It was supposed to be a picturesque ride through French Provence and into the impressive Camargue marshes to Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. While stage 1 of the Tour de la Provence offered some beautiful landscapes, the race itself was nothing short of explosive as the Ineos–Grenadiers led the charge, using the heavy Mistral winds to blow the race apart, and give Italian sprinter Elia Viviani his first win of the year.
Rolling through historic sites such as Les Baux de Provence or Arles — once home to the Romans and Vincent Van Gogh — there was plenty of site-seeing for anyone that had time to look around.
As soon as the race passed through Arles the speeds increased dramatically. And then, with a sudden acceleration by the race leader Filippo Ganna, the race splintered apart. Sure Ganna had just won the opening prologue time trial on the previous day, but today was all about giving his friend and countryman Viviani a helping hand.
And they had plenty of help with classics teams like the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team. But as the race headed towards Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for the final time Ineos still had the power of numbers, not to mention Viviani in the front group. And they used it, keeping the race together for Viviani, who closed the deal with little doubt.
World time trial champion and race-leader Filippo Ganna spent a lot of time on the front, driving the pace for Viviani.
World road champion Julian Alaphilippe enjoyed the morning sun by the lake at the start, in Istres.
The early breakaway led the race through the historic town of Arles.
The peloton wound its way through the olive orchards at the foot of Les Baux de Provence.
“Top Ganna” made life difficult for the pack fodder as he pushed the pace at the entry into the Camargue wetlands.
Elia Viviani may have been the protected rider on Ineos, but he had to take his pulls, too.
Alaphilippe was never far from the front, and by the end of the day, he moved from sixth to second place.
The peloton splintered on the exposed roads to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
While he kept a low profile, Colombian climber Nairo Quintana managed to stay in the front group. The winner of the Tour de la Provence in 2019, he will once again be a force to be reckoned with on the hillier stages.
As the race approached the finish, Viviani remained in the shadow of Ganna’s distinctive, black leader’s jersey.
And with his nose down, Viviani powered to the line for strong, early-season victory — one that must have been particularly satisfying after several lean years with Cofidis.