Often announcing their participation at the eleventh hour, several great champions from France and abroad will vie to succeed the Frenchman Jordan Sarrou, who is skipping this edition because he will be taking part in the MTB World Cup in Mont-Saint-Anne this weekend. Another Frenchman, Miguel Martinez, who has taken the Roc d’Azur three times (1997, 2004 and 2013) and claimed gold in the 2000 Olympics and World Championships, is returning to his hunting grounds of yore. He will be seeking to pull level with four-time Roc d’Azur winner Jordan Sarrou (2014, 2016, 2019 and 2022). The event has a special place in the heart of the record holder. “The Roc d’Azur is tremendously important to French mountain bikers”, he points out. “It’s the last race of the year, so you have to work with the form you’ve got. Some parts of the course are technical, but it is still rather fast as a whole, with the leading riders clocking in at 22 to 25 km/h on average. It’s tailored to well-rounded mountain bikers. You never know how it’s going to play out, so you need to adapt your strategy depending on how the race unfolds.”
Just like the last two years, Romain Bardet has made arrangements to cross the border after participating in Il Lombardia on Saturday to take the start of the Roc d’Azur on Sunday morning. The French champion, a three-time Tour de France stage winner and silver medallist in the 2018 world road race championships, put in a rather aggressive ride to finish eleventh in his debut in 2021, but he eased up a bit last year. “I had a blast”, he laughed at the finish, clinking glasses with a friend. “I enjoyed catching up with the front group on the first climb, but then I switched to fun mode for the rest of the race.”
Road cyclists also have a soft spot for the tracks that criss-cross Les Maures Massif. The recently retired Pierre Rolland will be entering the Enduroc Électrique on Friday and the Canyon Gravel Roc on Saturday, while the Dutch winner of the 2017 Giro d’Italia, Tom Dumoulin, is poised to test his legs in the Rando Roc Esterel.
Less clear are the names of the favourites in the Ford Roc Marathon, a 91.3 km race with an elevation gain of 2,300 m that never fails to attract the best riders in Europe. The 2014 and 2019 Roc d’Azur champion, Margot Moschetti, has also got a long history with this race. “I used to come here with the UNSS even before I started mountain biking with a club”, explains the rider from Nice. “The atmosphere is unique. You cross loads of people on the aisles of the show. The Roc d’Azur is a sports event, of course, but it’s a forum too. It’s the last race of the year and everyone wants to finish on a high note. The first time I won the race was insane because I wasn’t expecting it to have such an impact, far beyond what you see in other races. Winning the Roc d’Azur is a unique experience.”
Who will follow in her footsteps?