There was a time when the early season started in France. Before professional cycling kicked off the season in far parts of the world like Australia, Argentina, and the Middle East, races like L’Etoile des Besseges and the Tour Med served as season-openers. And while Besseges still very much still exists, a new generation of races are also making their mark, races like the Tour de la Provence or this weekend’s Boucles Drôme-Ardèche, two modest French races that have blossomed in recent years.
This was never more the case than in the Les Boucles which hosted powerhouse teams like Jumbo-Visma, UAE Team Emirates, Trek Segafredo, and Bora-Hansgrohe. Three-time Vuelta a España champ Primož Roglič was on hand as was two-time world champion Julian Alaphilippe with his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team.
It was Americans Sepp Kuss and Brandon McNulty who lit up the racing in the 2022 editions, on the rugged slopes of the Rhone River Valley in the Faun Ardèche Classic. Known for its terraced wine vineyards on the hills over the village of Cornasm, the stage was once again set for a spectacular finish. Kuss was the first to go on the attack but it was McNulty who launched the winning move over 20 kilometers from the finish. Using his time trialing skills he powered away from the pack, perfectly pacing himself over the final climbs for a spectacular solo victory.
And on Sunday it was Roglič’s teammate Jonas Vingegaard who powered to victory in the Faun Ardèche Classic. The surprise runner-up in last year’s Tour de France, Vingegaard bolted away with Spaniard Juan Ayuso on the longest climb of the day the Côte des Roberts, over 30 kilometers from the finish. And despite a spirited chase by the French trio of Alaphilippe, Guillaume Martin, and Benoit Cosnefroy, Vengegaard used his time trialing skills to hold on for an impressive victory for his Jumbo-Visma team.
Alaphilippe and Roglič led the pack over the climb in Cornas with the Rhone River Valley in their shadows.
The peloton cruised past impressive quarries in the opening kilometer of the Faun Ardèche Classic.
A festive spirit greeted the early breakaway in one of the many villages found in the Ardèche region of southern France.
The dizzying wine vineyards greeted the peloton at the foot of the Cornas climb.
Sepp Kuss launched the hostilities in the final, and although he was no match for McNulty on this day, he still managed a strong, third-place finish.
McNulty quickly gained ground with his blistering attack on the upper reaches of the Cornas climb.
Despite the repetition of steep climbs, McNulty did not falter.
And the young American had ample opportunity to savor victory by the time he reached the finish.
Apricot orchards and Cyprus trees welcomed the peloton on the Plateau du Soulier in the Drôme Classic.
The historic village of Allex greeted the riders year in and year out in the Drôme Classic.
Vingegaard and Ayuso powered away, more than 30 kilometers from the finish.
World champion Julian Alaphilippe led a late-race counterattack. And while he came up short, he did the rainbow striped-jersey honor with a fifth-place finish.
Vingegaard was justifiably ecstatic as he crossed the line after his impressive victory in the Drôme Classic.