The Tour de la Provence takes place in south eastern France over the course of four stages and while it is still quite a small race, it does attract a fair few top names every year thanks to its challenging terrain.
Racing is set to start on Thursday, February 11 with an extremely exciting start list being entered into the race, including 2019 Tour de France champion Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers).
Here are five things to look out for in the upcoming four days of racing around the Provence region of France:
World-class general classification battle
Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) is not set to attempt to retain his title at the race after his commanding display at last year’s event saw him take overall victory by over a minute on Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier-Tech), with Quintana setting a record pace up Mont Ventoux to Chalet Reynard.
Ineos Grenadiers are bringing a superb squad around Bernal, who began his race calendar last week at Étoile de Bessèges before heading to Provence.
Jack Haig will be making his debut for Bahrain Victorious before heading to the UAE Tour to support Mikel Landa. Wout Poels will also be riding at Provence in a co-leadership role.
World champion Julian Alaphilippe (Decuninck – Quick-Step) will be making his first appearance in 2021 and is likely to come as the GC leader for the Belgian squad, but may just look for stages.
Second place last year and winner of the Mont Ventoux challenge, Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), is set to return with a very strong lineup, with Alexey Lutsenko and the Izagirre brothers, Ion and Gorka, there to support the young Russian.
Other GC names to watch include Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroën), Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe), Enric Mas (Movistar) and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo).
Top sprinting talent
Some top sprinters are set to take to the start line in Aubagne on February 11, including French champion Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), the rider who won the most races last season with 14 wins.
Alongside him, a double header from UAE Team Emirates sees two former European champions attend, Alexander Kristoff alongside out-of-form Matteo Trentin potentially as Kristoff’s lead out man.
Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) will be hoping to continue his form and possibly take a win after putting in a strong performance at Étoile de Bessèges, narrowly missing out on stage wins.
Other sprinters riding are; Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept), John Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal), Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious), Biniam Ghirmay (Team Delko)
Plenty of British talent to look out for
Connor Swift and Dan McLay are both integral parts to Nacer Bouhanni’s Arkéa lead out train, with the fiery French sprinter looking to perform at the highest levels again.
Matthew Walls will be making his debut for new team, Bora-Hansgrohe, after signing to beef up their sprinting potential. The track star is likely going to be the team’s sprinting focus for Provence.
Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) is starting up his second year on the WorldTour with the team from the Middle East with him in a support role during the four days in France.
British champion, Ben Swift, is the only British rider in attendance for Ineos Grenadiers at the race, but will likely have a go at a few sprints and also support his leaders in the mountains.
Chris Lawless (Total Direct Energie) will be the sprinting aim for the French team as he continues his first season away from Ineos.
Mark Donovan (Team DSM) is another Brit taking on his second WorldTour season after performing well for then Team Sunweb at races like the Vuelta a España in 2020.
Mont Ventoux, albeit just to Chalet Reynard
Yes, Mont Ventoux is back at the Tour de la Provence, but the riders won’t be heading all the way up to the top, instead finishing at Chalet Reynard, just about 6km from the top.
Last year saw Quintana absolutely fly up the climb as he showed he had some incredible form going into his debut season for Arkéa-Samsic, supposedly breaking a record for fastest time up to that point on the climb.
Since then, we have had the Mont Ventoux Challenge, where then Russian champion, Vlasov took victory ahead of a struggling Quintana who was coming back from injury.
The mountain is steeped in history, going back to the tragic death of British rider, Tom Simpson to the complete contrast of the crazy moment of Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) ran up the mountain at the Tour de France.
But past history aside, this is going to be the stage that decides the race winner on the penultimate day of the four day race.
One heck of a jazzy jersey
One of the craziest jerseys in the cycling calendar is at the Tour de la Provence, with its patchwork style of blue, red, black, white and yellow, it is certainly one of the more bizarre jerseys to be won.
In contrast, the other leaders jerseys at the race are toned down and rather smart looking with the points jersey being a combination of black, white and red stripes going diagonally up the jersey, the mountains jersey is a light blue a red polka dot jersey on a white background and the best young riders jersey is two greens put together along with another diagonal stripe, this time of red, white and green.