While the Vuelta a Espana comes to a close, the Coupe de France is reaching its climax as the next few weeks will decide who’s going to win the prestigious race series. After last weekend’s GP de Fourmies, more points will be up for grabs in Sunday’s Tour du Doubs which is one of the hardest one-day races in France and gives the climbers a rare chance to mix it up with the classics riders and the sprinters in the events of the big race series.
This weekend all cycling fans have their eyes on the Vuelta a Espana and the WorldTour races in Canada but in France, the riders are also in the midst of one of the most important times of the season. For the French teams, the Coupe de France race series is a huge goal and these weeks are where it will all be decided.
Most of the races in the series are held in the spring where especially the month of April is loaded with French one-day races that offer points for the prestigious classification. However, the second busiest month is September where the decisive rounds are held.
After the summer beak, things going got again at La Polynormande in late July and after a one-month break, the series now reaches its climax. Last weekend the biggest race on the calendar, GP de Fourmies, was held, this week it is time for the Tour du Doubs and the next Sunday’s GP D’Isbergues and the Tour de Vendee which will be held on October 2 will decide everything.
Tour du Doubs is an old race that was first held in 1934 and after a short break during World War II, it returned to the calendar in 1948. However, after the 1954 race, the race was cancelled and it looked like it had disappeared for good. Nonetheless, the race was back on the calendar after a break of almost 40 years when it made a brief return in 1993 but unfortunately it was over almost before it had begun as the next editions were again cancelled.
However, another attempt to revive the race was made in 1999 and this time the organizers had more luck. Since then it has been held every single year and in 2010 it got the ultimate recognition for a French one-day race when it was added to the Coupe de France calendar. It is a 1.1 race on the UCI calendar and even though it is not the biggest event in the race series, it has gradually got a more international flavor and has had some big-name winners.
Tour du Doubs is different from most of the races in the Coupe de France as they are usually suited to sprinters or classics riders. However, this race is held in Pontarlier in the Jura Mountains and this turns it into the hardest of the races in the series. This is reflected in the list of winners as riders like Philip Deigan, Arthur Vichot, Jerome Coppel, Rein Taaramae and Eduardo Sepulveda have all come out on top while riders like Pierre Rolland, Rudy Molard and Thomas Voeckler have been on the podium.
The race is held on a hilly course which has made it a selective race suited to Ardennes specialist and climbers have even managed to do well here. Usually, a small group emerges to decide the race in a sprin from a handful of riders or a rider takes a solo win. In recent years it was only the 2012 edition that was decided by a bigger group when around 40 riders sprinted for the win. In the six most recent editions, the winner has arrived solo on no less than four occasions.
That was also the case last year where Eduardo Sepulveda dropped his companions in an elite group on the final climb. He arrived with a 29-second advantage over four chasers before Julien Loubet beat Rudy Molard in the sprint for second.
The 2016 edition of the Tour du Doubs will be held on 185km between Les Fins and Portarlier. After a relatively flat start, the riders will hit the first climb after 40km of racing before they go up the steeper La Montagne de la Chaux at the 79km mark. A long descent then leads to the third climb which comes after 116km mark. Then a long gradual uphill section leads to the first passage of the line.
The race then ends with one lap of a 46km circuit on the southern outskirts of Portalier. It is mostly flat but it has a nasty sting in its tail as there’s a category 1 climb in the finale. The top comes with just 7.5km to go and then it is a downhill run all the way to the line.
Like most other Coupe de France races, Tour du Doubs is a difficult race to predict as it is usually not very controlled. With a tough finale, the sprinters have little chance and so there is no team with a real interest in chasing down the early break. Very often the breakaway decides the race and so it requires quite a bit of luck to be in contention in the end.
At the same time, you need to be a very good climber. The finale is very tough and history shows that the strongest climber is often able to ride away on the final climb and make it to the finish for a solo victory. Hence, the winner is likely to be a strong rider who can make it into the break and has the climbing legs to finish off on the final ascent.
A rider that fits the bill perfectly is Nicolas Edet. Cofidis are here with Nacer Bouhanni but he is unlikely to make it to the finish with the best. The team have a lot of climbers who are likely to go on the attack. Edet is probably their best card as he is the in-form rider at the moment. He has had a very solid year, riding an aggressive Tour de France, and most recently he confirmed his form at the Tour du Limousin. He is a solid climber, one of the best in the race, and he is pretty fast in a sprint. That makes him tailor-made for this race so if he can join the right group, he won’t be easy to beat. Hence, he is our favourite.
Cofidis also have Julien Simon who has had a bit of a nightmare season. He missed most of the spring due to injury but now he is finally back on form. He was in the front group in Bretagne Classic which shows that he is getting better and so he is motivated for this race. He is not a pure climber but he can do well in this kind of terrain and he has already been in the top 10 four times. He is unlikely to be the best on the final climb but if a small group makes it to the finish, he is likely to be the fastest.
Eduardo Sepulveda is the defending champion and will be very motivated to win again. He has had a bad year due to an injury and only returned to racing just before the Tour which turned out to be a very difficult race for him. He wasn’t much better in Rio so no one knows how he is going. However, he was really strong at this time of the year in 2015 and he is one of the best climbers in this race. If he can make the difference on the final climb, he has the power to stay clear.
We are very curious to see how Tour de l’Avenir will do here. He will be riding as an FDJ stagiaire and is obviously in great form. With his fifth place in the Tour de l’Ain, he proved that he can match the pros on the climbs. The climbs may be a bit short for a climber like him but his outstanding form will bring him far. If he makes it into the right group, he seems to be capable of claiming a solo win.
The inconsistent Alexis Gougeard could also do well in this race. The Frenchman is brutally strong but he has sent mixed signal recently. He finished the Tour very well and rode very aggressively in Plouay until he exploded spectacularly in the finale. He is not a climber but as his stage win in the Vuelta shows, he climbs solidly when he is on form. This race could be one for a strongman and Gougeard had the power to make it.
Auber 93 have Guillaume Levarlet who has shown solid form recently. The Frenchman is a good climber and has always been strong in this race where he has been in the top 10 four times and in the top 17 in all his seven participations. If he can make it into the right break, he has the sprint and climbing skills to win.
Samuel Dumoulin hopes to score points for the Coupe de France but this race is a bit too hard for him. Nonetheless, he has been in the top 10 twice and if thing go well, he will have a chance. He showed solid form in Plouay and will be very motivated. When on form, he climbs really well so if a small group comes together in the finale, a sprint win for Dumoulin is possible.
His big rival in the overall is Baptiste Planckaert but this race is probably too hard for him. He doesn’t climb as well as Dumoulin so the stars have to align for him to be in contention for the win. However, Planckaert has surprised many times this year so we won’t rule anything out.
The race should also be too hard for Nacer Bouhanni and Romain Feillu. Feillu has been climbing well recently and probably has the best chance. Bouhanni is sprinting well but his climbing has not been at it best. However, if the race turns out to be less selective than usual, they may have a chance to be in contention.
Good climbers Domenico Pozzovivo, Arnold Jeannesson, David Belda and Sebastien Reichenbach will also be in attendance but they haven’t raced for a long time. We doubt that they have the condition to win but of course you can’t rule classy riders like them out in a tough race like this. Another good climber is Hubert Dupont who did well in the Tour du Limousin but this race is probably a bit too explosive for him.
Julien El Fares, Quentin Pacher and Delio Fernandez may all have chances in this race as they climb well and are pretty fast in a sprint. They won’t be the best on the climbs but they will have chances if they can make it into the right breakaway as they are all in good form.
Finally, we will point to Jonathan Hivert. On paper, the race suits him down to the ground as he is a good climber and fast in a sprint. He has had a disastrous year but he has shown signs of improvement in Wallonie and the Arctic Race. If the inconsistent Fortuneo rider is on a good day, this is a race that he can win.
***** Nicolas Edet
**** Julien Simon, Eduardo Sepulveda
*** David Gaudu Alexis Gougeard, Guillaume Levarlet, Samuel Dumoulin, Anthony Turgis
** Baptiste Planckaert, Romain Feillu, Nacer Bouhanni, Sebastien Reichenbach, Arnold Jeannesson, Domenico Pozzovivo, Hubert Dupont, David Belda, Jonathan Hivert, Julien El Fares, Delio Fernandez, Quentin Pacher
* Anthony Delaplace, Remy Di Gregorio, Nans Peters, Leo Vincent, Maxime Vantomme, Mikel Bizkarra, Antoine Warnier, Julien Duval, Romain Combaud
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