Brieuc on the northern coast before looping back for the south-western route to Plouay once more.

The finale of the Bretagne Classic includes the climbs of Restergal – twice (1km at 5.2%) – and the Cote du Lezot (0.9km at 4.6%), and both those climbs will be climbed again – 13 times each, in all – at the European Championships road race.

None of the climbs in this area of Brittany are particularly long or that steep, but it's the sheer repetition of them – and the long distance – that will mean that only a small group, or a lone rider, will arrive back in Plouay to take this year's title at the Bretagne Classic. Can Vanmarcke do it once more?

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