Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise (27th January)
The relatively unknown 26-year old Justin Jules (La Pomme Marseille) outsprinted 30-odd riders, including last year’s defending champion, Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r La Mondiale), to take victory in the opening round of the Coupe de France on his team’s home turf.
Teammate Thomas Vaubourzeix and Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) had established a lead of almost eight minutes with 100km of the 148.1km course remaining before the bunch started to reel them in. With 30km left and the gap down to only 60 seconds, Cedric Pineau (FDJ) and Benjamin Giraud (La Pomme Marseille) joined them. Ultimately, all four were back in the bunch 15km later.
As anticipated there was a flurry of attacks but a police motorbike crash in the finishing straight brought down some riders, including Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil), leaving a select bunch to contest the closely fought sprint finish. Wallays won the King of the Mountains prize while Vaubourzeix was adjudged most combative.
Jules rejoined VC La Pomme this year after a season with Super Vernada Rideau-U marred by a bout of mononucleosis. His father Pascal was a Tour de France double stage winner in the Renault team of Laurent Fignon, who was killed aged 26 after being hit by a car, when Jules was barely a year old. A few years ago, young Jules spent time in prison after a family drama which ended with the death of his alcoholic stepfather. Let’s hope this second – and biggest – professional win is the start of better things for him.
1. Justin Jules (VC La Pomme Marseille) 3:40:05
2. Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r La Mondiale) same time
3. Thomas Damuseau (Argos-Shimano) s/t
4. Anthony Roux (FDJ) s/t
5. Sander Armee (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) s/t
6. Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t
7. Maxime Vantomme (Crelan-Euphony) s/t
8. Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano) s/t
9. Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
10. Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) s/t
Etoile de Bessèges (30th January-3rd February)
Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun) recorded his and his team’s maiden 2013 victory by virtue of his sixth place on stage three and consistent performances on the others. It was his first win since stage two of last year’s Tour de Romandie and could lay the foundation for what he hopes will be his best season to date.
Georg Preidler (Argos-Shimano) was top dog in the mountains, FDJ easily won the team competition, double stage winner Bryan Coquard (Europcar) took the points jersey and runner-up Jerome Cousin (Europcar) was the best young rider.
On the opening stage, 24-year old Belgian Michael Van Staeyen (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) held off Frederique Robert (Lotto-Belisol) and La Marseillaise winner Justin Jules (La Pomme Marseille) in the sprint to the finish line on the opening 154km stage from Bellegarde into Beaucaire to record his first win since 2011.
Stage two’s 157km route from Nimes to Allegre les Fumades finished in another sprint won by London 2012 omnium runner-up and neo-pro Bryan Coquard (Europcar). It was his maiden professional victory on only his second day of racing in the professional ranks – one to watch! He was shepherded for most of the stage by teammate Sebastien Chavanel, who five years earlier had mentored Coquard for a season. Runner-up Van Staeyen retained the coral leader’s jersey.
Europcar enjoyed back-to-back victories as 23-year old Jerome Cousin beat FDJ pair Anthony Roux and Arthur Vichot to the finish on a 152km stage around Besseges which featured three ascents of the cat 1 Col de Trelys, after an 11-man breakaway managed to hold off the advancing peloton. Cousin took over the race lead from Van Staeyen, who led the peloton over the line in 12th place. Lying second overall, just three seconds back, was Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun).
It was three from four for Europcar as Coquard took yet another bunch sprint victory, beating Frederique Robert (Lotto Belisol) and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) to the line on the 154km fourth stage from Sabron to Pont Saint Esprit. Jerome Cousin retained the overall lead going into the final day’s double-header of a short road stage followed by a time trial.
On Sunday morning’s 65.5km stage around Arles, Dumoulin finally got on the scoresheet for his new team after they’d effectively controlled the stage. Dumoulin took a flyer at a roundabout 500m from the line for an easy victory, ahead of Coquard. Mathieu Drujon (BigMat-Auber 93) was third.
The afternoon’s 9.7km individual time trial around Ales belonged to FDJ. Anthony Roux pipped teammate and breakaway specialist Jeremy Roy by three seconds to take the stage with a time of 14:48. Lieuwe Westra punctuated the French dominance to finish third, just ahead of FDJ’s Arthur Vichot. Indeed Westra was the only non-Frenchman in the top ten of the general classification. Race leader Cousin finished six seconds behind Hivert (who had finished eighth on GC last year), who leapfrogged him to take overall victory by four seconds.
1. Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun) 16:29:35
2. Jerome Cousin (Europcar) +0:04
3. Anthony Roux (FDJ) +0:05
4. Jeremy Roy (FDJ) +0:11
5. Cyril Gautier (Europcar) same time
6. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) +0:17
7. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:20
8. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:31
9. Arthur Vichot (FDJ) +0:35
10. Julien Antomarchi (La Pomme Marseille) +0:36
Ronde d’Aix (3rd February)
An invitational criterium, the first of the season, fittingly on the Avenue des Belges in Aix-en-Provence was won by world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC), who last won the race in 2006, to mark his first victory of 2013 and BMC’s second of the day [after Brent Bookwalter on stage one of the Tour of Qatar – Ed]. One of FDJ’s sprint stars, Arnaud Demare, was runner-up, while completing the podium was friend of VeloVoices Geoffroy Lequatre (Bretagne-Seche). A pretty stellar cast, most of whom live in the region, had been assembled including two-time former winner and Norse God Thor Hushovd (BMC) and Alberto Contador’s new teammate, Nico Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).
The French teams, particularly those outside the WorldTour, always look to perform well in the early season races. Not only are they keen to grab points but they’re also hoping their efforts will garner them wild card invites to the larger WorldTour races, particularly the all important Tour de France. It’s also good to see new French talent like Coquard emerging [more of that coming soon – Ed]. Let’s see how the above fare in the forthcoming Tours de Med and du Haut Var.