This weekend, February 18th/19th, sees the running of the next French race in the calendar. The 44th edition of the Tour Cycliste Internationale du Haut Var – to give it its full title – will provide additional racing largely for those who’ve already competed in the GP Marsellaise, Etoile de Besseges and Tour Mediterraneen.
It’s yet another race supported by the local daily newspaper, and sure to be popular with the locals who will flock to watch two-time winner Thomas Voeckler defend his title.
What kind of race is it?
Since 2009, it’s been a category 2.1, two-day stage race on the UCI European Tour calendar, organised by local cycling club OCCV Draguignan, assisted by Raymond Poulidor. The latter won its first edition in 1969 and riders such as Joop Zoetemelk, Freddy Maertens, Sean Kelly and Laurent Jalabert have all stood atop the podium.
The 22 teams taking part are largely, but not exclusively, those who rode the earlier French races.
ProTeams (9): FDJ-Big Mat, Garmin-Barracuda, AG2R-La Mondiale, Saxo Bank, GreenEDGE, Movistar, Vacansoleil-DCM, Astana and BMC.
Pro Continental teams (8): Europcar, Cofidis, Saur-Sojasun, Bretagne-Schuller, Spidertech-C10, Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda’s, Project 1t4i, and Type 1-Sanofi.
Continental teams (5): Endura Racing, Auber 93, VC La Pomme Marseille, Roubaix Lille Metropole and Veranda Rideau.
The race takes place in the Var and visits no fewer than 32 villages and towns. Typically, the first day’s racing is one for the sprinters with a parcours which remains in and around the coastal towns. Day two is more to the climbers’ liking when the course heads into the Varois hinterland and traverses a number of walled towns. This year is no exception.
2007: Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas)
2008: Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner)
2009: Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom)
2010: Christophe Le Mevel (FDJ)
2011: Thomas Voeckler (Europcar)
What happened last year?
Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) took victory on stage one after biding his time behind Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R-La Mondiale) on the final rise into Grimaud before nipping past the Italian at the line. The then French champion Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) came home a second back in third place.
Voeckler took the overall victory – thanks to one of his customary late escapes – on the second and final stage, in the company of Julien Antomarchi (VC La Pomme Marseille). The twosome got away with 7km to go and, with his eye on the main prize, Tommy gallantly allowed his breakaway companion to cross the finish line first and register a prestigious win for his local Continental team. Tommy also won the points jersey, the KoM was Jeremy Roy (FDJ), best young rider was Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Gorka Izagirre and Cofidis won the team prize.
1, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) 9:14:13
2, Julien Antomarchi (VC La Pomme Marseille) +0:08
3, Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) +0:28
4, Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) +0:29
5, Remi Pauriol (FDJ) +0:37
6. David Moncoutie (Cofidis) +0:37
7. Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) +0:53
8. Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) +0:53
9. Cedric Pineau (FDJ) +0:54
10. Gorka Izagirre (Eukaltel-Euskadi) +0:54
This year’s race
This year’s two stages are much longer than any of those in the preceding races and will be a true test of stamina. Additionally, the organiser claims that this is the most difficult course in the race’s history.
The first stage runs 189.2km from Draguignan to La Croix-Valmer and includes three category two climbs which will test the stamina of the sprinters. Expect the stage to finish in a bunch sprint though, as it takes in five 6km circuits of the roads around La Croix Valmer.
However, the race will be decided on the second day: 205.4km from Frejus to Fayence, which is a totally different kettle of fish. This stage features one category two climb, two category one and one HC ascent. If that wasn’t enough, the finish line is just beyond the infamous 3km Mur de Tourrettes-Fayence which is short, sharp and very steep with some stretches at 26%. It’s ideal for taking photographs as the peloton, for once, ascends at the same speed you or I ascend a much smaller gradient.
Who to watch
There’s an impressive array of talent on display. Sufficient sprinters to ensure a lively first day with the likes of John Degenkolb (Project 1t4i), Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM), Borut Bozic (Astana) and two of BMC’s Holy Trinity: Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert. There’s a number of riders who’ll be licking their lips at the profile in stage two such as Brice Feillu (Saur-Sojasun), recent Tour Med winner Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura), David Moncoutie (Cofidis) – out to avenge his Mont Faron disappointment – his teammate Rein Taraamae and FDJ’s Remi Pauriol.
We also have a number of former GC and stage winners taking part, including the defending champion Thomas Voeckler accompanied by teammate and L’Alpe d’Huez winner Pierre Rolland, Christophe Le Mevel, Dan Martin (both Garmin-Barracuda) and AG2R’s Rinaldo Nocentini who might be out for revenge. Expect FDJ’s Jeremy Roy to get into a breakaway on either or both days.
Weather permitting, VeloVoices will be paying a visit to the race, taking pictures of the participants and chatting to other fans. We’re going to be keeping an eye on the Olejnik brothers, Tomasz and Michal, who are riding with numbers 197 and 198 respectively for Continental outfit Veranda Rideau-Super U. The boys have previously only ridden for amatuer French squads and Tomaz racked up two stage wins in last year’s Tour of Martinique.
The Tour du Haut Var starts on Saturday 18th February and ends on Sunday 19th. There is no TV coverage in the UK, but daily highlights will be shown by France 3 and Eurosport.