Trek-Segafredo head into the key stage at the Tour de la Provence with two cards to play in Bauke Mollema and Giulio Ciccone. The third day of racing is set to finish at the Chalet Reynard ski station on Mont Ventoux.
The outcome of the stage will likely decide the overall standings in the four-day event with current leader Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck-Quick Step) expected to fade on the 9.7km climb, which averages 9.1 per cent.
Ciccone finished a creditable second on stage 2, behind Ballerini, and finds himself 33 seconds off the lead, while Mollema is just fourth overall, 19 seconds down.
Ciccone is rebuilding his form after a positive test for COVID-19 and then surgery at the end of 2020. He is set for leadership at the Vuelta a Espana this year but is hoping to kick-start his season with a strong opening in France this week.
“The stage will be a very interesting test for everyone. In these first two stages I raced following the feeling and my desire to definitely leave behind the 2020 season with strong performances,” Ciccone told Cyclingnews at the end of stage 2.
“Today, for example, I didn’t expect to be a contender for success on a stage like this. To be honest – I feel good, the climb it’s exciting and fascinating, but tomorrow will be another story compared to these two days. I’m not saying this to hide my intentions but with realism. I’ll understand my chances as we go along.”
Mollema is set to race both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France this year alongside fellow veteran co-leader Vincenzo Nibali. The Dutch rider finished in the middle of the pack at Etoile de Besseges earlier this month but is already finding some season form. The level of competition in Provence is high, especially with a flurry of WorldTour teams scrambling for invites after a number of other early season races were called off due to COVID-19 restrictions. Mollema has sensed the increased tension in the peloton since stage 1 but is looking forward to laying down a marker on Ventoux.
“I arrive at this first hard test after a good debut at Besseges and two stages, here in Provence, that were anything but easy. Of course tomorrow’s stage it’s the most intriguing for me, as well as the one that will define the classification,” he said after stage 2.
“The goal is pretty simple – be on the front to play my chance at my best and to be in a good position in the general classification at the end of the day. The level of competitors is at a high level and, as we have seen in the races so far, the level of competitiveness is high. You can also feel it from the tension in the peloton, the fight to keep the positions of so many riders. Everyone is at the start of the season, but I think it will be a nice challenge to see.”