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Van Aert, Pogačar, Matthews headline Bretagne Classic-Ouest France as season builds toward worlds

Race once known as GP Plouay brings finest puncheurs of peloton to parcours peppered with gravel and climbs.

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Tadej Pogačar, Wout van Aert, Biniam Girmay, Michael Matthews and defending champ Benoît Cosnefroy are pick of the puncheurs set for this year’s Bretagne Classic-Ouest France.

The race once known as GP Plouay returns Sunday as a feast of strong climbers and fast finishers line up for the WorldTour one-dayer.

“Plouay is never an easy race. You don’t have a single meter of flat roads there, just a lot of climbing and technical roads, and even some gravel sections in the last 80 kilometers,” Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl director Wilfried Peeters said.

Matthews, Pogačar and Van Aert take top-favorite status toward Plouay in the absence of last year’s runner-up and Quick-Step captain Julian Alaphilippe.

The threesome tore up the Tour de France last month and are looking to click back into a winning gear as they ride toward road worlds via Plouay and the approaching Canadian Grand Prix races.

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“I’m really looking forward to going back to Plouay and the Bretagne Classic, last time I was there I was able to win the race, which was one of my big goals in my career,” Matthews said. “It’s such a beautiful race and I love the roads around there.”

Racing to Wollongong via west France

Pogačar, Matthews and Van Aert all have big ambition for the Wollongong worlds, and the long, tough course on tap in north west France serves perfect preparation.

Some 3,400 meters of vert and a sprinkling of gravel pepper the 254km course to provide a rude awakening from any post-Tour downtime.

Van Aert for one will be looking to bounce back from his mid-summer slumber.

The Belgian was caught out of position and out of gas by Marco Haller at the Bemer Cyclassics last weekend and is slated to race just twice more before he toes the startline in Wollongong.

“The second place is disappointing, but it is also a sign that the form is in good shape,” Van Aert said last Sunday. “That gives a lot of confidence in the run-up to the upcoming races.”

“This year I opted for one-day races in preparation for a fresh start on the journey to Australia, where the worlds will take place,” Van Aert continued. “I can prepare with training just as well, and that way I hope to have a little more left than guys who are now riding stage races.”

Pogačar likewise suffered in his one race after the Tour, blowing early at the Clásica San Sebastián.

“What do I expect in Plouay? Probably to suffer a lot,” Pogačar said.

“I’ve trained well the last few weeks and feel strong but it usually takes a bit of time to really get back into the race rhythm. I’m really looking forward to getting back into the racing and kicking off the last part of the season.”

Also watch: Girmay, Laporte, De Lie

Van Aert will see his classics and Tour de France wingman Christophe Laporte by his side Sunday. Jumbo-Visma’s spring rival Girmay takes the reigns at Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert after riding a rollercoaster of form since a cork put a stop in his Giro d’Italia.

Benoît Cosnefroy returns to defend his title after an anonymous Tour de France, while the on-form 20-year-old Arnaud De Lie will be looking to continue his mission to save Lotto-Soudal after winning twice already this week.

Also watch out for Mikkel Honoré, Matteo Trentin and Groupama-FDJ’s quadruple threat of David Gaudu, Stefan Küng, Michael Storer and Arnaud Démare.