Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal and Vincenzo Nibali to start season in French stage race this week 

After the cancellation of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, Etoile de Bessèges is the starting point for plenty of big name riders 

The start of the season has already been delayed for plenty of star riders, following the cancellation of the Tour Down Under and more recently the postponement of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. 

But for many Grand Tour contenders the racing calendar restarts this season in France, with Etoile de Bessèges. 

The five-stage 2.1-ranked race, which runs from February 3-7, features 11 WorldTour teams including Ineos Grenadiers and Israel Start-Up Nation. 

There will be plenty of world-class riders racing in France, as Grand Tour contenders and Classics specialists begin their racing preparation. 

Ineos Grenadiers are taking a stacked line-up to France, including Geraint Thomas, Eddie Dunbar and Ethan Hayter.

According to a report from French newspaper L’Equipe, Egan Bernal is also expected to make his season debut, having not raced since abandoning the 2020 Tour de France due to back problems. 

Other Grand Tour stars starting the race include Vincenzo Nibali and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Rigoberto Urán, while Classics specialists Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) will race against rivals Tim Wellens, John Degenkolb and Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal). 

The race, centred around the Gard department in the south of France, will include three sprint stages and one undulating Classics-style stage, followed by an 11km individual time trial on the final stage, with a 2.5km, six per cent ramp to the finish. 

Previous winners include Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r La Mondiale) in 2020, his team-mate Tony Gallopin in 2018, and Bob Jungels 2015.

While the race often attracts a number of WorldTour teams, the start list for 2021 is a step above owing to the uncertainty around the season and the cancellation of other early-season races.

>>> First look at Tom Pidcock in Ineos Grenadiers kit 

The WorldTour calendar is still scheduled to get underway with the UAE Tour, starting on February 21, where Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation), Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) are all scheduled to start their seasons.