Astana-Premier Tech pair Aleksandr Vlasov and Alexey Lutsenko head into the key stage at the Tour de la Provence hoping to repeat their performance from last year’s corresponding stage when they both finished inside the top four and eventually finished second and third overall.
Like last year, the Queen stage at the Tour de la Provence sees riders tackle a large portion of Mont Ventoux, with the finish at the well-known Chalet Reynard ski station. The peloton will climb a shade under 10km, with an average gradient of over 9 per cent and commentators seeing this as the first true mountain finish of the 2021 season.
While Davide Ballerini currently leads the four-day race after winning the opening two stages, the Italian is likely to fade once the road begins to rise on the final ascent, with both Vlasov and Lutsenko among a large group of riders currently 20 seconds off the race lead.
Vlasov’s condition is a slight concern given that he crashed in the final of stage 2 but Astana’s director sportive, Dmitriy Fofonov is cautiously optimistic for his riders’ chances. According to the former Credit Agricole and Astana rider, the team see Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and world champion Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) as the main GC threats on the stage.
“Honestly, at the moment it is difficult to say anything about our form because so far we did just two stages and none of them was really selective. Both, Alexey and Aleksandr are feeling good, they did very productive work at the training camp, but we will see their real level only tomorrow,” Fofonov told Cyclingnews after stage 2.
“At the Tour de la Provence we see many riders who are in a very good shape already, our guys tried to do something today, but if we want to compare our level we have to wait for tomorrow.”
According to Fofonov, given Lutsenko’s ride last year and Vlasov’s trajectory over the last 12 months, the element of surprise has been taken away but the two Astana riders will be in the mix on the deciding climb.
“Last year Lutsenko and Vlasov did a very nice race here, our rivals already know what to expect from them, we are among the favourites. But, of course, there are many big stars here, for example Egan Bernal or Julian Alaphilippe. It is our first race in 2021 season and the main goal is to feel the race and to see our level, to evaluate the work had been done during the winter. So, of course, we are going to try something tomorrow with Alexey and Aleksandr, but we have to see how the race will go on.”