Bonjour and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of the stage 1 of the Tour de la Provence
As the Cyclingnews blimp takes height in the blues skies of Provence, the riders are about to roll out of Aubagne.
The stage twists and turns through southern Provence today for a total of 182.3km.
The finish is on the mediterranean coast at Six-Fours-les-Plages.
The stage includes a number of climbs but the sprinters are likely to dominate the show today.
The riders enjoyed 6km of neutral riding before the flag dropped. But its Race on!
The stage is underway.
And we are off for stage 1 @tourlaprovence #TourdeLaProvence pic.twitter.com/m19ey6BN2tFebruary 11, 2021
As you can see from the stage profile, the racing starts with a climb. Hence why a number of riders warmed-up on the rollers before the start.
And we have a first attack, with Lilian Calmejane (AG2R) and Delio Fernandez (Delko) up the road as the climb begins to hurt.
The climb is far more than a warm-up. The Col d'Espigoulier is 10.4km long at an average of 5.3%.
There is a star-studded start list for the race, with world champion Julian Alaphilippe making his season debut with Deceuninck-QuickStep.
The peloton has let Calmejane (AG2R) and Fernandez Cruz (Delko) go away.
They have a gap of 3:45.
As the riders near the top of the Col d'Espigoulier, the peloton does not seem concerned. The sprint teams are no doubt protecting their leaders and keeping a steady pace on the climbs so they can be as fresh as possible for the finish.
It's a nice day for a bike ride in the south of France. It's 11C and the sun is out.
This is the view from the front seat of the race director's car, provided by Radio Tour announcer Seb Piquet.
Two riders in lead: @L_Calmejane and @deliofernandez with a 4min lead @tourlaprovence #TourdeLaProvence and spectacular landscapes ! pic.twitter.com/6YN5LUN3TbFebruary 11, 2021
Lilian Calmejane (AG2R) and Delio Fernandez Cruz (Delko) have pushed out their lead to 4:30.
After the climb they will soon also benefit from a stiff cross tailwind along the valley road east towards La Roquebrussanne.
The roads are exposed over the top of the climb, followed by a twisting descent to the valley.
Calmejane was first over the top of the climb. He is known for his aggression and could make the sprint teams work hard today.
He's finished 3rd, 5th and 11th in previous appearances at the Tour of Provence. At the GP Marseillaise he proved was on form with 8th place.
14 WorldTour teams are riding the Tour de la Provence, with a high quality batch of sprinters, breakaway specialists and GC contenders all vying for success.
World champion Julian Alaphillipe is the biggest name on the start list but Cyclingnews has selected nine more riders to watch as the race unfolds in a series of sprints, climbs and the iconic finish on the lower slopes of Mont Ventoux.
Click below to read our picks for the riders to watch this week in Provence.
Calmejane spoke before the start of the stage, hinting he would try something today.
"I'm hungry for racing. There will be opportunities over the four days, starting with today's stage," he said.
"I don't want to miss any of them. I usually do well in the early part of the season and I don't want this year to be any different. It's not necessarily a sprinters stage today."
The Frenchman moved from Total Direct Energie to AG2R for the2021 season.
The sixth edition of the Tour de la Provence follows the format of last year's, won by Arkéa-Samsic’s Nairo Quintana.
It kicks off with a stage between Aubagne and the Mediterranean resort of Six-Fours-les-Plages that should suit the sprinters. This begins in the rugged terrain to the east of Aubagne, crossing the first-category Col de l’Espigoulier, the main difficulty on the GP La Marseillaise a fortnight ago.
A trio of third-category climbs follow, the last of them topping out 28 kilometres from the finish.
Stage 2 runs north from the coastal town of Cassis through Provence’s backcountry to reach Manosque.
The riders will pass through the finish to start a circuit that includes the day’s two main hurdles, the second-category Col de la Mort d’Imbert and the third-category Col Montfuron.
A fast pace over the two climbs could see most of the sprinters tailed off, providing the many puncheurs in the peloton with an opportunity of victory on the long drag up to the finish-line.
Stage 3 should decide the general classification.
It starts on the coast at Istres and finishing at the Chalet Reynard ski station/restaurant that lies just above the forested section on the Mont Ventoux climb.
There are no significant difficulties before the riders crest the rise in the village of Blauvac and the Ventoux fills the view ahead of them.
They’ll quickly reach Bédoin and, half a dozen kilometres later, the virage de Saint-Estève, the bend that marks the start of the first-category climb to the finish.
Rising for 9.7km, it averages 9.1 per cent.
The race concludes on Sunday with another stage that should go the way of the sprinters. Much will depend, however, on the wind.
Starting in Avignon, it initially follows the Rhône valley south, but with regular twists and turns that will offer the strongest teams the opportunity to split the race apart if the prevailing wind from the north is blowing vigorously.
The stage continues through the Alpilles hills to pass through the finish at Salon-de-Provence for an 85-kilometre finishing circuit where the terrain is mostly flat, very open and often swept by strong winds.
The finale in Salon-de-Provence is also flat and ideal for the sprinters, if their teams can keep the peloton together.
Although 2020 Chalet Reynard and Provence GC winner Quintana isn’t defending his title, there’s plenty of climbing talent looking for success on this fabled peak, including the Colombian’s teammate Warren Barguil. Alexey Lutsenko was second here last year and his Astana teammate Aleksandr Vlasov was fourth, a place ahead of Eddie Dunbar, whose Ineos Grenadiers team also features 2019 Tour de France winner Egan Bernal and his Colombian compatriot Iván Sosa.
Bahrain Victorious will be hoping that Jack Haig and Wout Poels can live up to their team's new name, while Alaphilippe and young Mauri Vansevenant (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Bora’s Grossschartner and Patrick Konrad, Movistar's Enric Mas, and Trek-Segafredo duo Giulio Ciccone and Bauke Mollema are among the other names to look for.
To read our full race preview, click below.
The riders are close to the intermediate sprint point in Sainte-Baume after a hard 40km of racing.
Lilian Calmejane (AG2R) and Delio Fernandez Cruz (Delko) still lead but their gap is down to 3:40.
After this valley road, the riders will face the second climb of the day, out of Mazaugues.
It includes some early hairpins but is not long or steep. It passes through some stunning Provence countryside, with pine trees and views across the valley.
The red, white and blue jerseys of Groupama-FDJ are doing much of the work at the head of the peloton, which indicates they have confidence in Arnaud Démare fro the finish.
The French national champion won 14 times in 2020, including four stages at the Giro d'Italia.
There has been a lot of debate and controversy in recent days after the UCI announced the sports stakeholders had agreed to ban the super-tick and aero-tuck positions as a part of a number of improved safety measures.
Some riders pushed back against the bans, saying they were not informed. However Matteo Trentin, who attended the safety meetings, has revealed that only 16 out of 800 rider cared to open the email that contained info on the proposed ban.
"No one can say they weren’t informed, so maybe spend less time on TikTok and be proactive when it comes to making cycling safer" Trentin said.
Click below to read the full story.
130km to go
Lilian Calmejane (AG2R) and Delio Fernandez Cruz (Delko) still lead by 2:30.
But the chase is on.
The Colombian kicked off his season at last week's Étoile de Bessèges, a low-key start which saw him put in attacks on the third stage, eventually finishing 64th overall in his first race back since abandoning the 2020 Tour de France due to back pain.
The 24-year-old's first major goal of the season will come at the Giro d'Italia, with Provence just a step on the way to that race, his debut. As a result, he said that he'll be working for the team this week, specifically to help his compatriot and fellow Androni Giocattoli graduate Iván Sosa.
Bernal spoke briefly before the start of the Tour de la Provence. Click below.
In a busy morning of news, the route of the Vuelta a Espana has been unveiled, with a full-length final day time trial returning for the first time in nearly two decades.
It looks set to shape the outcome of the 2021 Vuelta a España, on a course also featuring a notably easier first half than 2020 and a much harder final week.
Alasdair Fotheringham has all the details and analysis from the Vuelta announcement below.
120km to go
The peloton seem relaxed so far but Groupama are setting the pace.
Lilian Calmejane (AG2R) and Delio Fernandez Cruz (Delko) are swapping turns on the front to lead the break.
This grab from Groupama shows their riders on the front.
120km de l'arrivée, @davy_clement est à la barre. 🧩#TDLP21 pic.twitter.com/neZLEDj9glFebruary 11, 2021
Julian Alaphilippe moves up the peloton with some teammates. He looks lean and stylish in the world champion's rainbow jersey.
110km to go
The crowds are out (safely) along the road to cheer on the riders.
The gap is down to 2:30 but the break and peloton are playing games with each other. The average speed fro thew first two hours is 33.2km/h.
Groupama-FDJ continue to lead the peloton and the break's advantage stands at 3:10.
Lilian Calmejane (AG2R) and Delio Fernandez Cruz (Delko) are continuing to collaborate well but Groupama-FDJ have shaved 40 seconds or so off their advantage.
Lilian Calmejane (AG2R) and Delio Fernandez Cruz (Delko)
Peloton at 2:05
Despite the spate of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tour de la Provence is not the only race taking place in Europe this week. On Sunday, Mark Cavendish will make his competitive return for Deceuninck-QuickStep at the Clasica Almeria. "Like every rider in these times I am excited to get the season underway. We are fortunate that the races can go ahead and I’m even more excited to pull on the jersey of the Wolfpack once again and race with the boys," said Cavendish, who won the race during his first stint at QuickStep.
Lilian Calmejane (AG2R) and Delio Fernandez Cruz (Delko)
Peloton at 2:20
80km to go
The pace is steady as the race heads to the #rd category Montee du Brulat climb.
We expect the peloton to carefully pace their effort to help protect their sprinters.
The riders are cutting between the vineyards. The pace has increased on the narrow country roads and because the Montée du Brulat climb is nearing.
The B&B Hotels team is leading the chase, helping Groupama, on behalf of Bryan Coquard.
The Frenchman was in the mix in the sprints at the Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise and last week's Etoile des Besseges.
Groupama have four riders up near the front, with Demare tucked on their wheel.
Remi Cavagni of Deceuninck has attacked from the peloton!
He is considered a threat for the finale and so B&B Hotels are chasing him.
Cavagni's attack has closed down the gap to the break he rides past them. However the peloton is closing the gap.
Deceuninck are clearly trying to make it a hard day out for the sprinters.
With so many doubts about races in the weeks ahead, teams are acutely aware they have to try to take every opportunity.
All the teams will be aware that the stiff wind could also cause some problems later.
Cavagni is caught but now Kasper Asgreen surges away.
This is going to hurt deep in the peloton.
Mauri Vansevenant kicks too but an AG2R rider reaches the summit first.
Teams are trying to feed over the top but Giulio Ciccone of Trek has surged away alone.
Gianni Moscon has jumped across to Ciccone. And now here comes Alaphilippe.
There are some splits in the peloton.
The attack is pushing into a headwind and that is making it harder out front.
The peloton has been shaken out on the climb but Arkea bring back Bouhanni.
But who has been spat out the back and who is in the peloton?
#TDLP2021 @giuliocicco1 is feeling feisty.And his attack has drawn out some nice company. pic.twitter.com/uwBTFAOWCQFebruary 11, 2021
The trio have pushed out their lead to 35 seconds.
From the CN blimp we can see Groupama riding to bring Demare back up to the peloton.
Ciccone, Moscon and Alaphilippe are taking turns on the front and touching 60km/h when the road descends.
Their lead is up to 45 seconds and seem fully committed.
They swing right and descend towards Cuges-les-Pins. From their the road climbs again, back to where they came from, near the Castellet motor racing circuit.
There are 3-2-1 seconds up fro grabs at the intermediate sprint and then 8-5-2 at the top of the final climb.
50km to go
Arkéa-Samsic are leading the chase but Groupama are coming up too.
We've got a real pursuit match on now as the gap to Ciccone, Moscon and Alaphilippe touches 1:00.
Alaphilippe was unsure of his form after suffering with his hand problems caused by last year's crash at the October Tour of Flanders. However he seems keen to show off his rainbow jersey.
The gap passes a minute and so the team cars are allowed to go up tp them.
The peloton has to pace their chase because they have to ride at the climbing ability of their sprinter.
The gradient of the climb has eased slightly but Ciccone, Moscon and Alaphilippe are still working smoothly and lead by 1:20 now.
Behind Bahrain, Lotto and Arkea are leading the chase but the gap is still at 1:20.
Bahrain are riding for Bauhaus no doubt.
Ciccone, Moscon and Alaphilippe are on the second lap in land. They dive down to Cuges-les-Pins again and then climb back up once more, before the descent to the coast.
35km to go
Alaphilippe takes a drink and some food as the road swings right.
Moscon speaks to the Frenchman, perhaps asking him to keep working hard.
The trio seem to have lost a little momentum.
The gap is falling slightly and is down to 1:00 but the climb up to Le Camp will soon begin, favouring the attackers, if they have the legs to keep going hard and hold off the sprinters' teams.
UAE are also helping with the work, they have Matteo Trentin and alexander Kristoff for any eventual sprint finish.
The gap is down to 40 seconds, the trio seem to have ran out of gas.
Alaphilippe, Moscon and Ciccone are all grimacing due to their big effort.
They've been off the front for 40km now.
In the peloton the other teams are forming behind the head of the peloton.
The gap is at 35 seconds and so the race has tipped back in favour of the sprinters now.
There's a sprint to the top of the climb to take the super sprint bonus seconds.
Alaphilippe was first to the sprint and so took eight seconds. That gives him a total of 11 seconds and so if he finishes in the bunch, he will take the race lead.
Ciccone was second and so picked up 5 seconds, Moscon took 2 seconds.
19km to go
The peloton has eased slightly but seem in control of the break.
There are no major climbs remaining and so the peloton has the upper hand.
The race is blasting towards the finish on the coast now.
The peloton is chasing hard and the sprint teams can sense an opportunity after a hard day out.
The Groupama team are carefully moving up as the roads heads to the more exposed coast.
There could be cross winds in the final 10km, so position will be vital.
UAE and Lotto are also up front thinking of their sprinters.
8km to go
The bunch hit the coast and gap is down to 15 seconds.
It's going to be a sprint.
10km to go and the chase is on as the race hits the coastline, with the trio out front holding onto a 25" lead. Will we see a bunch sprint finish?!#TDLP21 pic.twitter.com/HJT4bCZ7woFebruary 11, 2021
A roundabout splits the peloton but the speed is high.
5km to go
The peloton is lined out as the speed rises even more.
The road is fast and twisting, going from one to two lanes.
Here is the coast and the cross wind again.
3km to go.
The trio are about to be caught.
But Alaphilippe attacks! Moscon goes onto him.
But a riders has also attacked from the peloton.
2km to go
Alaphilippe and Moscon lead by 5 seconds.
The road is rolling, making it hard for the sprint teams.
It's sprint time.
No one team leading out the sprint.
There's a strong wind blowing from the riders' right.
Demare moves up.
Demare opens a gap.
Demare opened a gap but went too soon.
Deceuninck were on his wheel.
Demare went the right way in a confused finish but he was beaten by Ballerini in the final metres.
Ballerini timed that perfectly, while Demare was over confident in the wind and went too early.
That was a thrilling finale after a thrilling stage.
There is some confusion about the first race leader.
It is usually the first stage winner but the Tour de la Provence added some super bonuses.
However there is a debate if that is legal. It seems not.
The provisional results show that Ballerini is the first race leader.
Ballerini took a ten-second time bonus for winning the stage, which betters any intermediate time bonuses.
He leads Demare by four seconds, with Nacer Bouhanni, who finished third in the sprint, at six seconds.
This is the top ten stage result:
1 Davide Ballerini (Ita) Deceuninck-QuickStep 4:43:23
2 Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
3 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic
4 Clement Venturini (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team
5 Matthew Walls (GBr) Bora-Hansgrohe
6 Ide Schelling (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe
7 Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM
8 Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain Victorious
9 Matteo Moschetti (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
10 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
Matt Walls (Bora-Hansgrohe) was an impressive fourth after trying to go after Demare when he kicked.
The 22-year-old British rider was a stagiare with EF in 2019 but signed with Bora for 2021. He is a superb track rider.
Demare's face says it all.
Sacrée reprise. pic.twitter.com/LvDcuPwtbdFebruary 11, 2021
Ballerini is on stages and shows off the first leader's Mondrian-inspired jersey.
Julian Alaphilippe was thought to be the race leader for a while but climbs on the podium anyway, as the most combatif rider of the stage for being part of the attack with Ciccone and Moscon.
Walls is also on the podium as best young rider. He will wear the green jersey tomorrow.
Davide Ballerini was surprised to win but explained how he got the better of Demare.
"The first thing I have to say thanks to all the team. They did a very great job. The sprint wasn’t easy. When Démare started he took I think 5-6 metres. I tried to take his wheel but it was very windy in the final but I found the right speed and I won,:" he said.
"For sure, I was so close to the barriers but I found the space. The wind was coming from the right. For sure I didn’t have space on the left and I think I need to try to go to the right. I found the space and the speed to win."
He explained Deceuninck's aggressive tactics.
"The strategy was to try something just after 110km so we tried with Julian, and he was really, really good. he was only caught with maybe 1.5km to go and he did also a hand for the team, so I think he has really good legs for the general.
"The main goal today was the sprint and we arrived in the sprint so I have to say thank you to the team."
Ballerini ruled out going for overall victory
"For me it’s not so easy, on Mont Ventoux for sure I’m dropped," he said.
"We have Julian, the world champion, and I think he’ll do the best and he’s shown already he has the legs to win this race."
This is the General classification after stage 1:
1 Davide Ballerini (Ita) Deceuninck-QuickStep 4:43:13
2 Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ 0:00:04
3 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic 0:00:06
4 Lilian Calmejane (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team
5 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:00:07
6 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo 0:00:09
7 Gianni Moscon (Ita) Ineos Grenadiers
8 Clement Venturini (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team 0:00:10
9 Matthew Walls (GBr) Bora-Hansgrohe
10 Ide Schelling (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe
That was Ballerini's fifth career victory. He's fast in a sprint but is more of a Classics rider. He won a stage at the 2020 Tour de Pologne in his first year with Deceuninck and has also won the Memorial Marco Pantani race in Italy while riding for Androni.
We have some great shots of the finish. This one shows how Demare went too early and Ballerini came off his wheel late to win.
This is Arnaud Demare as he understands he's been beaten.
This is the moment, late in the sprint, when Ballerini comes off Demare's wheel.
To see our growing photo gallery, full. stage report and results, click below.
Friday's stage 2 runs north from the coastal town of Cassis through Provence’s backcountry to reach Manosque. It is another day of rolling roads over 174.6km, with a rising finish but could still suit some of the sprinters.
The riders will pass through the finish to start a circuit that includes the day’s two main hurdles, the second-category Col de la Mort d’Imbert and the third-category Col Montfuron. A fast pace over the two climbs could see most of the sprinters tailed off, providing the many puncheurs in the peloton with an opportunity of victory on the long drag up to the finish-line.
Thanks for following our live coverage, join us tomorrow for full coverage of stage 2 of the Tour de la Provence.
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