Cassel > Cassel 223km
The organisers have come up with a beauty of a circuit for the French road race title. Over 220km in length and more than 4200m of climbing is a huge day out for the riders. The race features laps around Cassel, you should be familiar with the town from the Queen stage in 4 Days of Dunkirk, and the cobbled climb features heavily in this race too.
Roasting hot, which will make a very tough day seem even harder.
There are two climbs on the circuit, both of which are very hard. First up is the cobbled climb used in 4 Days of Dunkirk, it’s around 2km at 4%, but the cobbles make it harder. The second climb is a little wall, 1km at 9.5%, but has 300m at 13%. This is the same climb, which was used at the end of the ITT, with 50m to go the riders make a right turn onto cobbles.
Are FDJ going all in for Pinot? He wants to win, it’s his big goal of the year, it’s a shame the weather isn’t playing ball. We’ve seen for many years that he suffers in the heat, and it’s going to be boiling hot on Sunday, terrible news for Pinot fans. FDJ have the best team in the race, they have 18 riders when you include their under 23 boys, we are likely to get the race they want.
Pinot will be held back as an ace in the pocket, which should free the likes of Gaudu and Madouas up to attack. Most people will be drawn to the final climb in the circuit, it’s very steep and suits the climbers in the bunch, but the cobbled climb will be even more important. Going uphill on cobbles is an art form, one that often cannot be mastered by skinny climbers, I can’t wait to see what impact it has on the race.
What normally happens in this race is the French pro teams battle against each other, constantly attacking and bringing each other back. Soudal – Quick Step will be sitting back praying this happens again, allowing them to “rest” until the final 50km, they might also consider attacking with Cavagna and forcing others to chase. It’s all about saving Alaphilippe until the finale, whenever that begins. All the talk is of Pinot, but this is a route which is perfect for Julian, and he also likes the sun on his back, it’s up to FDJ to be attacking and force him into using up vital energy.
Groupama – FDJ – Pinot is due to retire at the end of the year, but he’s said that if he wins this race, he’ll continue into 2024. He certainly has a good chance, he has a very strong team to support him, and the amount of climbing is perfect for a rider like him. I think he’ll be plan A, but they have other options too. Valentin Madouas should like this route, and then there’s David Gaudu who was far from top form at the Dauphiné. Romain Gregoire won the 4 Days of Dunkirk, he was 2nd in the Cassel stage, but given his age I think he’ll be riding for his more experienced teammates.
AG2R – Cosnefroy, Berthet and Paret-Peintre will all fancy their chances in this race, but AG2R don’t look as strong as they’ve done in previous years and this route isn’t ideal for their leaders.
Cofidis – Martin, Lafay and Zingle will provide Cofidis with excellent options in race like this. If it turns into a climber’s race, Martin and Lafay will hope to be in the mix for the win, but I’m not sure how they’ll go on the cobbled climb. The final rise to the line is perfect for Lafay, not many can follow him on steep gradients.
Julian Alaphilippe – in my opinion, he should be starting as the big favourite. He impressed in the Dauphiné, okay he wasn’t at his very best, but he was looking much better compared to earlier in the year. He goes well on cobbles and has the punch for the final kilometre. The problem is only having two teammates, that will make life difficult for him, that’s the reason he’s never won this race before.
It’s so hard the cream will rise to the top.
A win for Julian Alaphilippe.