There was a time not so long ago when the professional cycling season started not in Australia, the Middle East or South America, but in Spain, Southern France and on the Italian Riviera. At least some of that spirit, however, has been rekindled in recent years with the magnificent Tour de la Provence.

Southern France boasts a number of extremely steep pitches. This year the Tour de la Provence will hit 30 percent ramps during the ascent of the Route des Crêtes. Photo: James Startt

Rising from the ashes of the Tour Mediterranean, le Tour de la Provence is now in it’s fifth year, and it has quickly earned a reputation as an ideal early-season stage race, bringing together a consistently strong field on an unforgettable stage that is French Provence.

Riders raced on the Circuit Paul Ricard racetrack in 2019. Alas, the auto racing circuit does not return this year. Photo: James Startt

And this year’s race will be no exception. Starting on Thursday just outside of Avignon, the first stage is designed for sprinters and will race down through the marshes of le Camargue, finishing at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. In terms of sheer beauty, nothing can surpass stage two, which finishes with two ascensions of the breathtaking Route des Crêtes, a technical road that skirts over the cliffs of the Mediterranean, boasting pitches of nearly 30 percent.

The vineyards of southern France provide a stunning backdrop to the Tour de la Provence. Photo: James Startt

But the queen stage in terms of climbing comes on Saturday when the race hits the Mont Ventoux, with a stage finish at Chalet Reynard. And finally the sprinters will have one last opportunity on the picturesque last stage from Avignon to Aix-en-Provence, a stage set for impressionist painters.

Deceuninck—Quick Step will return in 2020, even if the Circuit Paul Ricard will not. Photo: James Startt

Only four days, the Tour de la Provence nevertheless offers something for a variety of riders and a diverse field will be on hand once again this year, one that includes Colombian star Nairo Quintana (Arkéa Samsic), Italian Domenico Pozzovivo (NTT Pro Cycling), Belgian classics specialist Sep Vanmarcke (EF Pro Cycling), British climber Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling), Russian standout Pavel Sivakov (Team Ineos) as well as French stars Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Warren Barguil (Arkéa Samsic) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ).

The Tour de la Provence brings high level racing back to southern France. Photo: James Startt

Stay tuned to velonews.com for galleries and insights from the Tour de la Provence.

Tour de la Provence stages:

1. Châteaurenard – Les Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer. 150.1 km

2. Aubagne – La Ciotat(Route des Crêtes). 174.8 km

3. Istres – Mont Ventoux (Chalet Reynard. 143.5 km

4. Avignon – Aix-en-Provence. 169.9 km