In Marseille on Thursday, five riders of the Groupama-FDJ cycling team launched their 2024 season with the prologue of the Tour de la Provence. A short but intense five-kilometre effort was on the program, and Sam Watson stood out by setting the third best time, only eleven seconds behind Mads Pedersen. Five of his teammates limited their losses (from 16 to 22 seconds), which made for a very solid overall result. On Friday, the peloton will head to Martigues.

After being canceled last year, the Tour de la Provence returned on Thursday with a four-day race starting from Marseille and finishing in Arles. Everything was then set to start in the port city, where a five-kilometre prologue along the coast had been designed. “It was a short and violent effort, similar to the track pursuit,” explained Thierry Bricaud. “It was a round trip, with only one turn, so there wasn’t much to do technically speaking.” The U23 French time trial champion, Eddy Le Huitouze, was the first to set off for the Groupama-FDJ team, shortly before 1:30 p.m. The young man took provisional fourth place, but some fifteen minutes later, Sam Watson came to the line and set the best time in 5’30. The Briton remained in the lead for almost half an hour before the day’s favorite Mads Pedersen beat him for eleven seconds. For an hour, the competitors continued to complete the course, and Rémy Rochas, Lorenzo Germani, Sven Erik Bystrøm and Lars van den Berg entered the top-20, or very close. On the other hand, no one was able to challenge Pedersen for victory, and only one man could slip between the Dane and Sam Watson, who eventually took third.

“We knew that Sam would be ready”, Thierry Bricaud

“I can say I’m pleasantly surprised with third place because I don’t feel like I’m close to my best shape yet,” said Sam shortly after the finish. “It’s definitely a good thing coming third, and I can be happy with the effort I did. I prefer this type of effort to a long time trial. I feel I’ve made a big improvement in my time trial in the last year, so I can say that I’m beginning to like time trials, and I didn’t think I’d be ever saying that (smiles).” “We approached the day with a lot of motivation and commitment, like we always do on the time trials,” said Thierry. “We could see it with the guys’ attitude on their bikes. The goal was to do the best possible result, even to win, but we knew it would be hard against Pedersen. Sam is beaten by a stronger rider, but he put in a great performance. Then, we have a nice group of riders around twentieth place. Five riders were back to racing. We knew they were in good shape from their training data, but it’s always better to confirm it on the ground with the competition. We knew that Sam would be ready, he had a little doubt, but his result proves he shouldn’t have!”

After this first day of racing, Sven Erik Bystrøm, Eddy Le Huitouze, Rémy Rochas, Lorenzo Germani and Lars van den Berg are also within a range of twenty-two seconds from leader Mads Pedersen. “It’s pretty good, we are in the mix in case of a lively race in the coming days, especially Saturday, which is more complicated, with also difficult weather conditions,” added Thierry. “If there is action, we should be there. Tomorrow, we might have a bunch sprint, with kind of a difficult approach. Matt [Walls] will be there to do his sprint and get his bearings.” “It should rain over the next few days, which could be a good thing for a British person,” concluded Sam. “We have Matt here for the sprints and it looks like the GC day will be stage 2. We will give our best shot, we have a lot of guys here who can do well.”

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