Ben O'Connor, Giro d'Italia stage-winner from 2020, will test himself for the first time in the colours of his new team going into a climber's edition of the Tour de Provence.
The French team is going into the race with O'Connor in a key role after transferring to the team on a one-year deal after leaving NTT Pro Cycling (now Qhubeka-ASSOS) at the end of the 2020 season.
"I am excited to be competing in my first race with the AG2R Citroën Team," said the Australian climber. "This is the start of a new stage in my career. Physically I am feeling good and recovered well from a broken collarbone in November I suffered while mountain biking.
"The Tour de la Provence will be an opportunity to test myself and see where I am in my fitness. The team is doing well already, first with Aurélien Paret Peintre's victory at the GP La Marseillaise and then Greg Van Avermaet's good form at Etoile de Béssèges. It gives us confidence."
O'Connor's major goals are still a little bit further on, with Tirreno-Adriatico beginning in a month's time.
"My first goal will be Tirreno-Adriatico," said O'Connor, "but above all I hope to be able to influence the race at the Tour de Romandie. Of course, I am also determined to support Bob Jungels and Benoit Cosnefroy in the Ardennes races."
The Tour de la Provence will include a mountain-finish on the Mont Ventoux, something that O'Connor has only seen on TV, recalling the stage of the Tour de France where Tour leader Chris Froome memorably ran up the mountain after an unfortunate crash.
"Even if the climb stops at Chalet Reynard, I know it will be tough for February," O'Connor commented. "And it will certainly let me know where I stand physically. I have no historical references on the Ventoux. I just know it's very hard... and Chris Froome ran up it for a while."
Jack Haig, debuting for Bahrain Victorious at the Tour de Provence will also go in with keen eyes on him after the prodigious Australian talent switched from Australian squad Mitchelton-Scott (now Team BikeExchange). He began his season with a bang in 2020, starring in the early season Spanish races, and will have a busy start to his 2021 season.
“I am excited but also a little nervous," said Haig. "I think it will be a good race to know how the team works and how I fit into the team. It’s also some rehearsal for some of the big races coming up, especially the UAE Tour, which will be my first race directly after Tour de la Provence.”
Heinrich Haussler joins Haig on the Bahrain squad for the race, coming off a cyclocross season that included an appearance at the world championships.
Miles Scotson (Groupama-FDJ) is the only other Australian competing, with the Australian expected to be performing an important role in star sprinter Arnaud Demare's lead-out train.
You can watch all the action on SBS On Demand as the European racing season gets back into full swing! Stages will start at 12:30 am each night, starting on Friday early morning (February 12) and running through to Monday early morning (February 14).