Since the 27-year-old Italian roared at Flanders last year in Belgium, everyone sat up and…
The early season races have a real “back to school” feel to them. Old friends catching up after a long off-season, new teammates trying to get to know each other, veterans coaching rookies that are racing in their first pro race, all are present and you can feel the excitement that fills the air. But the silver thread that connects all the riders is that they are all trying to figure out just how much rust is left on the legs after four months away from the races.
While we would usually have our first block of racing along the sunny coasts of Australia, this year, due to the travel restrictions, the team has taken to the South of France to get their first race miles in.
“It was great to be back with the team and to be racing again,” said Colombian veteran – Rigoberto Urán who is entering his sixth year with the team. “I really like the region so it was nice to be racing here. I live in Monaco which is just next door and I really find this area spectacular. I am really excited that we get to explore this region this year.”
After an exciting Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise which saw new riders Julien El Fares and Simon Carr both put on impressive performances, the Étoile de Bessèges promised to be an exciting race with a mixture of Classics riders and General Classification riders all present at the start.
Many names you would expect to see at the Tour of Flanders or at the Tour de France were present at the start line which made for an exciting, albeit chaotic, week of racing.
After a hectic stage 1 finale which saw multiple crashes, Michael Valgren – who was racing his first race with the team – was forced to abandon the race after sustaining fractures to both the 2nd and 3rd metacarpals in his left hand . “It’s not the best start, but it can only get better from now on,” said Valgren after the incident. “It was great to race with the guys, even though it was only for one day. I really enjoyed the atmosphere in the team.”
The racing over the next few stages remained action packed. As the peloton made their way through the Gard department of France, attacks from top guns came to be expected in the final of each stage and it was reduced groups that were left contending for race honors. Alberto Bettiol, who is getting ready for the Spring Classics less than a month away, and Rigoberto Urán were in the mix and showed that they will be ready when the bigger races come around.
The final stage involved a time trial through the streets of Alès. Alberto Bettiol finished 7th in a hotly contested stage and moved him up to 20th in the General Classification after losing some time due to some misfortune in the first few stages.
“Now we have to work to get better and continue the good work we started here at the next races,” said Urán at the end of the week.
The team will race again in Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var in less than two weeks time. It’s good to be back!