Reigning Tour de France champion Cadel Evans (BMC) continued his preparations to retain his crown in style at the Criterium International. He took the lead on Saturday’s time trial, and held it on Sunday’s final mountainous stage in impressive fashion.
Stage 1: Porto-Vecchio to Porto-Vecchio, 89.5km
Florian Vachon (Bretagne-Schuller) took the first stage, with the 27-year-old sprinter winning for the second time this season. He won the bunch sprint on the opening flat stage, after a shade over two hours of racing. Danilo Wyss (BMC) was second, with AG2R’s Christophe Riblon rounding off the podium. An honourable mention for friend of VeloVoices Geoffroy Lequatre (Bretagne-Schuller), who finished in ninth place.
Garmin-Barracuda’s Nathan Haas was one of a number of riders caught up in a spectacular crash 200 metres from the line.
Stage 2: Porto-Vecchio to Porto-Vecchio, 6.5km
Stage two was only a 6.5km-long individual time trial, but it was long enough to bring the race favourites to the fore. Cadel Evans took the stage by less than a second from former world time trial champion Mick Rogers (Sky), with Simon Geschke (1t4i) a second in arrears. Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Nissan) and Marco Pinotti (BMC) rounded out the top five.
Some race favourites lost valuable time to effectively scupper their chances going into Sunday’s deciding stage. Former five-time winner Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) and Chris Froome (Sky) lost 10 and 11 seconds respectively, with reigning champion Frank Schleck losing 22 seconds.
Stage 3: Porto-Vecchio to Col de l’Ospedale, 179km
Stage 3 was the only one with live television coverage, although it didn’t disappoint. Matteo Montaguti (AG2R), Nicolas Vogondy (Cofidis) and George Bennett (RadioShack-Nissan) made up the day’s breakaway, with the former only a tantalising 13 seconds off race leader Evans on GC.
The break managed to survive up until the final, nasty climb of the Col de l’Ospedale (14.2km at an average of 6.2%), when work on the front from BMC and Euskaltel-Euskadi helped reel them in, whilst dropping half of the field at the same time. Surprisingly that number included Frank Schleck, who’s clearly yet to get into proper race shape.
Alexandre Geniez (1t4i) may not have been a major GC threat, but launched a strong attack up towards the finish. The Frenchman opened up a 20-second gap, but when Mick Rogers and then Cadel Evans made their moves, he was easily swept away. Despite Rogers’ best efforts to shake his compatriot, he couldn’t, with Evans looking in imperious form.
He finished fourth on the stage behind winner Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) and Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky). Evans won the yellow jersey by eight seconds, with Fedrigo second and Rogers third overall.
The winner spoke of how winning was a “confidence boost” going in to the summer:
Yesterday was a good indication and a nice confidence boost. Sometimes things go well and it all comes together. Up until this point, I had trouble bringing things together. But I knew to keep working at it and things would come together. It’s a good indication, but we have big races still to come.
It’s hard to know so early in the season how much we can read into a race like the Criterium International – not least because it’s so short. But there’s no doubting that Cadel Evans will be out to defend his title in France this summer, and will defend it well.
Maxime Monfort is a rider with a great deal of talent, and his top-ten placing wouldn’t come as a great surprise to most cycling fans. He’s already finished seventh at this year’s Paris-Nice, and with such excellent climbing and time-trialling ability it’s a wonder that the 29-year-old hasn’t won more races in his career. It seems a shame that he’s often worked for other riders rather than himself, but has proved his worth once again in Corsica.
Likewise Thomas Lovkvist is a rider who has showed great potential, but like Linus Gerdemann (RadioShack-Nissan) – who finished 66th in this race, over 10 minutes behind – has never truly realised it. Let’s hope that his eighth place at this race kick-starts an excellent season for the Swede.
Pierrick Fedrigo spoke of his delight at winning his first stage since joining FDJ last year. Dogged by Lyme disease last season, he’s back with a vengeance this year, and you can fully expect to see him in regular breakaways come this year’s Tour de France – in the true French fashion.
1. Cadel Evans (BMC) 7:03:43
2. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) +0:08
3. Michael Rogers (Sky) same time
4. Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) +0:09
5. Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) s/t
6. Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Nissan) +0:23
7. Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +0:38
8. Thomas Lovkvist (Sky) +0:42
9. Hubert Dupont (AG2R La Mondiale) +0:47
10. Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale) +1:11