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Gallery: A view from inside le Tour de la Provence’s peloton on stage 2

Russian rider Aleksandr Vlasov of Astana won Friday's stage 2 at le Tour de la Provence, which took in a series of picturesque climbs along the Mediterranean coast before the summit finish to La Ciotat. Photographer James Startt was there to capture the early-season action.

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That golden light, so typical of French Provence in the late winter months, was out in full Friday for stage two of the Tour de la Provence. And served on tap today was the first climbing day of the race, featuring two key climbs in this southern corner of Provence.

While the Col de l’Espigoulier and the Route de Crêtes are not the high mountains of the Tour de France, or even on par with Mont Ventoux, which the race will tackle Saturday. Still, both climbs are plenty hard to test out the climbing legs early in the season.

Friday’s hilly course skirted the Mediterranean and featured multiple climbs with views of the water. Photo: James Startt

While the Espigoulier is longer, all eyes were on the final climb up the Route des Crêtes that served as the finish today. Cimbing out of the port town of La Ciotat, it is only four kilometers long, but with pitches nearing 20 percent, it is plenty steep. While the pack hit the climb at high speeds, it became quickly apparent that the heavy pre-race favorites like Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Nairo Quintana (Arkea Samsic) or Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), were only too happy to control the race and save their best for Saturday’s ascension of the Mont Ventoux.

Spring is just a few weeks away here in Provence, and the trees are preparing to bloom. Photo: James Startt

But the situation proved to be the perfect scenario for young up-and-coming Russian rider Alexandr Vlasov (Astana). Only in his second year in the World Tour, the 23-year-old Astana rider already won the Russian national road title, and it was clear today that, when it comes to climbing, he has speed to burn. And after finishing with a 23-second gap on the field, he just may be hard to beat here in Provence. But ultimately the decision will be up to the Mont Ventoux on Saturday. No other major race has scaled the Giant of Provence so early in the season. And there is no telling how even the most experienced climbers will react.

Le Tour de la Provence
Stage 2 (Aubagne – La Ciotat)

  1. Aleksandr Vlasov, Astana, 4:30:57
  2. Wilco Kelderman, Team Sunweb
  3. Alexey Lutsenko, Astana
  4. Magnus Cort, EF Pro Cycling
  5. Andrea Bagioli, Deceuninck-Quick Step
  6. Eddie Dunbar, Team Ineos
  7. Thibaut Pinot, Groupana-FDJ
  8. Nairo Quintana, Arkea Samsic
  9. Aurelien Paret-Peintre, AG2R La Mondiale
  10. David Gaudu, Groupama-FDJ, all at 0:24

General Classification

  1. Vlasov, 7:47:22
  2. Kelderman, at 0:28
  3. Lutsenko, at 0:30
  4. Cort, at 0:34
  5. Alex Aranburu, Astana, at s.t.