Cycling Weekly is off to the Tour du Haut Var this weekend.
The Tour du what?
Haut Var. It’s the bit of France inland from the Côte d’Azur. Largely ignored by British tourists but stunningly beautiful, especially the Gorges du Verdon. Rose wine and flowers are the local produce.
Fine. What about the race?
It’s a two-day cracker in its 42nd year – although a single-day race until last year – won by Raymond Poulidor back in 1969 and by some of the greatest names in cycling ever since.
Yeah, like who?
Sean Kelly, Freddy Maertens, Joop Zoetemelk (three times), and that French guy with the really dodgy mullet.
Yep, that’s him. Recent editions have seen the likes of Laurent Jalabert, Philippe Gilbert, Davide Rebellin and Filippo Pozzato topping the podium, so you know it’s a tough guy’s race.
What about last year?
Baby-faced Bbox Bouygues Telecom leader and lengthy break specialist Thomas Voeckler won from David Moncoutie and is back again to defend his title. Tour of the Med winner Alejandro Valverde is down to start, as is Garmin’s young Irish star Dan Martin, and Moncoutie will again be in the frame.
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Dan Martin gets on down to the Haut Var
Any Brits riding?
Team Sky bring Ben Swift, Chris Froome and Peter Kennaugh to the party. The new outfit has taken stages at the Tour Down Under, Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman and will be looking to move up to an overall winner.
Not forgetting Endura. The Scottish-based team got a tough introduction to top-level racing at the Tour of the Mediterranean but are in fine spirits and ready for more action. Their frenchman, Alexandre Blain, was going particularly well. Plus, they will heartened by the addition of Jack Bauer for Haut Var.
The New Zealand road race champion, not the fictional character off the telly. He must get soooo bored of that. He beat Hayden Roulston and Julian Dean to win the title, so he’s no slouch.
Is it a testing course?
A short loop skirting the edge of St Tropez…
Is that where all the scantily-clad rich ladies hang out?
Pay attention or you’ll go off course. Then we head inland for a total of four climbs before the sting in the tail, a short and steep 400 foot ascent into the finish town of Grimaud.
Sounds nasty. What about Sunday?
200km of hilly terrain, topped off by the Haute Categorie Col de Mons, before another uphill finish in Montauroux.
Hardcore! At least the weather is good in the South of France this time of year…
Ha ha ha ha! Did you see last week’s Tour of the Med? Frozen waterbottles, snow, ice and shortened stages due to foul weather. Haut Var is not looking much better. Thermals and overshoes will be the order of the day. Endura’s Scottish contingent should be right at home.
Hmm. No garden party, then? Hope the hotel’s got the heating turned up.
So do we. We are staying at Stephen Roche’s place, though, so we should be alright.
Oh, I get it. This is like Jack Bauer. It’s a bloke called Stephen Roche who owns a hotel, not the Tour de France winner.
Wrong. It’s THE Stephen Roche, who also won the Giro and the World’s in the same flippin’ year as the Tour, 1987. And he has a hotel near Nice, which is nice.
The real Jack Bauer takes NZ title
I trust you’ll be interviewing Stephen while you’re there?
It would be rude not to. He has promised to take us out for a gentle spin in the hills – unlike Rob Hayles and his Endura boys, who are threatening to kick our butts on the training camp. Charming men.
And will you actually be reporting from the race in between talking to Mr Roche and having your backsides battered?
Of course we will. Back on Saturday.