The Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var came to close at the weekend and it was a race that – like all the best short stage races – left us wanting a little bit more. Explosive racing throughout and the resurgence of some top talents who have looked dormant-ish for a couple of years added to the pure joy of seeing bike racers compete in the French alps.
Alpes Maritimes & Var also brought to an end a nice little block of early-season events, with Tour de La Provence and Étoile de Bessèges also delivering excellent value. Here are some reasons to be excited for the season ahead based on what we saw.
The year of the attacker?
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In the Alpes Maritimes and the Var, we saw a race – admittedly just three days – that was defined by attacking. There was no grinding down ones opponents with mountain trains – although we did learn from new Eurosport commentator José Been learn that in the Netherlands, grinding a massive gear uphill is known as Mollema-ing or Mollema-style.
Casting the eye a bit further back, we saw similarly swashbuckling approached rewarded in Provence and at Étoile de Bessèges, where Ivan Sosa came back to form at the perfect moment to blast off of Mont Ventoux for the stage and – ultimately – overall win.
Old guys still rule
Looking at the chase group on Sunday’s final stage, you could be forgiven for forgetting that it’s all about youth these days. Jakob Fuglsang, 35 (Astana), Bauke Mollema , 34 (Trek Segafredo) and Nairo Quintana, 31 (Arkea Samsic) were the ones tearing strips off one another in a bid to chase down the leaders, proving there’s still a little bit of life in the old dogs yet. Mike Woods, 34 (Israel StartUp Nation) was also in that group and he – just a day before – rode the whole peloton off his wheel on stage two’s Mur de Fayence. Who knows, if Quintana had given a turn or two, they might even have caught Brambilla, 33 on the final stage – still, some things don't change.
Brambilla the killer is back
It’s one of those baffling strangenesses of cycling that Gianluca Brambilla had not won a race for five years before Sunday’s exploits. It feels like that breakthrough year of his was only 12 or 24 months ago. In fact, it was 2016, and he was already 27, so not that much of a breakthrough, really. We can blame the pandemic for at least one year of that, but where have the other two years drifted off to? It was fantastic to see the Italian throw down a big marker with his yolo solo from the breakaway. As the Italian told his team’s website "Greggy Rast came to me in the car and told me ‘you have to give everything; you have to drop everyone if you want to go for the stage and GC.’ I was thinking of the stage, not GC.”
Also in that interview, Brambilla reaffirmed his position in the squad as a domestique, saying the win 'changes nothing'.
New teams, fresh slates
It’s not always clear how a team move is going to effect a rider. Sometimes, what looks like the liberation from a toxic environment can lead to a dramatic nosedive in results, while in other cases, the departure from a team perceived as being a 'fun' place to be can cause a big ramping up of achievement. It’s impossible to understand the impact of a move, and the chemistry a rider will have with a new squad and support staff, until they are on the road and racing.
That’s why it was so great to see Ben O’Connor (now at AG2R La Citroën) and Mike Woods (recently departed EF) making much of the running during Alpes Maritimes et du Var. Much is often made of the Frenchness of French teams, with Greg van Avermaet recently telling Belgian media that it is not so much that French teams insist their riders speak French, but rather, they simply don't speak anything else. O'Connor is clearly not finding this too much of a challenge, and he looked in bombastic form as he threw attack after attack on the final part of stage 3. It will be exciting to see him try to build on his Giro stage win from 2020 this season in new colours.
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