The Tour de la Provence was expected to be eventful until its very end. And it was so. The last stage led to some action, with echelons creating halfway through, and the riders fought in the Camargue wind for nearly 80 kilometers. Sam Watson and Sven-Erik Bystrøm managed to enter the right move and the Englishman ultimately took ninth place in a small group sprint won by Tom Van Asbroeck. In the general classification, the Briton climbed to tenth while Lorenzo Germani (14th) was caught behind in the echelons.
The Tour de la Provence’s overall ranking was anything but definitive at the start of Rognac on Sunday morning. Although the last stage was extremely flat towards Arles, it did include necessary conditions to turn the hierarchy upside down, and the riders had known this for a few days. After seventy kilometers to reach Arles for the first time, a long detour through the Camargue regional natural park was then on the menu, and the wind awaited them there. A breakaway featuring Kenny Molly, Kévin Avoine (Van Rysel-Roubaix), Thibaut Bernard (Bingoal-WB), Fabien Grellier (TotalEnergies), and Kasper Saver (Philippe Wagner-Bazin) first led the way and took a seven-minute lead, but at the exit of Arles, a completely different race began as expected. “We started to take command with Rémy to be positioned at the strategic moment, but everyone had the same information, and when it all happened, the strongest went,” said Thierry. “The splits happened quickly, and there was a small collision which made it all even more complicated.”
“We’re left hungry for more”, Thierry Bricaud
A first echelon of about twenty men got away, with Sam Watson and Sven-Erik Bystrøm in there. “As always when there is wind, there is a decisive moment when it splits,” said Sam Watson. “Unfortunately, when it happened, only Sven-Erik and I ended up in the front group. Lorenzo and Lars were close, but they just missed out, and then they stayed close for a long time.” In a second group of barely ten riders, the Italian and the Dutchman were a few seconds behind for about half an hour, but they never managed to bridge across. “It’s typical of the echelons,” added Thierry. “Either you come back straight away, or you stay in-between, and it gets complicated.” Before the last fifty kilometers, the first peloton made a definitive gap and then caught the morning breakaway. From then on, the day’s outcome seemed pretty clear “With the numbers of Lidl-Trek and Decathlon-AG2R, a sprint was almost guaranteed,” explained Sam. “There was a strong headwind at the finish. I found myself in the front positions a bit too soon, then with the wind, I couldn’t get the wheels back. In this type of sprint, you need to come from behind with speed.”
The British rider therefore settled for ninth place at the finish, where Tom Van Asbroeck took victory. “We don’t have too much regret as for today,” said Thierry. “We were committed, but we didn’t really prove successful. Lorenzo was also a little under the weather this morning. He still took the start, he fought as best he could, with his day’s strength, but he was not feeling great.” The Italian therefore had to give up his place in the overall top-10, while Sam Watson narrowly entered (10th). “We’re left hungry for more this week,” explained Thierry. “It was the start of the season for five of our riders, in difficult weather conditions. We were still there, but we’re not rewarded for the commitment we put in. Yesterday Sam missed a little something, today it was Lorenzo for different reasons. In the end, we were in the mix, but couldn’t get a great result.” The Groupama-FDJ cycling team still concluded the event with three stage top-10s, a podium on the prologue and with a rider in the final top-10 as well.