Etoile de Bessèges

Bessèges race guide

Stage-by-stage look at the route in the south of France

By Nick Howes   Last updated: 5th February 2010

The Etoile de Bessèges is the first European stage race of the season and Team Sky will be full of confidence after a strong showing at the GP Cycliste la Marseillaise on Sunday.

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The same seven riders that took part in that one-day event will be on hand once again and Steve Cummings could be the man to watch after his fourth-placed finish inside the Stade Velodrome. Sylvain Calzati is also tipped to challenge on home soil, and he has happy memories of the race after claiming second place overall in 2004.

Here we take a look at what they will face over five gruelling days in the south of France.

Background

The Etoile de Bessèges is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and its fifth as a top-rated event on the UCI's European Tour.

Although positioned in the spectacular Gard region, the race is renowned as a testing early-season outing and the riders commonly have to battle it out in wet and windy conditions.

With each of the five stages kept relatively short at between 140-150km, and with only a few truly punishing climbs, expect to see plenty of breakaways as the week unfurls. Traditionally the race favours flatland or sprint specialists with big names like Thor Hushovd, Enrico Gasparotto and defending champion Thomas Voeckler all expected to be among the frontrunners this time around.

Wednesday February 3: Stage One - Aigues Mortes to Le Grau du Roi - 146km

The race kicks off with seven and a half laps of a 19.5km route which heads north-east out of Aigues Mortes before looping back around in an anti-clockwise direction towards the coastal resort of Le Grau du Roi. The profile is flat all the way so expect to see plenty of breakaway attempts early on.

After those laps have been completed the riders continue south of Le Grau du Roi for one final kilometre which ends with an uphill burst outside the Flamingo Casino in Port Camargue.

Thursday February 4: Stage Two - Nîmes to Saint Ambroix - 141 km

The route heads north out of Nîmes and straight into the hills, with the first summit coming just 8km in at Sainte Anastasie (196m). After the descent there is undulating terrain for another 16km before the road kicks up again at Saint Hippolyte de Montaigu. Over the next 8.5km the riders will climb just short of 230m until they reach the village of Saint Marcel de Careiret. Once they are down the other side a short, flat section follows as the road heads east towards Saint André de Roquepertuis. The penultimate ascent sees the peloton climb all the way to Méjannes le Clap at 318m, and there is little let-up as the profile rises again at Mas d'Atuech (341m). Once they reach Saint Ambroix the riders take on six laps of the town before the race culminates with a downhill finish on the Boulevard Portalet.

Friday February 5: Stage Three - Pont Saint Esprit to Bagnols sur Ceze - 148 km

A gentle roll out sees the riders exit Pont Saint Esprit before following the river Lez south to Roquemaure. From there it is a short hike west up to Saint Victor la Coste and down into Laudun l'Ardoise. The first of three major climbs then takes the peloton all the way to Saint Marcel de Careiret (250m) for the second time in as many days. Then it's downhill all the way to Bagnols sur Cèze where they take on three laps of a 7.1km anti-clockwise route which includes a tough 256m ascent just past Carsan. Once they have scaled that it is back down into the centre of Bagnols sur Cèze for the finish.

Saturday February 6: Stage Four - Ales to Ales - 140km

Another gentle start greets the riders out of Ales but they will only have 40km to get themselves settled before the biggest climb of the tour gets under way at Cendras. The road rises 491m in the 11km it takes to get to Lamlouze (637m) and this section could prove pivotal despite it coming so early in the stage. Once over the summit there is a steep descent before another brute of a climb up to Portes (560m). Two smaller scrambles at Le Martinet and Saint Florent sur Azonnet will keep the muscles bulging all the way to Rousson before the road drops steadily all the way back into Ales.

Sunday February 7: Stage 5 - Gagnières to Bessèges - 145km

A nightmarish start to the final stage sees the pack head north out of Gagnières and straight up the Col du Grand Châtaignier (325m). The pace will really hot up when the riders fly down the D904 all the way to the banks of the river Cèze before heading back up towards Gagnières via Molières sur Cèze and Foussignargues. That route is repeated a further three times before cutting off at Foussignargues and heading up to Bessèges. The tour ends with seven quickfire laps down the Avenue Alphonse Peyric and back along the Rue Albert Chambonnet.

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