Even though it’s much diminished in status (only three WorldTour teams), I much enjoy watching the Tour Cycliste International du Haut Var-Matin. Last week-end it was a cool, clear and sunny morning as I drove along the La Provençale motorway in the direction of the Var. Despite the bare vines and trees, the bright bursts of yellow from the flowering mimosa among the green pines made me feel as if we were on the cusp of spring. I parked up in Le Cannet des Maures, a pretty village just off the motorway, and enjoyed a pot of tea while watching the crowds amass and the teams arrive. The race generally attracts just a local crowd and only a smattering of press.
No occasion is too small for the local band and there were plenty of stalls – I picked up some early asparagus and a dozen free-range eggs – to entice the crowds. The race has moved from late February and now clashes with a number of more prestigious races, the Tours of Oman, Algave and Andalucia, which explains the paucity of WorldTour teams. However, it’s sponsored by the legendary Raymond Poulidor, the race’s first victor in 1969, the commentary entices the voice of cycling aka Daniel Mageas out of retirement, former UCI President Pat MacQuaid lives close by and pops over to mingle with the great and good while Stephen Roche drives a few VIPs around the course.
There were plenty of kids autograph hunting and hoping pick up a bidon or cycling cap. Everyone wanted their photograph taken with the French national champion and pre-race favourite, Arthur Vichot (FDJ) who was happy to oblige. There were plenty of unknowns at the race from Continental teams, no doubt hoping to catch the eye of one of the Pro Conti or WorldTour directeur sportifs, but they struggled to make any impact here.
Ultimately, it was a race dominated by the French. The diminutive Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) won the first stage while Cofidis’s Julien Simon worked with FDJ to thwart Ag2r and take the second stage. A second and third place finish was enough to see Vichot take the triple in Draguignan, Simon was runner-up and Fortuneo’s Romain Hardy rounded out the podium. BMC’s Tom Bohli was best young rider and BMC were also adjudged best team.
Having skipped the finish in St Paul-en-Foret on the Saturday, I rode on Sunday morning and just put in an appearance for the latter stages of the race which finishes with a couple of circuits of Draguignan. The weather was glorious all week-end and looks set to continue for the next 10 days or so. Meaning, I’ll have ample opportunity to get out on my bike, something I’ve missed of late.