French early season races review (part 1)

Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise (27th January)

GPLaMarseillaiselogoThe relatively unknown 26-year old Justin Jules (La Pomme Marseille) outsprinted 30-odd riders, including last year’s defending champion, Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r La Mondiale), to take victory in the opening round of the Coupe de France on his team’s home turf.

Teammate Thomas Vaubourzeix and Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) had established a lead of almost eight minutes with 100km of the 148.1km course remaining before the bunch started to reel them in. With 30km left and the gap down to only 60 seconds, Cedric Pineau (FDJ) and Benjamin Giraud (La Pomme Marseille) joined them. Ultimately, all four were back in the bunch 15km later.

As anticipated there was a flurry of attacks but a police motorbike crash in the finishing straight brought down some riders, including Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil), leaving a select bunch to contest the closely fought sprint finish. Wallays won the King of the Mountains prize while Vaubourzeix was adjudged most combative.

Podium l to r Dumoulin, Jules and  (image courtesy of La Pomme Marseille)

Podium l( to r) Dumoulin, Jules and Damuseau (image courtesy of La Pomme Marseille)

Jules rejoined VC La Pomme this year after a season with Super Vernada Rideau-U marred by a bout of mononucleosis. His father Pascal was a Tour de France double stage winner in the Renault team of Laurent Fignon, who was killed aged 26 after being hit by a car, when Jules was barely a year old. A few years ago, young Jules spent time in prison after a family drama which ended with the death of his alcoholic stepfather. Let’s hope this second – and biggest – professional win is the start of better things for him.


1. Justin Jules (VC La Pomme Marseille) 3:40:05

2. Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r La Mondiale) same time

3. Thomas Damuseau (Argos-Shimano) s/t

4. Anthony Roux (FDJ) s/t

5. Sander Armee (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) s/t

6. Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t

7. Maxime Vantomme (Crelan-Euphony) s/t

8. Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano) s/t

9. Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t

10. Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) s/t

Etoile de Bessèges (30th January-3rd February)

EtoiledeBessegeslogoJonathan Hivert (Sojasun) recorded his and his team’s maiden 2013 victory by virtue of his sixth place on stage three and consistent performances on the others. It was his first win since stage two of last year’s Tour de Romandie and could lay the foundation for what he hopes will be his best season to date.

Triumphant in Etoile de Besseges (image courtesy of race site)

Triumphant in Etoile de Besseges (image courtesy of race site)

Georg Preidler (Argos-Shimano) was top dog in the mountains, FDJ easily won the team competition, double stage winner Bryan Coquard (Europcar) took the points jersey and runner-up Jerome Cousin (Europcar) was the best young rider.

On the opening stage, 24-year old Belgian Michael Van Staeyen (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) held off Frederique Robert (Lotto-Belisol) and La Marseillaise winner Justin Jules (La Pomme Marseille) in the sprint to the finish line on the opening 154km stage from Bellegarde into Beaucaire to record his first win since 2011.

Stage two’s 157km route from Nimes to Allegre les Fumades finished in another sprint won by London 2012 omnium runner-up and neo-pro Bryan Coquard (Europcar). It was his maiden professional victory on only his second day of racing in the professional ranks – one to watch! He was shepherded for most of the stage by teammate Sebastien Chavanel, who five years earlier had mentored Coquard for a season. Runner-up Van Staeyen retained the coral leader’s jersey.

Europcar enjoyed back-to-back victories as 23-year old Jerome Cousin beat FDJ pair Anthony Roux and Arthur Vichot to the finish on a 152km stage around Besseges which featured three ascents of the cat 1 Col de Trelys, after an 11-man breakaway managed to hold off the advancing peloton. Cousin took over the race lead from Van Staeyen, who led the peloton over the line in 12th place. Lying second overall, just three seconds back, was Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun).

It was three from four for Europcar as Coquard took yet another bunch sprint victory, beating Frederique Robert (Lotto Belisol) and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) to the line on the 154km fourth stage from Sabron to Pont Saint Esprit. Jerome Cousin retained the overall lead going into the final day’s double-header of a short road stage followed by a time trial.

On Sunday morning’s 65.5km stage around Arles, Dumoulin finally got on the scoresheet for his new team after they’d effectively controlled the stage. Dumoulin took a flyer at a roundabout 500m from the line for an easy victory, ahead of Coquard. Mathieu Drujon (BigMat-Auber 93) was third.

The afternoon’s 9.7km individual time trial around Ales belonged to FDJ. Anthony Roux pipped teammate and breakaway specialist Jeremy Roy by three seconds to take the stage with a time of 14:48. Lieuwe Westra punctuated the French dominance to finish third, just ahead of FDJ’s Arthur Vichot. Indeed Westra was the only non-Frenchman in the top ten of the general classification. Race leader Cousin finished six seconds behind Hivert (who had finished eighth on GC last year), who leapfrogged him to take overall victory by four seconds.


1. Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun) 16:29:35

2. Jerome Cousin (Europcar) +0:04

3. Anthony Roux (FDJ) +0:05

4. Jeremy Roy (FDJ) +0:11

5. Cyril Gautier (Europcar) same time

6. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) +0:17

7. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:20

8. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:31

9. Arthur Vichot (FDJ) +0:35

10. Julien Antomarchi (La Pomme Marseille) +0:36

Ronde d’Aix (3rd February)

65ronde_aixAn invitational criterium, the first of the season, fittingly on the Avenue des Belges in Aix-en-Provence was won by world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC), who last won the race in 2006, to mark his first victory of 2013 and BMC’s second of the day [after Brent Bookwalter on stage one of the Tour of Qatar – Ed]. One of FDJ’s sprint stars, Arnaud Demare, was runner-up, while completing the podium was friend of VeloVoices Geoffroy Lequatre (Bretagne-Seche). A pretty stellar cast, most of whom live in the region, had been assembled including two-time former winner and Norse God Thor Hushovd (BMC) and Alberto Contador’s new teammate, Nico Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).

Podium l to right Demare, Gilbert, Lequatre (image courtesy of FDJ)

Podium (l to r) Demare, Gilbert, Lequatre (image courtesy of FDJ)


The French teams, particularly those outside the WorldTour, always look to perform well in the early season races. Not only are they keen to grab points but they’re also hoping their efforts will garner them wild card invites to the larger WorldTour races, particularly the all important Tour de France. It’s also good to see new French talent like Coquard emerging [more of that coming soon – Ed]. Let’s see how the above fare in the forthcoming Tours de Med and du Haut Var.

Links: GP La Marseillaise official website, Etoile de Besseges official website

What’s happening in August?

The races continue to come thick and fast this month, with the Olympic time trials opening the month and the Vuelta a Espana straddling the end of it. Indeed Spain’s Grand Tour starts less than four weeks after the end of the Tour de France.

A packed calendar in August also contains four other WorldTour events and birthdays for two of the peloton’s most experienced veterans, so here are the key dates for your diary.

Olympic time trials (1st)

Where Team GB faltered in the road race in their bid to launch Mark Cavendish to victory in Saturday’s road race, in today’s time trial they have not one but two realistic shots at the gold medal. Bradley Wiggins has been unbeatable over long time trials this season – six wins in six attempts against the clock over 10km or more – while Sky teammate Chris Froome was second-fastest in both long time trials at the Tour de France. Gold plus a second medal are a realistic possibility, but current and former time trial world champions Tony Martin (Germany) and Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) will be looking to inflict double disappointment on expectant Brits. Also look out for the US pair of Taylor Phinney and Tejay Van Garderen to shine over the 44km course.

Before the men’s race, however, comes the women’s equivalent, run over the shorter distance of 29km. The partisan Brits among us will be cheering on Emma Pooley, but it’s hard to look beyond Germany’s Judith Arndt as the short-odds favourite, with Linda Villumsen (New Zealand) and Kristin Armstrong (USA) the most likely to displace her on the top of the medal podium.

Links: PreviewOfficial website

Eneco Tour (6th-12th)

This seven-day WorldTour race marks a distinct change from the parcours of the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana which sit close either side of it. Run on a combination of largely flat and undulating roads in Belgium and Holland, the race is traditionally a welcome haven for sprinters and time-trial specialists, with punchy all-rounders typically faring well in the general classification. Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen won last year’s race, his second success in three years. This year’s field will be enlivened by the return from suspension of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Alberto Contador, who will be looking to get some racing miles in his legs ahead of a tilt at the Vuelta.

The key stages this year are likely to be a pair of time trials – both team (stage two) and individual (stage six) – with the latter being followed by the concluding queen stage which finishes with circuits of the city of Geraardsbergen including repeated ascents of the Mur de Grammont (also known as the Muur van Geraardsbergen), a 1.1km climb – well known to followers of the Tour of Flanders – which includes sections of close to 20% gradient.

Link: Official website

Clasica San Sebastian (14th)

Very much a climbers’ race suiting bold puncheurs, San Sebastian is a relatively young race – it was first run in 1981 – but has already established a deserved reputation as one of the more visually spectacular races on the cycling calendar, full of coastal views and twisting, rolling roads. It also boasts a winners’ list which reads like a Who’s Who of cycling, including such illustrious names as Miguel Indurain, Lance Armstrong, Laurent Jalabert, Alejandro Valverde and 2011 winner Philippe Gilbert.

Run over a distance of close to 230km, the race is frequently decided by a final selection on the climb of the Alto de Jaizkibel, an 8km climb averaging 5.6% just under 30km from the finish.

Link: Official website

Vuelta a España (18th August-9th September)

The 67th Vuelta a España, the last of the year’s three Grand Tours, kicks off in Pamplona with a team time trial before embarking on a parcours which could only be described as vertiginous. It is one of the toughest Grand Tour routes in recent memory – rivalling even the 2011 Giro d’Italia – and includes just six flat stages and a headache-inducing 13 mountain stages, six of which conclude in summit finishes. Even the 40km individual time trial on stage 11 which neatly cleaves the race into two halves includes a climb of nearly 400 metres.

Needless to say, this is a race tilted heavily in favour of the pure climbers so expect Spanish riders to be out in force, not least a certain Alberto Contador. His most likely challenger may well be Sky’s 2011 runner-up – and, of course, second in the 2012 Tour de France – Chris Froome, if his Tour and Olympic exertions have not sapped his legs too much. The race may well remain alive right up until the penultimate stage which, as in 2010, will conclude on the monstrous 21.6 km, 6.3% ascent of Bola del Mundo near Madrid, a climb which features sections with 19% and 20% gradients in the closing 2km and could provide a spectacular head-to-head showdown for the overall.

Link: Official website

Other key races this month include the Vuelta a Burgos (1st-5th) – read Sheree’s preview here –  a key build-up race for the Vuelta a Espana and one-day races Vattenfall Cyclassics (19th) and GP Ouest France-Plouay (26th). The latter two are both WorldTour events.

Links: Vuelta a Burgos website, Vattenfall Cyclassics website, GP Ouest France-Plouay website

This month’s birthdays

A selection of some of the more notable birthdays in the peloton this month:

4th: David Millar, Garmin-Sharp (35 years old). The Scotsman is now one of the senior statesmen of the peloton, as well as wearing the mantle of anti-doping poster boy. An otherwise quiet year in which his time trial form has been largely mediocre was transformed by his breakaway win on stage 12 of last month’s Tour de France.

O’Grady creeps one year closer to 40 (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

6th: Stuart O’Grady, Orica-GreenEDGE (39). More of a mentor and all-purpose engine than a hard-man sprinter these days, the 2007 Paris-Roubaix winner was a member of GreenEDGE’s winning team time trial squad at Tirreno-Adriatico and was part of the key breakaway at the London Olympic road race, eventually placing sixth.

6th: Jerome Coppel, Saur-Sojasun (26). Viewed as one of the great young hopes of the new generation of French riders, Coppel has so far failed to make a big breakthrough at the Tour de France, finishing 21st this year after a 14th place in 2011. He did, however, win the early season Etoile de Besseges stage race and was an excellent third overall at the Vuelta a Andalucia.

20th: Dan Martin, Garmin-Sharp (26). The cousin of AG2R’s Nicolas Roche has had an up-and-down season following his Grand Tour breakthrough at the 2011 Vuelta, where he won a stage and rode aggressively in the mountains en route to 13th overall. Strong form in the spring saw him place fourth overall at the Volta a Catalunya and then fifth and sixth respectively in the Ardennes Classics Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne. But he had a relatively disappointing Tour de France – expected to be a key aggressor in the mountains, he managed no higher than a seventh place as he finished 35th overall.

22nd: Theo Bos, Rabobank (29). The Dutch sprinter has had a relatively quiet 2012, but has continued his streak of winning stages in pairs. Two stage victories at the Tour of Turkey were added to a palmares which includes a sprint double at the 2011 Tour of Oman and a brace at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon the previous year.

Also on the blog

As usual, we’ll be providing comprehensive race coverage all month, with previews and reviews from all the major races. Plus watch out for some additional coverage as we branch out from our traditional core of men’s road racing.

Every Tuesday, Tweets of the Week will bring you all the news that’s fit to print (in 140 characters), with focus shifting from the Olympic rings to our annual romp through the mountains of Spain as the month progresses. Our regular Friday Features will bring you in-depth analysis from the wider world of cycling. We’ll continue to find all the best images from our favourite sport, both here on the blog and via our Facebook page. And, of course, you can always chat with us on Twitter.

Whether serious or light-hearted, VeloVoices is the place to come for all the latest cycling news and views! Pro cycling for fans, by fans.