The French cycling season begins tomorrow afternoon with the 40th edition of GP Marseillaise. A race that is often a tough one to predict with varying parcours and early season legs within the peloton, it consequently leads to some exciting cycling. Last year a strong group of 9 managed to escape over the climbs, before battling it out for the win, with Alexandre Geniez coming out victorious.
Odd Christian Eiking and Lilian Calmejane rounded out the podium just behind the AG2R man. Will Geniez be able to double up this year? First though, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.
About 5 or so years ago the race suited a sprinter who could climb very well (think Sam Dumoulin), but in recent times the parcours have been made more difficult with added climbs and we’ve seen that translated onto the results sheets, with much more selective races. This year’s edition of the race was meant to be on an almost identical parcours to 2018 but due to strong winds that are expected the decisive climb in the final 50km of the race, Route des Crêtes, has been removed and replaced by the Pas d’Oullier.
Before they get to that point though they still have the small matter of the Petit Galibier (7.6km at 3.7%) and the Col de l’Espigoulier to traverse, along with the uncategorised Col des Bastides (7.1% at 3%). Those climbs will certainly sap the legs but given the shallow gradients, it makes it much more difficult for the climbers to create some gaps.
As you can see, there are no crazy gradients in the closing 38km so anyone looking to get away will have to go very hard on the 5.5% slopes of the Pas d’Ouillier, or on the uncategorised rises after that. With 10km of descent and flat to the line after the final hill, it is possible for a committed chase to bring things back together.
How will the race pan out?
It all depends on the attitude of the teams. Personally, I think the parcours is still capable of creating a selective race but it won’t be the pure climbers who manage to escape, instead it will the puncheurs who have a chance. Conversely though, if some of the bigger teams decide to take it easy early on then the race can be controlled over the closing 40km and a slightly reduced bunch sprint set up.
Another factor that could see the race come down to a reduced bunch sprint is the strong wind which for the closing 20km will be cross-head wind, with the closing 5km being a pure head wind.
The finishing boulevard will act as a funnel for the wind and make it very difficult for a small group to stay away if there is a motivated chase behind. Looking at the teams though and we don’t have many sprinters here, which might just be enough to entice a strong group away made up of riders from the bigger teams and that be that for the day. As you can probably tell, I’m struggling to decide what will happen!
Hmm, I think the forced change of parcours will see this race return to what it was like a few years ago, with a reduced bunch sprint deciding the day.
Former winner of this race, the Frenchman would expect to make the selection tomorrow. Entering the twilight of his career, he doesn’t win very often but is consistent in the French Cup races and consequently that makes him a danger man. The AG2R squad is made up of competent climbers so they should have plenty of numbers to control things at the finish. I am intrigued to see though if his team-mate Venturini makes the split too, and if so, who sprints?
Can he make the finish? If so, the FDJ rider is the classiest sprinter in this field in my opinion. With a good mix of youth and experience at the race it will be interesting to see how they work together but I think they will get on fine. Madouas was up there for the team last year so he should be able to contribute in the finale if we get an even more selective race. One thing is for sure, I would definitely be trying to get rid of Sarreau if I was a DS in another team.
Another former winner of this race, Vichot made the move away from the FDJ set up in the winter to only his second team in his career, Vital Concept. Again, they are another squad that look set up for a tougher race so expect to see them try to make it more difficult and reduce the group as much as possible. Vichot does have a deceptively fast kick from a group though so he will be confident of challenging for the win again but I just think there will be faster riders there.
Tom Van Asbroeck.
A step down from the WT in the winter sees the Belgian now ride for Israel Academy in the search of getting his own opportunities. Tomorrow presents a great chance for him to get off to a good start. By no means a pure sprinter, van Asbroeck falls into a category similar to Dumoulin where he will hope to be climbing well and make a group of 40, and if so, he will have one of the faster sprinters there. However, it is the start of the season so the legs might not respond in the way he wants. In that case, Israel Academy might turn to Sbaragli as their option for the day, although he has really fallen away in terms of good results since his breakthrough 2015 Vuelta stage win.
One of the few teams who I think will be relishing the change in route is Sport Vlaanderen as they have several fast finishers that will now fancy their chances of making it to the end of the day at the head of the race. Their best option would probably be Capiot who is looking to build on 2018 where he returned to the peloton after spending the majority of 2017 out injured. A good sprinter who can handle some hills, I think 2019 could be a belated break out year for him, he just needs some good luck. If the legs aren’t there yet, the team could turn to Warlop or Menten.
His move to WT didn’t really work out for him and now the Belgian finds himself back at his old outfit. Will he be able to rekindle that 2016 magic? This is the exact type of race that he would have challenged in back then and I think he’ll be up there tomorrow. Possibly he won’t have the form to win, but he should be top 10.
Others to look out for that would have preferred the tougher profile are Hivert, Finetto and Eiking.
Despite the still rolling and difficult parcours I think we’ll see a reduced sprint of around 50 riders or so. Timing will be critical in the monstrous head wind they’ll be cycling into along the finish straight so we could see a surprise result if some get it desperately wrong.
I’ll go with Amaury Capiot to take the day and start his 2019 season with a bang.
Thanks as always for reading and I hope you enjoyed the preview; it’s not always about the WT races! Who do you think will win tomorrow and in what manner? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.