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.
stg02_crash_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
Team Sunweb’s Martijn Tusveld went down early and had to abandon the race with shoulder pain. Photo: James Startt
stg02_peloton01_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
The stage was comprised of two Category 1 and two Category 3 climbs. Photo: James Startt
stg02_quintana03_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
Nairo Quintana is opening his 2020 season in Provence: Photo: James Startt
stg02_quintana01_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
Nairo Quintana set KOM on Mount Ventoux. Photo: James Startt
stg02_breakaway01_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
stg02_breakaway02_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
The breakaway was eventually reeled in. Photo: James Startt
stg02_break02_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
CCC Team drove the breakaway for much of the day. Photo: James Startt
stg02_bouhanni01_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
Sprinter Nacer Bouhanni was not liking the hilly parcours. Photo: James Startt
stg02_van marke01 route des cretes01_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
In a few weeks Sep Vanmarcke (EF Pro Cycling) will battle at the classics. This week he’s getting vital racing miles in his legs. Photo: James Startt
stg02_bouhanni02_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
Bouhanni was in the cars on the climbs. Photo: James Startt
stg02_haga01_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
Team Sunweb rode for Wilco Kelderman who finished second on the day. Photo: James Startt
stg02_peloton04_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
Early-season races like Provence are important tests of fitness before the WorldTour schedule gets busy in a few weeks. Photo: James Startt
stg02_kelderman route des cretes01_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
Kelderman brought home the group, 0:24 down on Vlasov. Photo: James Startt
stg02_alexandr vlasov02 route des cretes01_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
Vlasov attacked on the final climb and never looked back. Photo: James Startt
stg02_vlasov podium01_tour de la provence_2020 (1 of 1)
Vlasov now leads the GC in Provence. Photo: James Startt