As the dust settles on the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Arkansas and the off-road winter season gradually winds down, road racing takes steps up a level this week with three concurrent early-season stage races offering different terrain and different opportunities.
A number of big-name sprinters have headed to Saudi Arabia and Spain for the Saudi Tour and the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, with Remco Evenepoel joining Fabio Jakobsen for their season debut with QuickStep-AlphaVinyl in Valencia.
The Classics riders hoping to shine at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and into March and April, and the best puncheurs in the French peloton have instead opted for the five stages of the Etoile de Bessèges west of Avignon in the hills between Nimes, Alès and Arles.
Elia Viviani, Ben Swift, Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart are part of another team at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.
Carapaz was in Colombia when Egan Bernal crashed into a bus but has travelled to Europe to begin his 2022 season if perhaps still in shock. Ganna won a road stage and the final time trial stage in 2021 but Ineos Grenadier’s debut will be a moment of unity and reflection after Bernal’s terrible training crash. Any victories will no doubt be dedicated to Bernal as he continues his recovery from serious injury in hospital.
Many of the riders who were in action in Sunday’s Grand Prix Cycliste de Marseille La Marseillaise have stayed in the south of France and will contest the Etoile de Bessèges as part of a French early-season. They will perhaps also line-up in next week’s Tour de la Provence, where world champion Julian Alaphilippe will also make his season debut with QuickStep-AlphaVinyl.
Alberto Bettiol leads the EF Education-EasyPost team along with Magnus Cort and Michael Valgren, Mads Pedersen, Toms Skujiņš and Bauke Mollema lead Trek-Segafredo, with under-23 world champion Filippo Baroncini making his full professional debut.
Other riders to watch for include Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) who is keen to show his form after his injury-hit 2021, Pascal Ackermann after his move from Bora-Hansgrohe to UAE Team Emirates, Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix) and Britain’s Connor Swift (Areka-Samsic). Larry Warbasse flies the flag for the USA with AG2R Citroën.
Amaury Capiot (Arkea-Samsic) won the Grand Prix Cycliste de Marseille La Marseillaise after the late attacks were pulled back but he is not riding the Etoile de Bessèges. Also absent is 2021 overall winner Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), who won a race at the Challenge Mallorca but has opted for a block of training before returning at the new Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior race in Spain that includes gravel roads.
Five days of French tradition in the Gard region
The Etoile de Bessèges has been held since 1971 when French entrepreneur Roland Fangille created the early-season race near his furniture company. He sadly passed away in 2020 before the race celebrated its 50th anniversary but his spirit lives on in the race, as does that of annual guest Raymond Poulidor, with a special prize awarded in his memory to the winner of stage 3.
The five stages in this year’s race are again all in the Gard region of France, making it easy for riders and team to stay in the same hotel all week.
The race begins with a chance for the sprinters on Wednesday, with a testing hilly stage on Friday, the key medium mountain stage and uphill finish on Saturday and then final 11km time trial around Alès on Sunday. It ends at the top of a 300-metre climb to the Santuario di Notre-Dame des Mines.
Total race distance is 627km, with stages never longer than 160km and so offering some perfect early-season in a stunning part of France.
Cyclingnews will have daily stage reports, news and interviews from the Etoile de Bessèges during a busy week of road racing.
Etoile de Bessèges 2022
- Stage 1: Bellegarde – Bellegarde, 160.6km
- Stage 2: Saint-Christol-lès-Alès – Rousson, 155.9km
- Stage 3: Bessèges – Bessèges, 155.5km
- Stage 4: Saint-Hilaire-de-Brethmas – Mont Bouquet, 145.3km
- Stage 5: Alès – Alès, 10.7km (ITT)
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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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