Filippo Ganna did what Filippo Ganna does on the opening day of the Tour de la Provence, cruising to a dominant victory in the prologue time trial in Berre-L'Étang. His Ineos Grenadiers teammate Ethan Hayter impressed with second place there and another comrade, Elia Viviani, is among the favourites for today's flat stage to Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which should lend itself to the sprinters. That said, the finale is on an exposed circuit on the coast with plenty of changes of direction. Splits and echelons are very much an occupational hazard on stage 1 of the Tour de la Provence.
Today's start was very slightly delayed but the peloton is now in motion and making its way through the neutralised zone in Istres. The stage is 152km in length and the lone climb is the category 3 Col de la Vayède (2.34km at 3.7%), which comes after 28km.
General classification after prologue
1 Filippo Ganna (Ita) Ineos Grenadiers 0:08:04
2 Ethan Hayter (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers 0:00:12
3 Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) Groupama-FDJ 0:00:13
4 Samuele Battistella (Ita) Astana Qazaqstan Team 0:00:15
5 Pierre Latour (Fra) TotalEnergies
6 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team 0:00:17
7 Maciej Bodnar (Pol) TotalEnergies
8 Mathias Norsgaard (Den) Movistar Team 0:00:19
9 Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team
10 Ilan Van Wilder (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team 0:00:20
11 Miguel Heidemann (Ger) B&B Hotels-KTM
12 Patrick Bevin (NZl) Israel Start-Up Nation
13 Louis Vervaeke (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team 0:00:22
14 Alexis Gougeard (Fra) B&B Hotels-KTM
15 Mattias Skjelmose (Den) Trek-Segafredo 0:00:24
16 Matteo Jorgenson (USA) Movistar Team
17 Pieter Serry (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team
18 Raphael Parisella (Can) B&B Hotels-KTM
19 Valentin Ferron (Fra) TotalEnergies 0:00:25
20 Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
Elia Viviani came close to victory in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and he knows today is a chance to get off the mark in his second coming at Sky/Ineos. His Ineos team also has Ethan Hayter as an option, of course, depending on how the race splits. "It’s going to be a busy start to the season but as a sprinter, we like that. The more chances we have, the better it is. I had a few close calls in Valencia so hopefully today can be a good day," Viviani said before the start.
"For sure it won’t be an easy day with the wind but it’s a good chance for a sprinter. To be honest, we have just one real helper at this race, Salva [Salvatore Puccio – ed.] So Salva is going to have a lot of work to do this weekend. But we help each other too. Today is easy in terms of tactics. It’s just the first part to control and then the wind will make the difference, so it will be a stressful day. We won’t be leading all the day. We just need to be ready for action."
Asked whether Ineos' goal was to defend Ganna's overall lead or win the stage, Viviani was clear: "Win the race today."
The temperature is a pleasant 15°C and the skies are clear over Istres. There isn't much wind either, but that might chance as the race passes through the Camargue later in the afternoon.
The flag drops and stage 1 of the Tour de la Provence is underway.
After an early flurry of attacks, Tom Mainguenaud (Go Sport-Roubaix Lille Métropole), Viktor Verschaeve (Lotto Soudal), Pierre Rolland (B&B Hôtels-KTM), Tristan Delacroix and Jean Goubert (Nice Métropole Côte d'Azur) have forced their way clear of the peloton and established a lead.
Stéphane Rossetto (St-Michel-Auber 93) missed that train as it rolled away but now he's running along the platform, ticking flapping in the wind, and he might just be able to jump aboard before it leaves the station.
The five leaders already have a minute or so in hand on the peloton. Rossetto, meanwhile, is 15 seconds down, and not giving up on the idea of forming part of the day's early break.
And then there were six. After a spirited chase, Rossetto joins the front group, which is now 1:40 clear of the peloton.
Stéphane Rossetto (St-Michel-Auber 93), Tom Mainguenaud (Go Sport-Roubaix Lille Métropole), Viktor Verschaeve (Lotto Soudal), Pierre Rolland (B&B Hôtels-KTM), Tristan Delacroix and Jean Goubert (Nice Métropole Côte d'Azur)
Peloton at 1:40
The peloton is happy with the consitution of this break and the pace has relented accordingly. The leading sextet have pushed their buffer out to 3:20 in the opening kilometres.
The escapees are heading towards the day's lone climb, the Côte de la Vayède, with a lead now in excess of 4 minutes.
Ethan Hayter's preparation for the 2022 season was interrupted when he tested positive for COVID-19 last month, but still started the new campaign on the front foot with a fine second place in yesterday's prologue time trial. “I’m happy, I only had two weeks of training since I had COVID,” he said. “It wasn’t my best performance, so I’m happy with second place and I’m still improving.” Read the full story here.