It has been a great start to the new season for Cofidis, who took their fourth victory in 2022 in Tour de la Provence Stage 2. The short uphill finale was perfectly made for the French team’s lightweight sprinter Bryan Coquard, who beat Mads Pedersen uphill at Besseges a week ago.
Stage 2 included Col de l’Aire del Masco, cresting 28km from the finish and around 6.6 km at 4.8%, then finishing in Manosque with a slight uphill finish that was used in last year’s edition. Quick-Step sprinter Davide Ballerini was victorious then ahead of Ciccone on this long drag uphill. The Italian would have also started in Provence this year, but he tested positive for Covid-19 just prior to the race.
Before the stage started, more Covid news struck, as INEOS issued a release stating that Olympic road race champion Richard Carapaz had tested positive for the virus. That meant INEOS’ only GC hope at this point in the race was the 88 kilogram beast Filippo Ganna, after Ethan Hayter lost more than 11 minutes in the windy stage yesterday (largely at the hands of his own team).
Early in the stage a 5-man breakaway formed that included Alexis Gougeard (B&B Hotels – KTM) and Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies). Both French riders survived the longest, with Ourselin winning most combative rider after the stage.
In the peloton things became nteresting with 31 kilometres to go when Cofidis, working for Bryan Coquard, set Col de l’Aire del Masco on fire with a team attack. The pace was high enough to drop multiple riders that included INEOS’ sprinter Elia Viviani, a move reminiscent of Bora-Hansgrohe’s all out assault on Valico della Somma for Peter Sagan in the Giro d’Italia, where they dropped Nizzolo and Groenewegen before a flat finish.
Groupama-FDJ leader Arnaud Demare was strong enough to hold onto the peloton and get over the climb on this stage, with the help of new teammate Michael Storer, who also helped Demare with positioning before the sprint.
British champion Ethan Hayter, who had a terrible day on stage 1, got dropped on the descent and never returned back to the peloton, an added unexpected bonus for Cofidis who were already committed fully with the whole team pacing full gas down the hill.
While Cofidis was going all-in and sacrificing their riders, Alexis Gougeard in the breakaway dropped Paul Ourselin on a small hill. Usually this would seem just like a late bid to win the day’s combativity prize, but the previous Vuelta a Espana stage winner held a decent size gap of 51 seconds with only 11km remaining, and Cofidis had used a lot of energy and domestiques already in the stage to drop Viviani – leaving them unable to seriously pace.
Eventually Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team started to set the tempo for Julian Alaphilippe in the last 10 kilometres. The World Champion today was riding in the golden points leader’s jersey and even if he did not win the stage, he was likely to take additional bonus seconds at the finish, all of which he will appreciate ahead of tomorrow’s mountain top finish.
Gougeard was finally caught with just 2 kilometres to go, as the road had already started to incline. This prompted some surprising attacks from the peloton, including from both of the teams that had taken it upon themselves to control a lot of the day’s action. Quick-Step rider Ilan van Wilder tried his luck, but he did not get far from the group followed by Cofidis’ Pierre-Luc Périchon, who was perhaps intending to force Quickstep’s hand and hoping to isolate Alaphilippe. He was caught uphill by Dries Devenyns for Quickstep, who tried for a time to set up the sprint for his team leader Alaphilippe – decently placed in around fourth wheel.
The first one to launch his sprint was Pierre Latour, after Devenyns pulled off and Ganna was unwilling to pull as he intended to sprint for himself for a change. Latour needed to overtake a lot of riders, spending a lot of energy even to get level with Ganna because of his deep initial starting position. Coquard reacted quickly and jumped to the left to draft Latour, taking the wheel from an alert Quintana. Alaphilippe was caught on the wrong side of Mads Wurtz Schmidt’s wheel when the move went left and the best he could do was to reach the back of Coquard’s wheel in the dying metres. A wonderful team performance by Cofidis, who executed their plan perfectly during the stage and Coquard showing a much better level after a disappointing 2021.
Filippo Ganna finished 3rd and will keep his leader’s jersey, due to the four bonification seconds at the finish. Alaphilippe is only two seconds back on GC behind Ganna before the last stage, after a solid opening time trial and regular bonification seconds over the previous two stages.
The final stage will end on Montagne de Lure, a 13.4 kilometre long, 6.5% gradient climb. Nairo Quintana finished 6th today in the final sprint, level with Arnaud Demare on a finish that did not really suit him. His prologue was strong and he was riding like a man who means business in the crosswinds yesterday. All indications are that he is the man to beat for the stage tomorrow, but the question is whether he can do enough to put 25+ seconds into Alaphilippe to take the overall victory. It is not that hard a climb, so if he wants the GC win, Arkea will need to launch it from far, which should make for exciting viewing.