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Feb 29, 2016 – It was not so long ago that the key early-season races were were not found in countries in the Southern Hemisphere or Arab World, but rather in a small corner of Southern France. Races like the Grand Prix of Cannes or Monaco or the Tour of the Haut Var, all provided perfect build up to what was considered the true start of the cycling season with the Paris-Nice race.
Photos and Words by James Startt
Until recently, it seemed as though such races were a part of cycling’s past, as many have disappeared. But suddenly a host of new races are stepping up to fill the void. La Mediterraneenne, a four-day event replaced the Tour Med this year while the Tour de la Provence, another new race, offered top professionals with three days of racing just last week. And this past weekend Les Boucles Drôme Ardéche provided the peloton with the final warm-up to Paris-Nice, which starts on Sunday, March 6.
Although the races were held in the shadows of Belgium’s Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the season’s first classics, a top international field that included no less than nine World Tour teams lined up in Southern France. Held on the pointed slopes of the Drôme and Ardéche regions, confirmed climbers like Frank Schleck, Samuel Sanchez and Romain Bardet preferred to hone their condition here rather than tempt fate on the cobbled roads of Belgium. But it was 23-year-old Czech Republic sensation Piotr Vakoc, who stole the show, winning both races for his Etixx-Quickstep team. How do you say “a star is born in Czech?” Zrodila se hvězda.