After a four and a half month pause, bike racing is back in France this weekend.
The four-stage Route d’Occitanie kicks off in southwest France Saturday and has drawn a packed start list of riders looking to get their race legs turning ahead of the Tour de France later this month.
Egan Bernal, Chris Froome (both Ineos), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Miguel Angel López (Astana), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) are among those opting to start their Tour preparation on French roads this weekend rather than lining up for coinciding Spanish race the Vuelta a Burgos.
Set on the fringes of the Pyrénées, no stage is straightforward at La Route d’Occitanie, with categorized climbs coming thick and fast throughout. Stage 3, Monday will take the peloton into the heart of the high mountains and will likely see the GC decided as the likes of Froome, Bernal and Pinot take on Tour icons the Porte de Balès and Peyresourde before grinding their way up the 11-kilometers Col de Beyrède summit finish.
Jumbo-Visma’s trio of Tour leaders Tom Dumoulin, Primož Roglič and Steven Kruijswijk are holding out for the Tour de l’Ain, August 7, to start their season, and Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) is returning to racing at the Ventoux Denivélé next Friday. Despite their absence, the stacked lineups confirmed by Team Ineos, Astana, Groupama-FDJ, and Ag2r-La Mondiale will give an insight into how top riders have faired through the coronavirus lockdown.
All eyes will be turned to Team Ineos and their pair of captains in particular. A lot has changed since Froome and Bernal last raced together in early 2019. Team tensions and questions over leadership swirled through early 2020, culminating in the recent news that Froome would be leaving the team to take sole leadership at Israel Start-Up Nation at the end of the year.
Any remaining cracks in the Ineos armada could become apparent at the Route d’Occitanie in the coming days. If they do, the team will have four weeks to paper them over before the Tour rolls out of Nice August 29.