uses cookies for statistics and targeting ads. This information is shared with third parties.

Every day we bring you more pro-cycling news

The classics riders will battle it out on a lumpy course in France

Photo: Vuelta a Espana/Graham Watson




20.02.2016 @ 13:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

While most riders are finalizing their preparation for the big events in the Belgian opening weekend and the month of March at the major stage races in Oman, Spain and Portugal, France offers an alternative path that appeals to the classics riders. The two-day Tour du Haut Var is a race made up of two hilly classics that make it the perfect preparation for the biggest one-day races and it is no wonder that some of the best riders in this specialty use the race to fine-tune their condition for their big objectives.


The third week of February has built a reputation as one of the most important weeks of the early season. With no less than four stage races, it is the a crucial time for most riders to get in the important racing kilometres that set them up for a successful classics season or spring stage race campaign.


While the Tour of Oman, Volta ao Algarve and Vuelta a Andalucia are traditional stage races in the sense that they are for true stage race specialists and are decided in the mountains or in time trials, one race is different. The two-day Tour du Haut Var in Southern France is not one for the riders who excel in grand tours. Instead, it is a tricky an unpredictable affair and its hilly terrain makes it perfectly suited to classics specialists.


The race was once a hilly one-day race that combined forces with the Classic Haribo to form a weekend of racing in Southern France. The latter was a sprint race which disappeared from the calendar after the 2006 edition and its demise opened the door for the Haut Var organizers to make their race grow. Since 2009 it has been held as a two-day race that has offered classics riders the perfect chance to prepare for the Belgian opening weekend.


The course for the race has varied a bit from year to year. While it has no major mountains, it is definitely no race for sprinters and it has rarely offered any chance for the pure fastmen. In its early years as a stage race, it had several uphill finishes on short, steep walls but in recent years it has abandoned that format. Instead, it has usually had an opening stage that has come down to an uphill sprint, and a tough stage around Draguignan that has suited aggressive classics specialists.


In general, its two stages can be regarded as two consecutive classics and their open natures make it a very unpredictable affair and have turned it into a tactical race that has often been decided by seconds. This is one of the stage races that the classics specialists can realistically win and while the field is dominated by French riders, many international classics stars prefer to prepare for the one-day races in an event that has similar conditions to what they will find in the biggest races. It combines forces with the Trofeo Laigueglia which was held last Sunday, to form a solid alternative path to the classics instead of doing one of the three major stage races this week.


Last year was a trademark example of the unpredictable and aggressive nature of the racing as loyal domestique Ben Gastauer managed to hold off the peloton on the opening stage which had a finish on a gradual uphill drag to the line. As Luka Mezgec won the final stage in a reduced bunch sprint, the Luxembourger took overall victory with a 7-second advantage over Philippe Gilbert and Jonathan Hivert.


The course

After the race abandoned its finales on steep walls, it has had a pretty identical format in the last few years. The first stage has finished on a circuit in La Croix-Valmer three years in a row after a day in moderately hilly terrain. With a slight uphill finish, it has traditionally suited the powerful sprinters, with Romain Hardy and Thor Hushovd winning the first two editions. In 2014 Carlos Betancur created a major surprise when he beat John Degenkolb in the sprint in this stage.


The second day has traditionally offered a long, hilly course around the city of Draguignan but the flat finish has made it open for several different outcomes. In 2013, Lars Boom, Arthur Vichot, Daniel Oss, Laurens Ten Dam and Pierrick Fedrigo managed to escape on the final climb and they narrowly held off a reduced peloton, with the former winning the sprint. In 2014, it was Betancur and Amael Moinard who made a similar move, with the Frenchman taking the stage win and the Colombian claiming the overall win. Last year the stage was decided in a reduced bunch sprint where Luka Mezgec took the win after fighting his way back to the front.


Last year the organizers decided to change the script a bit as they made the first stage significantly harder by including a finish on a gradual 10km uphill drag while keeping the traditional second stage. This year the second stage is again largely unchanged but the opener has again been overhauled completely. This time there will be no uphill finish but even though it has a flat finish, it still includes a significant amount of climbing.


Stage 1:

The new opening stage will bring the riders over 155km from Le Cannet des Maures to Bagnols en Foret. First the riders will travel from the start to the finish along lumpy roads that include the category 2 Col du Bravet (7km, 5%) at the 56.3km mark before they descend to the finish which they will reach after 62.4km of racing. Then they will tackle two different circuits around the finishing city. The first one is the hardest as it both includes the famous 20% Mur de Montauroux with 79.3km to go and another passage of the Col du Blavet (7km, 5%) just 21.1km from the end. Having descended to the finish, they will end the stage by doing two laps of a 7.5km finishing circuit. It’s not completely flat and the final 1.2km is slightly uphill.


The stage is a typical one for the Tour du Haut Var. The Col du Blavet will be way too hard for most sprinters and there will be lots of teams who plan to make the race hard on the climb. We can expect some very aggressive riding on the climb and the final part of the stage will probably be a big chase, with a reduced peloton trying to catch some late attackers. The stage can be won from a reduced bunch sprint or from a breakaway.




Stage 2:

The second stage both starts and finishes in Draguignan and it is almost completely identical to the one that was used last year. The 206.8km course barely has a single meter of flat roads as it is up or down all day. Having left Draguignan along lumpy roads, the riders will tackle three laps of a difficult 25km circuit that includes the category 2 Bastide de Tourtour (6km, 6%). Then they head onto a second 35km circuit that includes the category 2 Col de la Grange (8km, 6%). They will do that circuit twice, with the final climb coming 70.7km from the finish. Then they head to the finish which they reach with 38.1km to go.


The final part of the stage consists of two different circuits. First the riders will tackle 20.4km that include the small climb of Route de Grasse before they end the stage by tackling the well-known 17.7km circuit that includes the famous Cote des Tullieres with passage of up to 15% just 16.6km from the finish. Then a gradual descent leads to the final 5km which are flat.


This is a very tough stage with a huge amount of climbing but history proves that it is possible for a strong sprinter to survive or make it back to the peloton on the final descent. That’s what happened last when Luka Mezgec won the stage. In 2013 and 2014, however, small groups managed to stay away and whether we will get a sprint finish or a breakaway win will depend on the composition of the late groups and the situation on GC.




The favourites

The Tour du Haut Var is one of the most unpredictable stage races on the calendar. With no major summit finishes or time trials, it is a race for classics specialists and it has the same chaotic nature. While a mountaintop finish is often decided by the strongest legs, the Tour du Haut Var is determined by a combination of tactics, luck and legs.


This year the race has its usual unpredictable nature. Both stages are lumpy but have flat finishes so it is possible for a strong sprinter who can survive a serious amount of climbing, to make it to the finish with the best on both days to claim the overall win. At the same time, both stages have climbs relatively close to the finish and it is definitely possible for strong groups to make it to the finish on both days. However, the flat finales means that sprinting skills will always be important in the Tour du Haut Var.


There are no bonus seconds in the Tour du Haut Var and this means that the race is decided by actual time. As both stages could be decided in sprints, it will probably come down to a countback, meaning that it will be decided by the lowest total of stage placings in the two stages among the riders who are in the same time. This means that the race suits fast riders who are strong enough to stay with the best on both days.


The climbs are never very steep or very long but the roads are narrow, the descents are technical and the courses are tricky. Both stages are like small classics and this means that it is a race for puncheurs, classics specialists and fast riders who can climb.


The field is loaded with good classics riders that are both fast and climb well and most of them tested their legs at last Sunday’s Trofeo Laigueglia. Here most of them showed excellent form and the list of in-form riders that can win this kind of event is long. This sets the scene for a very exciting race that has no big favourite and which can be won by a lot of different riders and teams.


Androni rarely win any races at this level but they have already been close twice in 2016. New signing Francesco Gavazzi has proved that he has his usual good condition right from the start of the year by taking second in the GO Costa degli Etruschi and fifth in Laigueglia. The Italian is tailor-made for this kind of race as he is one of the best in moderately hilly terrain and among the classics riders he is probably the fastest in this race.


In Etruschi, Gavazzi was able to stay with Diego Ulissi all the way to the top of the final climb but in Laigueglia he had to let Arthur Vichot and Ulissi go in the final part of the hardest climb on the finishing circuit. He made it back on the descent but was clearly suffering. Ulissi and Vichot will both be in attendance here and it will be hard for him to keep up with them on the final climbs in both stages. However, he won’t be far off the mark and he has ample of time to get back if he loses any kind of ground. He is faster than both Ulissi and Vichot and all the other classics riders in this race and will even have a chance in reduced bunch sprints where he can probably rely on an in-form Davide Vigano to do the lead-out. He can win this race from every scenario and so is our favourite to take overall victory.


Movistar go into the race with a strong team that includes both Jesus Herrada and Giovanni Visconti. Both are suited to this race as they are great in moderately hilly terrain and have a fast sprint. Visconti is probably slightly faster than Herrada but the Spaniard seems to be in better condition. In fact, Visconti has mainly been building condition until now while Herrada has been with the best on the climbs at both the Tour Down Under and the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. Hence, we expect the team to ride in support of the Spaniard who has a good track record in Spain. We doubt that anybody will be able to drop him on these climbs and in a sprint he is probably faster than the likes of Ulissi and Vichot.


Diego Ulissi has been close to victory in both Etruschi and Laigueglia. In both races, his Lampre-Merida team did their best to make the race hard but the Italian was unable to make the difference in the finale. In Etruschi, he was the strongest but couldn’t get rid of Gavazzi and Grega Bole and in Laigueglia he was the second best behind Vichot. There is no doubt that Ulissi is targeting victory in this race which suits him very well but he needs it to be as hard as possible. He is surrounded by a strong group of climbers that will try to do so, with Przemyslaw Niemiec set to play a key support role. There is no doubt that he is one of the best climbers in the race but he needs to get rid of the likes of Gavazzi on one of the stages to win the race.


Patrick Bevin had a fantastic debut on the WorldTour as he rode to 10th in the Tour Down Under. He is very fast in a sprint and climbs well in this kind of terrain. However, he has very little experience in European racing and the narrow, twisting roads could be a challenge for him. If he can handle that, he may already be strong enough to follow the best on the climbs and he will definitely be there in case of reduced bunch sprints. In that case, he will be one of the fastest.


Arthur Vichot is back to his best after an illness-marred season. He was incredibly strong in Laigueglia where he briefly managed to drop Ulissi on the final climb. There is no doubt that he will be one of the best on the climbs in this race but it will be hard for him to get rid of Ulissi. He is fast in a sprint but his main problem is that a few guys are faster than him, including Ulissi and Gavazzi.


Alexis Vuillermoz is another punchy climber who likes this kind of terrain. The Frenchman has been gradually building his form and was looking food in La Méditerranéenne where only a tactical mistake prevented him from being in contention for the overall win. Unfortunately, he had to abandon the race on the final day due to knee pain and this means that he could have lost a bit of form for this race and may not even be able to get through to the end. He is one of the best climbers in the race and has won sprints from small groups in the past but there are a few riders that are faster than him.


Tom-Jelte Slagter will be the second Cannondale card. This is a great race for the Dutchman who is strong on these climbs and fast in a sprint. He showed solid form in Valencia and is likely to have become stronger. If he has the legs he had last autumn, he will be strong enough to follow the best on the climbs. Unfortunately, he usually needs an uphill finish to really excel in the sprints


If it comes down to reduced bunch sprints in both stages, Alexey Tsatevich will be ready to strike. The Katusha rider is in very good condition at the moment. He did well at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and was second in the windy Clasica de Almeria. He is the kind of sprinter that can survive these climbs and if he is there at the finish he will be one of the fastest.


FDJ also have a few fast guys that will be ready as back-up plans if Vichot’s attacks fail. Matthieu Ladagnous and Anthony Roux have both shown good form and can win this kind of reduced sprints. Kevin Reza is evern faster and is suited to this terrain but his form is unknown as he had to skip Laigueglia due to a cancelled flight.


Cofidis have Julien Simon for this race and he is perfectly suited to both stages. At his best, he is very hard to drop in this terrain and he has won reduced bunch sprints in the past. However, he has not been at his best yet in 2016 and even though his form is clearly growing, he is probably not strong enough to go with the best yet. Furthermore, he has not been sprinting very well in recent years.


Finally, Petr Vakoc deserves a mention. Etixx-QuickStep have some solid climbers in this race but their best card is probably the Czech champion who is getting better and better. He was amazingly strong in last year’s Tour of Britain until he was taken out by a crash and he showed decent condition at the Tour Down Under. If he has improved, he may be strong enough to go with the best and he is relatively fast in a sprint. Furthermore, he has the right aggressive nature to maybe make a solo move in a tactical finale.


***** Francesco Gavazzi

**** Jesus Herrada, Diego Ulissi,

*** Patrick Bevin, Arthur Vichot, Alexis Vuillermoz, Tom-Jelte Slagter

** Alexey Tsatevich, Matthieu Ladagnous, Julien Simon, Petr Vakoc, Anthony Roux, Kevin Reza

* Matteo Montaguti, Ryan Anderson, Simon Spilak, Viacheslav Kuznesov, Davide Vigano, Gatean Bille



The Best Danish Cyclist To Bet On At 2022 Tour De France 13.01.2022 @ 15:262022 Upcoming Tournament Overview 03.01.2022 @ 09:45Best Place to Find Stand-Up Paddleboards 16.06.2021 @ 08:16What are Primoz Roglic’s Chances to Win 2021 Tour de Fr... 17.03.2021 @ 08:37Amazing victory by young champion Sarah Gigante 04.02.2021 @ 14:21Three reasons why cycling is one of the best ways to ex... 28.09.2020 @ 12:03Why do businesses use meeting room managers? 14.09.2020 @ 13:42Five things that you can do, if you want to gain more f... 20.08.2020 @ 15:38One for the road 09.06.2020 @ 15:25List of CyclingQuotes previews 07.05.2020 @ 13:20Blue Energy: room for all interests 26.08.2019 @ 12:56Get your daily dose of exercise at home 08.07.2019 @ 10:443 good advice to be able to afford your favorite bike 25.02.2019 @ 12:32Cycle through gorgeous landscapes 22.10.2018 @ 21:41Balance Your Economy and Diet and Start Saving Money 08.10.2018 @ 11:18Stay Safe: 3 Helmets That Can Keep Your Head Protected... 20.07.2018 @ 07:59Planning to bet on Tour De France - Bet types and strat... 24.05.2018 @ 14:18Basics of cycling betting 25.10.2017 @ 13:10Bauer moves to ORICA-SCOTT 28.08.2017 @ 10:45End of the road for CyclingQuotes 08.01.2017 @ 16:00Rui Costa confirms Giro participation 07.01.2017 @ 12:55Van Avermaet: I am not afraid of Sagan 07.01.2017 @ 09:45Unchanged course for E3 Harelbeke 07.01.2017 @ 09:32Jenner takes surprise win at Australian U23 Championships 07.01.2017 @ 08:53No replacement for Meersman at Fortuneo-Vital Concept 06.01.2017 @ 19:14Barguil with two goals in 2017 06.01.2017 @ 19:06More details about French Vuelta start emerges 06.01.2017 @ 14:16Kristoff to start season at Etoile de Besseges 06.01.2017 @ 14:10Ion Izagirre announces schedule for first year at Bahrain 06.01.2017 @ 12:40JLT Condor optimistic for Herald Sun Tour 06.01.2017 @ 09:19Haas leads Dimension Data trio in fight for Australian... 06.01.2017 @ 09:15Sagan spearheads Bora-hansgrohe at Tour Down Under 06.01.2017 @ 09:12Henao and Thomas lead Sky Down Under 06.01.2017 @ 09:09Bauer crowned New Zealand TT champion 06.01.2017 @ 08:33Van der Poel ready to defend Dutch title 05.01.2017 @ 21:00Pantano ambitious for first Tour with Trek 05.01.2017 @ 20:41Landa with new approach to the Giro 05.01.2017 @ 20:36Sunweb Development Team sign Goos and Zepuntke 05.01.2017 @ 20:27Dumoulin confirms Giro participation 05.01.2017 @ 20:19Bauer targets victories in Quick-Step debut 05.01.2017 @ 20:16Gaviria and Boonen lead Quick-Step in San Juan 05.01.2017 @ 20:13Team Sunweb presented in Germany 05.01.2017 @ 20:09ASO take over major German WorldTour race 05.01.2017 @ 11:01Team Sunweb unveil new jersey 05.01.2017 @ 10:54Reactions from the Australian TT Championships 05.01.2017 @ 08:27Dennis defends Australian TT title 05.01.2017 @ 08:21Scotson takes back to back U23 TT titles in Australia 05.01.2017 @ 08:15Utrecht on track to host 2020 Vuelta 04.01.2017 @ 18:28Pre-season setback for Talansky 04.01.2017 @ 17:56Kristoff: It's not impossible for me to win in Rou... 04.01.2017 @ 17:49Boom close to first cyclo-cross win in LottoNL debut 04.01.2017 @ 17:40UAE Abu Dhabi make late signing of Arab rider 04.01.2017 @ 17:36UAE Abu Dhabi unveil new jersey 04.01.2017 @ 17:30BMC unveil race schedule 04.01.2017 @ 17:21Androni sign Costa Rican super talent 04.01.2017 @ 17:13

Currently no news in this list

Alvaro ARNAL
42 years | today
37 years | today
40 years | today
26 years | today
33 years | today