L’Etoile de Besseges preview

The European season one-day opener, GP La Marseillaise, is quickly followed by the stage race L’Etoile de Besseges which, as its name suggests, is raced around the area of Besseges, a former mining town in the Gard department, part of the Languedoc Roussillon region. It too is supported by the La Marseillaise newspaper.

The 42nd edition of the five-day stage race starts tomorrow (Wednesday) and continues until Sunday. This year it features a split stage on the final day – a short road stage in the morning followed by an uphill time trial in the afternoon. Hoping to make it a bit more of a challenge for the sprinters, perhaps?

The cast includes the same 18 teams that participated in Sunday’s GP La Marseillaise – largely French and Belgian, plus the Hungarian national team. In addition to three ProTeams – Vacansoleil-DCM, FDJ-Big Mat and AG2R La Mondiale – the lineup will also include nine Pro Continental outfits such as Europcar, Landbouwkedit, Cofidis, Saur-Sojasun, Bretagne Schuller and Team Type 1 Sanofi-Avensis, as well as six Continental teams including Auber 93 and local boys VC La Pomme Marseille.

Although the teams are the same, there are some changes in personnel, reflecting the nature of the course. Among the participants are the two most recent former race winners Anthony Ravard (AG2R La Mondiale) and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) but there are plenty of others, including former stage winners, who’ll be looking to make their mark early in the season and perhaps record their team’s and/or their first win.

What kind of race is it?

The five-day stage race, which began in 1971, was founded and is organised by Roland Fangille with a small budget of just €520,000 and an army of volunteers. Since 2005 it’s been a UCI 2.1 category race on the European circuit. As befits an early-season stage race, it’s ridden over rolling rather than too taxing terrain. The race typically favours a puncheur, someone who enjoys attacking on an undulating parcours and can win from a small bunch sprint.  

Bernard Hinault reckons that riders who do well in this race will also shine in the Tour de France. That might have held true in his day but not in recent years, although it’s a motivating thought.

The French and Belgians have topped the podium more frequently than other nations. The most recent previous winners of the race are:

  • 2007: Nick Nuyens (Cofidis)
  • 2008: Yury Trofimov (Bouygues Telecom)
  • 2009: Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues)
  • 2010: Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis)
  • 2011: Anthony Ravard (AG2R La Mondiale)

What happened last year?

2011 Anthony Ravard (image courtesy of AG2R La Mondiale)

The leadership swung this way and that last year. Two second places saw Anthony Ravard take the leader’s jersey on stage two before losing it the following day to Vacansoleil’s Johnny Hoogerland, who in turn lost it back to Ravard on stage  four on count-back. They both went into the final day on the same time, as did Marco Marcato, but Ravard made the most of intermediate time bonuses to finally secure the leader’s jersey, and that of the points competition. Best young rider was FDJ’s Arthur Vichot, while Vacansoleil won the team competition.

Taking part in the race and riding for VC La Pomme was Daniel Diaz [who just finished third in the Tour de San Luis – Ed]. He was part of the breakaway that animated stage one before it was finally hauled back in and Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ) won the sprint. Sadly, Diaz was a DNF on stage two. He obviously goes better, like a lot of us, in warmer weather.

Final general classification

1. Anthony Ravard (AG2R La Mondiale) 17:46:10

2. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:07

3. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:07

4. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) +0:15

5. Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun)+ 0:19

6. Cyril Gautier (Europcar) +0:20

7. Steven Tronet (Roubaix Lille Metropole) +0:20

8. Maxime Bouet (AG2R La Mondiale) +0:20

9. Arthur Vichot (FDJ) +0:20

10. Vladimir Gusev (Katusha) +0:23

This year’s race

The race essentially follows a similar, although not identical, route most years. For example, the parcours for the first two stages of this year’s and last year’s race are identical. However, some stages have been transformed into Grands Prix, possibly to assist with sponsorship. For example, this year’s stage three will be the Grand Prix de Besseges, a hilly circuit race around Besseges, including three ascents (and descents) of the Col du Trelys and the Col des Brousses.

The individual time trial on Sunday afternoon, which might prove to be the race decider, takes in the Cote de l’Hermitage which features some small stretches with a 20% gradient.

Race details

February 1st: Stage 1 – Beaucaire to Bellegarde, 148km

February 2nd: Stage 2 – Nimes to St Ambroix, 149 km

February 3rd: Stage 3-  GP de Besseges, 152km

February 4th: Stage 4 – GP C.C Rhone Ceze Languedoc, 150km

February 5th: Stage 5a – GP d’Ales en Cevennes, Ales, 82km

February 5th: Stage 5b – GP d’Ales en Cevennes, Ales, 9.7km individual time trial (hill)

For more details on the race and a full list of participating teams and riders visit the official website.

Who to watch

French teams and riders in particular will be gunning for their first wins of the season and looking to impress team management and race selectors, especially ASO.

Our man to watch - Steven Tronet (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Look for the likes of in-form Samuel DumoulinRomain Feillu and Marcel Kittel to win sprint stages while the hillier ones might suit Marco Marcato, Pierrick Fedrigo and Remi Pauriol. In terms of the overall, expect all of the above to have an eye on the main prize along with  Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R), Pierre Roland (Europcar), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis),  Anthony Ravard and Jerome Coppel. It’s worth noting that Peraud and Coppel are good time-trialists.

Here at VeloVoices we’re going to be tracking number 78 Steven Tronet (Auber 93) who was 7th on GC last year while riding for Roubaix Lille Metropole. He finished second in a stage of Paris-Correze in 2007 to a young Norwegian lad called Edvald Boassen Hagen. The rest, as they say, is history.

Links: L’Etoile de Besseges website

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