It’s on, it’s off, it’s back on again. Yes, it’s the Tour Mediterraneen which was in danger of turning into a pantomime for its 39th edition. It’s the next French stage race following on from the weather-hit L’Etoile de Besseges. This time the racing takes place further east, in the Var, the Vaucluse and Bouches du Rhone. It starts on Thursday and finishes (again) on Mont Faron on Sunday. As you can see from the event poster, it’s supported by the local daily newspapers – the Nice and Var Matins. Please note, however, that the race starts on Thursday 9th February and not the day before.
There are 18 teams taking part:
Pro Tour Teams (8): Vacansoleil-DCM, FDJ-Big Mat, Astana, Saxo Bank, Movistar, GreenEDGE, Garmin-Barracuda and AG2R La Mondiale.
Pro Continental Teams (8): Cofidis, Europcar, Saur-Sojasun, Bretagne-Schuller, Type 1 Sanofi-Avensis, Accent.jobs-Willems Veranda’s, Acqua & Sapone and Spidertech-C10.
Continental teams (2): VC La Pomme Marseille and Endura Racing.
Among the participants are a number of recent GC winners, including David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) and Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar) but there are plenty of other riders, including former stage winners, who’ll be looking to shine and perhaps record their team’s and/or their first win of the season.
What kind of race is it?
The four-day stage race, which began in 1974, was founded and is organised by 1966 Tour de France winner, Lucien Aimar, with a shoestring budget and an army of volunteers. At Aimar’s side will be his faithful lieutenants, Raymond Poulidor and Stephen Roche, two more cycling legends. 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 and is a big favourite with the sprinters. The race is often won either on the final day’s queen stage which again finishes on Mont Faron or the time trial, though there isn’t one of the latter in this edition.
The race started life (1974-77) as the Trophee Mediterraneen before changing its name. It’s been won in the past by some of the big names of the sport such as Eddy Merckx, Gerrie Knetemann, Phil Anderson, Tony Rominger, Gianni Bugno, Frank Vandenbroucke, Laurent Jalabert, Paolo Bettini and Jens Voigt.
The number of stages have also varied over the years from as many as eight down to five in more recent years, and now four. It was the first race I ever saw live (2006) when I watched the start of stage four in St Laurent du Var and the start and finish of stage six in San Remo. I remember being amazed at the accessibility and friendliness of the riders and the paucity of onlookers.
The French have topped the podium more frequently than any other nation, although it’s super Mario Cipollini who’s recorded the most stage wins (13). The most recent previous winners of the race are:
- 2007: Jose Ivan Guttierez (Caisse d’Epargne)
- 2008: Alexandre Botcherov (Credit Agricole)
- 2009: Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne)
- 2010: Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) – declared winner after Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) was stripped of the title
- 2011: David Moncoutie (Cofidis)
What happened last year?
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) won the first stage, then Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) greedily took the next three. It was all to play for on the final day’s queen stage which finished atop Mont Faron. Cofidis’ David Moncoutie overhauled his fellow countryman Jean -Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondial) within a couple of hundred metres of the finish line to take the stage win and the overall. It was Moncoutie’s third win atop Mont Faron (2003 and 2009) but his first GC here. The King of the Mountains jersey was won by Cofidis’ Remi Pauriol, the sprint jersey by Romain Feillu and Wout Poels was the best young rider.
It’s another one of those races where there are a few less familiar names in the GC top ten and then further down the order a sprinkling of names who go on to have a very good season.
Final general classification
1. David Moncoutie (Cofidis) 16:48:36
2. Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondiale) +0:11
3. Wout Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:24
4. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Cervelo) +0:28
5. Morris Possoni (Sky) + 0:33
6. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) +0:35
7. David Lopez (Movistar) +0:37
8. Fabrice Jeandesbox (Saur-Sojasun) +0:40
9. Steven Cummings (Sky) +0:40
10. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) +0:40
This year’s race
As befits an early season stage race, none of the stages are overly long or difficult. The first stage, 135km from Pertuis to Meyreuil, goes over the Cols du Grand Sambue and de Portes. Stage two will be more to the sprinters’ liking. It’s pretty flat across the Crau plain but it could get windy on the 136km from Salon-de-Provence to Martigues.
The penultimate stage on Saturday, 127km from La Seyne to La Londe les Maures, sees the peloton riding on narrow roads over the hills of La Sainte Baume. This should set the riders up nicely for Sunday’s final stage, 130km from La Ciotat to Mont Faron, Toulon, which finishes atop Mont Faron (508m) whose 5.5km ascent averages out at 9%. It’s likely that the bunch will split over the Mont Caume so that the peloton is lined out for the ascent of the final climb where the roads are very narrow.
February 9th: Stage 1 – Pertuis to Meyreuil, 135km
February 10th: Stage 2 – Salon-de-Provence to Martigues, 136km
February 11th: Stage 3 – La Seyne-sur-Mer to La-Londe-les-Maures, 127km
February 12th: Stage 4 – La Ciotat to Mont Faron, Toulon, 130km
For more details on the race and a full list of participating teams and riders visit the official website.
Who to watch
Luckily early-season super-winning team Omega Pharma-Quick Step isn’t taking part, so others will have a chance. Most notably the French teams and riders will be gunning for their first wins of the season and looking to impress team management and race selectors, especially ASO.
Look for the likes of in-form Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil), Borut Bozic (Astana), Koldo Fernandez (Gamin-Barracuda), Jimmy Casper (AG2R La Mondiale) and Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ-Big Mat) to contest the sprint stages while the lumpier ones might suit Remi Pauriol, David Moncoutie, Thomas Voeckler, Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Dan Martin, Christophe Le Mevel (both Garmin-Barracuda) and Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone). In terms of the overall, expect all of the above to have an eye on the main prize. FDJ’s Jeremy Roy is riding so we can expect to see him in any and all of the breakaways.
Here at VeloVoices we’re going to be tracking number 132 Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar), a Basque who moved this year from Euskaltel-Euskadi after recording some useful results, particularly in time-trials. [It what appears to have been a last minute substitution, or divine intervention, no 132 is Jesus Herrada, another gifted time-triallist – Ed].
France 3 will be televising the last day’s stage up Mont Faron.