Early season French races review

It’s been an interesting start to the French season and we’re going to be having a quick look back at the GP Cycliste La Marseillaise, Etoile de Besseges, Tour Mediterraneen and the Tour du Haut Var, all of which lived up to expectations and – despite weather-related issues – delivered so much more. These are typically races where young guns go for it and second division teams – with points to prove to race organisers – want to shine.

With Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico looming large, even though these are only European Tour races they form the backbone of many teams’ early training and racing preparation, particularly the French ones.

GP Cycliste La Marseillaise: winner Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis)

Samuel Dumoulin - winner GP La Marseillaise 2012 (image courtesy of official GP La Marseillaise website)

The diminutive Samuel Dumoulin, a man who often performs well early season, won Europe’s first professional race of 2012. Despite the unseasonally cold and windy weather, he outsprinted Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) and 2010 Tour Down Under viral star Arthur Vichot (FDJ-BigMat) to take the lead in the French Cup standings.

There were a number of attacks and breakaways in the 148km race. The first included Dumoulin’s teammate Rein Taaramae, Remi Cusin (Type 1), Remi Pauriol (FDJ-BigMat), Guillaume Bonnafond (AG2R-La Mondiale), Cyril Lemoine (Saur-Sojasun), Franck Vermeulen (Veranda Rideau-Super U) and Bert-Jan Lindeman (Vacansoleil) who were all caught before the decisive Col de la Gineste, 20km from the finish line outside Marseille’s Stade Velodrome.

Mikael Cherel (AG2R-La Mondiale) was the first to break free, splitting the field, and a group of 12 riders formed who were subsequently joined by Dumoulin, together with Vichot and Jeremie Galland (Saur-Sojasun), who finished fourth. Speaking after the race, Dumoulin said:

When I saw Arthur and Jeremie jump, I knew it was the right moment to go. The last descent did not cause any problems. In the finale, I manoeuvred well.

Vichot was the best young rider, Cofidis won the team prize and VeloVoices’ rider, neo-pro Gregoire Tarride (VC La Pomme), finished a commendable 23rd, just 30 seconds back.

1. Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) 3:39:29

2. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) same time

3. Arthur Vichot (FDJ-BigMat) s/t

4. Jeremie Galland (Saur–Sojasun) s/t

5. Davide Malacarne (Europcar) s/t

6. Romain Hardy (Bretagne-Schuller) s/t

7. Julien Guay (Roubaix Lille Metropole) s/t

8. Mikael Cherel (Ag2R La Mondiale) s/t

9. Pieter Serry (Topsport Vlaanderen–Mercator) s/t

10. Bert De Waele (Landbouwkrediet) s/t

L’Etoile de Besseges: winner Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun)

Jerome Coppel - winner L'Etoile de Besseges 2012 (image courtesy of Saur-Sojasun)

Jerome Coppel – 14th overall at last year’s Tour de France – took an impressive overall victory in the weather blighted L’Etoile de Besseges, thanks to a masterful display in the race’s final stage – a testing, steep 9.7km time trial. He finished 26 seconds ahead of Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), dethroning Pierre Rolland (Europcar) in the process. Coppel put his superb time down to planning and preparation [you’d approve of that, wouldn’t you Sheree? – Ed], as he explained:

I reconnoitered the TT course in the car on Thursday and again this afternoon between the two stages. The riders on the team who rode the GP de la Marseillaise had also reconnoitered it by bike, and they advised me on what gear to use.

Coppel will now turn his attention to spring’s most prestigious French stage race: Paris-Nice.

Here’s how the race unfolded.

Stage 1: Beaucaire to Bellegarde, 148km

Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat) streaked to victory in Bellegarde in the opening stage’s bunch sprint, beating Marcel Kittel (Project 1t4i) – who had led the sprint out before fading – and Bobbie Traksel (Landbouwkrediet).

Stage 2: Nimes to St Ambroix, 149 km

Thanks to the weather, stage two was reduced to a mere 58 kilometres, finishing with a circuit of 7km around the town of Saint Ambroix. Marcel Kittel took his revenge, the bunch sprint and the leader’s coral jersey ahead of Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Bouhanni.

Stage 3: GP de Besseges, 152km

Alpe d’Huez winner Pierre Rolland (Europcar) won ahead of Franck Vermeulen (Veranda Rideau-Super U) and Bouhanni. Rolland and Vermeulen had been part of a larger group that had disintegrated, leaving the two of them to contest the sprint. Rolland moved into the overall lead.

Stage 4: GP C.C Rhone Ceze Languedoc, 150km

Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil) won the slightly uphill sprint finish from one of the eminence grises of the peloton, Nico Eeckhout (An Post-Sean Kelly) and Julien El Fares (Team Type 1) ahead of a bunch of around 60 riders. The stage was cut from 150 to 66km due to the freezing temperatures and strong winds. Numerous attacks were pulled back by Europcar to successfully protect Rolland’s overall lead. A large group including Marcel Kittel came in after the time cut and were eliminated from the race.

Stage 5a: GP d’Ales en Cevennes, Ales, 82km

Stephane Poulhies (Saur-Sojasun) repeated his win of last year on the penultimate stage in front of Justin Jules (Veranda Rideau- Super U) and Bobbie Traksel. Again icy weather forced a route change and the summit finish on the Col de la Baraque was eliminated in favour of a finish back in Ales. Pierre Rolland still held the overall lead going into the final decisive time trial stage.

Stage 5b: GP d’Ales en Cevennes, Ales, 9.7km individual time trial

Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) won the 9.7km time trial. He was 48 seconds faster than the overall leader at the end of stage 5a, Pierre Rolland. Coppel took both the stage and the overall for one of Saur-Sojasun’s best ever results.

Saur-Sojasun took the team prize, Bobbie Traksel won the points jersey, King of the Mountains was Bert-Jan Lindeman (Vacansoleil) and best young rider was Antony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun). VeloVoices’ Steven Tronet (Auber 93) missed the time cut – along with many others – on stage four.

1. Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) 12:40:08

2. Franck Vermeulen (Veranda Rideau-U) +0:25

3. Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) +0:26

4. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) +0:28

5. Maxime Bouet (AG2R-La Mondiale) +0:32

6. Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:33

7. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) +0:37

8. Jonathan Hivert (Saur-Sojasun) +0:37

9. Pierre-Luc Perichon (VC La Pomme Marseille) +0:46

10. Julien Antomarchi (Type 1-Sanofi) +0:48

Tour Mediterraneen: winner Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing)

Podium Tour Mediterraneen 2012 (image courtesy of Le Tour Mediterraneen website)

British Continental team Endura Racing, a team FDJ-Big Mat’s Marc Madiot thought shouldn’t even have been competing, lifted the Tour Mediterraneen thanks to Jonathan Tiernan-Locke’s wins on the first and last stages.

Stage 1: Pertius to Meyreuil, 135km

Fittingly Tiernan-Locke out-foxed the FDJ-BigMat team – who looked to have the sprint under control to lead out Yauheni Hutarovitch – by jumping with 1km to go, and no one could catch him. Hutarovich was second and Sebastien Chavanel (Europcar) was third.

Stage 2: Salon de Provence to Martigues, 136km

Elder Kreder brother Michel (Garmin-Barracuda)  – whose younger brother Raymond had placed fourth the day before – won the bunch sprint of at the end of stage two into Martigues. The previous day’s second-placed Yauheni Hutarovich finished third and took over the leader’s jersey from Tiernan-Locke, with all three fused together on the same time.

Stage 3: La Seyne-sur-Mer to La-Londe-les-Maures, 127km

Back-to-back stage wins for Michel Kreder as he took stage three, after strong support from his Garmin-Barracuda team on the final lap of the stage. He finished ahead of Danilo Napolitano (Acqua & Sapone) and Guillaume Blot (Bretagne-Schuller). The course was changed due to the extreme – for this time of year – weather conditions. What was supposed to be a finishing circuit of 10km into a race of 11 laps of the same circuit. Michel Kreder’s brother Raymond led him out in the last kilometre to take his second win and the overall from Hutarovich, moving Tiernan-Locke down to third.

Stage 4: La Ciotat to Mont Faron, Toulon, 130km

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke took the final stage, which was again changed to accommodate the weather. He attacked on the final climb up the Col de Gardes with Daniel Navarro (Saxo Bank) and Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) in hot pursuit but they finished 17 seconds behind the Briton. After the stage Tiernan-Locke said:

I was a bit nervous this morning, but it all went to plan today and the team did a great job keeping me in the right place to go for it at the end. We had to fight hard to keep out of trouble at the front of the bunch all day and at the bottom of the climb I was where I needed to be, so just went for it.

Tiernan-Locke also won the points jersey, while Michel Kreder won best young rider, VC La Pomme’s Thomas Vaubourzeix was crowned King of the Mountains and Saxo Bank picked up best team. Last-minute substitution and VeloVoices rider Jesus Herrada (Movistar) finished 32nd.

1. Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing) 10:48:42

2. Michel Kreder (Garmin-Barracuda) +0:27

3. Daniel Navarro (Saxo Bank) +0:31

4. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) +0:33

5. Angel Madrazo (Movistar) +0:42

6. Romain Hardy (Bretagne-Schuller) +0:47

7. Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) +0:47

8. Fabrice Jeandesboz (Saur-Sojasun) +0:47

9. Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R-La Mondiale) +0:47

10. Andrey Amador (Movistar) +0:47

Tour du Haut Var: winner Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing)

Podium Tour du Haut Var 2012 (image courtesy of Endura Racing)

Tour Mediterraneen winner Jonathan Tiernan-Locke continued his reincarnation to take stage two and the overall in last weekend’s Tour du Haut Var. Who was it again that said Endura Racing didn’t deserve a place at the race?

Another rider showing good early form – and one riding for a team with a point to make – Romain Hardy (Bretagne-Schuller) outsprinted his friend and breakaway companion, Clement Koretsky (VC La Pomme) to take the 189km opening stage from Draguignan to La Crox Valmer. The pair – who had been away since the first kilometre – easily distanced their other breakaway companions on the final circuits around La Crox Valmer. Tiernan-Locke went after them in the final stretch for third place.

On stage two’s 205.4km from Frejus to Fayence, Tiernan-Locke timed his attack to perfection in the last 2km to overtake Julien Simon (Saur-Sojasun) on the leg-sapping ascent of the Mur de Fayence. Julien El Fares (Team Type 1) finished third. Afterwards Jonathan said:

I knew yesterday I could probably win this, I struggled on the fast bits but when it became a slogfest I knew I would be strong, plus of course I knew I would have some strong team mates up with me looking after me. They did a great job. I’m so happy that my form has come good this early.

Save a thought for Simon Clarke (GreenEDGE) who was unable to change gear in the final 10km and had to ride up the Mur de Fayence in the wrong [high] gear!

Tiernan-Locke also won the points jersey, best young rider was stage one winner Romain Hardy (Bretagne-Schuller), King of the Mountains was Austrian Georg Preidler (Team Type 1) and Saur-Sojasun picked up the best team award. VeloVoices was following Veranda Rideau-Super U’s Olejnik brothers: Tomaz was a non-starter while Michal finished 98th overall.

1. Jonathan Tiernan-Lock (Endura) 10:10:29

2. Julien El Fares (Type 1-Sanofi) +0:06

3. Julien Simon (Saur-Sojasun) +0:09

4. Romain Hardy (Bretagne-Schuller) +0:13

5. Simon Clarke (GreenEDGE) +0:18

6. Jonathan Hivert (Saur-Sojasun) +0:20

7. Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Barracuda) +0:24

8. Maxime Bouet (AG2R-La Mondiale) +0:28

9. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) +0:28

10. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) +0:28

Closing thoughts

What can we take away from these races? Firstly, the ProTeams have their eyes on bigger prizes in forthcoming months. So, they’re happy for their younger riders, who’ll be serving as domestiques later on, to show what they might be capable of in seasons to come. I’m thinking about riders such as Michel Kreder and his younger brother Raymond, riding for Garmin-Barracuda. For them it’s about potential, not points.

For teams racing on the European circuit, it is all about the points – particularly for those riders hoping to catch the eye of a ProTeam manager, or those teams hoping for invitations to WorldTour events, such as Cofidis, Saur-Sojasun, Bretagne-Schuller and Project 1t4i. These past few weeks have served their ambitions well.

Let’s not forget riders such as Jonathan Tiernan-Locke – who’s back from a long bout of mononucleosis. He’s certainly caught the attention of many in the cycling world. Wonder where he’ll be riding next year?

Links: Previews of GP Cycliste La Marseillaise, L’Etoile de Besseges, Tour Mediterraneen, Tour du Haut Var

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