The Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var is a 2.1 category race that takes place in south eastern France.
This year is no different with 12 WorldTour teams down to be at the start line in Biot on Friday (February 19) as well as some of the top ProTeams in racing - Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) will return and hope to defend his title.
These are just five things you should be looking out for at the 2021 Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var:
Grand Tour contenders
For such a small race the field is worthy of any Grand Tour.
Quintana, the Colombian climber, said that he will be turning his focus to the Tour de France as that is the only Grand Tour his team has been invited to. So he is, once again, building towards that and using Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var as a prep race.
Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart (both Ineos Grenadiers) will be riding. This is Thomas' second race of the season but Geoghegan Hart's season debut after that incredible Giro d'Italia win in 2020 on the final stage, with both British riders looking at a tilt towards the Tour later in the year. Ineos also have Rohan Dennis and Pavel Sivakov as real big hitters in the GC too.
Jakob Fuglsang carries the leadership alongside Gorka Izagirre for Astana-Premier Tech. Fuglsang has decided that the Ardennes Classics and Grand Tour stage wins are more his thing this year and will not be pursuing the GC in any of the three-week races, but will be hoping to have a good go at this race.
Thibaut Pinot and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) are two riders that are in very different places seemingly, with Pinot saying he doesn't like being a leader for a GT and struggling with his career, while Gaudu was riding superbly strong at the Vuelta a España in 2020, taking two stage wins and eighth overall.
Trek-Segafredo have brought a selection that could go for GC depending on how the race goes, with Bauke Mollema and Giulio Ciccone coming off the back of solid top tens at the Tour de la Provence as well as last year's seventh place, Julian Bernard and Gianluca Brambilla being part of a very solid group.
Other very strong GC riders that are worth watching are Fabio Aru (Qhubeka-Assos), Jesús Herrada (Cofidis), Clément Champoussin (Ag2r-Citroën), Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Cotroën), Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates), David De La Cruz (UAE Team Emirates), Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), Pierre Latour (Total Direct Energie) and Xandro Meurisse (Alpecin-Fenix).
There are six British riders to look out for at the Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var with three of them riding for Ineos Grenadiers.
Thomas and Geoghegan Hart are already mentioned as they look to shape their form, but making his debut for the team is Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) after yet another stellar cyclocross season, the young star is hoping to start his season with a bang.
Simon Carr will be making his second appearance for his team, EF Education-Nippo, after a very good showing at the GP La Marseillaise. The young Brit from Hereford may have a chance at being the leader of the team as they haven't brought a standalone leader.
Alpecin-Fenix are bringing a young British rider with them too, Ben Tulett, who will be hoping to put in a good show on the climbs as he looks to help his leaders and maybe have a good go at the GC himself.
Finally, Stuart Balfour riding for Swiss Racing Academy comes to the race as potentially yet another British hope for general classification. He managed a very respectable seventh place at last year's Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc, a very mountainous race.
Not a flat road in sight
The route for the 2021 Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var is like it usually is, not a flat road to be found. But the way it is set out looks a bit backwards, with the big climbs coming on stage one and, while stages two and three look tough, they look to potentially favour a sprinter that can get over the hills rather than a climber.
Stage one pictured above looks like the main stage for the general classification, with three laps around the finishing climb up to Gourdon.
With 188km of racing in the legs, this stage should have some real fireworks.
Stage two has a very sharp, steep and tight finish but should still feature some of the sprinters that are good climbers. The main climb of the day comes just before the halfway mark of the stage so shouldn't have any major impact on the 177.4km stage.
The final stage has a much more challenging look to it and should feature the GC riders, but depending on how it is raced, there may be some faster punchers left in the group come the finish in Blausasc after the short 134.7km day.
Sprinters are, unsurprisingly, at a premium at this race, but some have made the trip and will likely be aiming for stage two with an outside shot at stage three.
Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) will be hoping to continue the form he showed at Étoile de Bessèges earlier in the year where he took one stage and a couple of podiums on hilly stages.
Van Avermaet may be looking at the GC but also stage wins will be on his mind as he looks to build towards the Classics, while his team-mate, Oliver Naesen will also hope to have a good showing on these harder sprint days.
Amaury Capiot (Arkéa-Samsic) will definitely be hoping he can have a chance at going for stage two if he isn't on protection duty for Quintana - he has a superb turn of speed and can get over the hilly stuff, as he showed getting a top 10 at GP La Marseillaise this year.
Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo) is likely to be the main focus for the American team as they haven't brought an out-and-out GC leader.
Pidcock will be keen to have a go in the sprints too with potential for a stage win in his debut race surely something that he craves.
Ryan Gibbons (UAE Team Emirates) is definitely one of the fastest riders on the start list, with the South African champion hoping to get his first win for his new team nice and early.
Daryl Impey (Israel Start-Up Nation) is having a very different start to his season with his new team as he was not able to compete in the Australian races after they were cancelled for this year, so he will be hoping to bring that early season form to the Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var.
Other sprinters to watch for are Hugo Hofstetter (Israel Start-Up Nation), Fabio Felline (Astana-Premier Tech), Anthony Turgis (Total Direct Energie), Anthony Maldonado (St Michel-Auber93) and Julien Antomarchi (Xelliss-Roubaix Lille Métropole).
Young riders aplenty
While there is a plethora of big names with stacks of experience, there are several exciting young riders to watch out for at the race. We've mentioned the British talents, so lets look at the international hopes for the future.
Kevin Vermaerke (Team DSM) is likely going to be the German team's leader for the overall standings - a very exciting rider coming out of the USA, he was signed from the talent generator that is Hagens Bermans-Axeon.
DSM have brought a very young team, as they so often do, but two others on the team stand out, Marco Brenner and Henri Vandenabeele, as the young German and Belgian are both talented climbers.
With 18-year-old Brenner coming with the junior German national title as well as fourth and second in the junior European road race and time trial last year.
Belgian Vandenabeele comes with a few more results to his name, including multiple top 10s in various mountainous and hilly races including second place behind Pidcock at the under 23 Giro d'Italia last year, as well as taking a stage and second overall at the Ronde de l'Isard.
Another young rider that is taking the step up to the WorldTour is 20-year-old Czech rider, Karel Vacek riding for Qhubeka-Assos. A talented puncher, this rider has the potential to be right up there in a couple of stages at this race, but don't be surprised to see him in the break going for mountain points.
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