Rally Cycling arrived in the southeastern French province of Ardeche this week for the 16th edition of the Tour de l’Ardèche. The historic race runs from September 13 -18 and is France’s longest UCI-ranked women’s stage race. The tour features seven stages and 709 km of racing spread across three expected sprint stages, two mountaintop finishes, and two classics style finales. Riders of all specialties have flocked to France to contend this season-closing event.
The variety of course profiles requires a roster capable of tackling all terrains. Rally Cycling will start Sara Bergen, Gillian Ellsay, Heidi Franz, Katherine Maine, Abigail Mickey, and Sara Poidevin.
Reigning Canadian Road Champion Katherine Maine won her maple leaf jersey on a demanding course in Saguenay, Quebec, and the courses in France suit her to a T.
“It’s such an incredible feeling to race with the maple leaf jersey in Europe and I can’t wait to show it off,” said Maine. “We did a lot of work leading into the race and we’re feeling good coming into Ardèche!”
The team plans to put into practice what they’ve learned from past trips across the pond.
“As we saw in Belgium this summer, anything can happen during the European races,” said Maine. “The team has learned how important it is to stick together and follow our instincts. We’re less focused on any one stage and more on seizing the seven unique opportunities that the stages provide.”
Stage one begins a double-day that starts in Saint-Marcel d’Ardèche and travels north along the Rhone River for 65 km before ending in Beauchastel. In the flattest stage of this year’s race, the yellow jersey will be awarded to the winner of the likely field sprint. In the afternoon, stage two treks through the Ardeche hillside on a 55 km journey that also favors the quick women. Current Canadian Criterium Champion Sara Bergen will be the protected sprinter.
The first major climb comes on the 129 km stage three to Villeneuve-de-Berg. The opening 33 km is all uphill to the summit of the Col de Montivernoux and the drastically reduced peloton will have to decide if they want to spend the next 96 km preventing dropped riders from catching or waiting for stage four’s summit finish of Mont Serein.
The race’s sole Hors Categorie (HC) climb comes at the end of the queen stage to Mont Serein on day three. The 15 km ascent will set the pecking order in the fight for the general classification as the climbers come to the fore. Sara Poidevin and Abby Mickey are the team’s designated climbers on this stage and contenders for the overall.
Stage five starts in Grandrieu and travels south for 138 km to the second summit finish atop Mont Lozere. With four categorized climbs during the stage, the yellow jersey’s team may have a difficult time controlling the stage where breakaways are a huge threat. Gillian Ellsay and Maine are good bets to force a selection and make a bid for stage honours.
The classics specialists will have stage six to Montboucher-Sur-Jabron earmarked in their race bibles. With intermediate climbs throughout and a 10 km descent to the finish, you can expect an all-rounder to claim the stage victory while the general classification riders prevent each other from gaining valuable seconds. Heidi Franz proved at US Pro just how good she is on a similar course and will be one to watch.
The Tour de l’Ardèche finale on stage seven to Privas serves as a fitting end to this year’s race. Not one flat road in sight as the peloton tackle four more categorized climbs before a downhill run to the line.
With 10 national teams and 20 professional squads taking the start, this year’s Tour de l’Ardèche will be the largest peloton the team has faced this year. 180 riders will take to the French countryside in what is sure to be an unpredictable week of racing!
Tour de l’Ardèche Roster
Director: Zach Bell