Julian Alaphilippe headlines Ardèche Classic and Drôme Classic at weekend

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While many of the sport's biggest names are either riding the last two stages of the UAE Tour or beginning their Classics seasons at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne this weekend, Deceuninck-QuickStep's Julian Alaphilippe heads to the south of France, near Valence, to begin his European season at Saturday's Faun-Ardèche Classic and the Drôme Classic on Sunday.

Not that the 27-year-old Frenchman is the only star name at the slightly more low-key races: he'll be joined by Trek-Segafredo's Vincenzo Nibali and Bauke Mollema, as well as EF Pro Cycling's Alberto Bettiol, who continues his build-up to his April defence of the Tour of Flanders – a race that Alaphilippe will target for the first time in his career this spring.

"We're going into the weekend with a good team that will give us several options to be in the mix for a nice result," said Deceuninck-QuickStep sports director Davide Bramati on the team's website. "Of course, Julian is our leader, as the parcours suit him perfectly, but we can also count on other guys who have enjoyed a strong start to the season and can be up there."

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Supporting Alaphilippe are this year's Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race winner Dries Devenyns, Rémi Cavagna, Mikkel Honoré, and new young signings João Almeida, Andrea Bagioli and Ian Garrison.

"The two races aren't easy, and hardly give you a moment of respite," continued Bramati, "but we've had some good results here in the past, and are motivated to try to repeat them and keep the team's excellent momentum going."

Total Direct Energie's Lilian Calmejane will be back to defend his title at the Faun-Ardèche Classic, which starts and finishes just outside Valence, in Guilherand-Granges, and tackles a very hilly 185km course, with few moments of flat.

The next day, the Drôme Classic starts and finishes in Livron-sur-Drôme, slightly closer to Montélimar, and follows a 200km parcours, with most of the climbing packed into the final 50km of the race. It was won in 2019 by Alexis Vuillermoz, although the Frenchman isn't back to defend his title, and is yet to start his season.

Vuillermoz's AG2R la Mondiale teammate Romain Bardet, meanwhile – who was set to ride both races – will now only ride the Drôme Classic on Sunday, affording him one more day at home with his family, with wife Amandine having given birth to the couple's first child, Angus, on Tuesday.