The new Boucles Drôme-Ardèche double-header in France this weekend was disrupted when the first leg was cancelled thanks to snow. Fortunately, the 13th edition of the second leg wasn’t similarly afflicted and the riders were able to take to the start of the undulating 197.8km parcours from Bourg-Saint-Andreol to Ruoms with 11 climbs – not too dissimilar to last year’s – finishing with a triple circuit including the last two of the climbs: the Rocher de Sampzon and the Cote de la Vignasse.
This year’s race hosted a classy field of largely French contenders where, despite the presence of last year’s defending champion Remi Pauriol (now with Sojasun), the race was won by the unfancied Mathieu Drujon from Continental squad BigMat-Auber 93.
The run-in to the finish was punctuated by multiple attacks but on the last loop a foursome comprising Drujon, Pauriol, Romain Bardet and Sylvain Georges (both Ag2r La Mondiale) successfully attacked from the leading group on the final climb to contest the sprint for the line, with the 30-year old former Caisse d’Epargne rider Drujon taking the third and biggest win of his career.
Image courtesy of BigMat-Auber 93
Probably in an effort to keep warm, the riders set off briskly until the break of the day containing a dozen or so riders was established at around the 20 km mark. This included riders from many of the leading French teams plus, of course, Jeremy ‘it’s not a break if I’m not in it’ Roy (FDJ).
The break worked well but the peloton remained vigilant allowing it no more than three minutes’ advantage. The group was finally pulled back but another formed on the day’s key climb with under 20km remaining, which included the final foursome, plus a number of pre-race favourites such as Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ).
The successful quartet left behind the rest of the leading group over the summit of the final climb and managed to withstand the counter-attacks of both Bardet and Pauriol on the descent, maintaining their slender advantage over the hotly pursuing Voeckler, who faded to finish eleventh, and the rest of the chasing pack.
Analysis & opinion
Ahead of the start of Paris-Nice next weekend, where competition for places is always fierce among the home teams, it’s worth looking at how some of the potential contenders for the overall and stage wins are shaping up. One also needs to bear in mind that with only three Tour de France wild-cards being given out, French ProContinental teams such as Europcar, Cofidis and Sojasun are desperate to show they merit one of those coveted spots.
Europcar, with former Tour de France yellow jersey wearer and stage winner Voeckler and former white jersey and double alpine stage winner Pierre Rolland, are leading the trio with five wins: three in Etoile de Besseges and two in La Tropicale Amissa Bongo. Sojasun are mounting a strong challenge but all their three wins are courtesy of Jonathan Hivert in the Vuelta a Andalucia and Etoile de Besseges. Cofidis have fewer wins (two): one in the Amissa Bongo and Saturday’s Vuelta a Murcia with Dani Navarro. However, riders of the calibre of Christophe Le Mevel and Jerome Coppel probably give them the edge over Sojasun.
Race winner Drujon – whose younger brother Benoit rides for the same team – finished tenth overall in last week’s Tour du Haut Var and his years of riding for the former Caisse d’Epargne probably stood him in good stead here in the face of more fancied opposition. He won’t be riding in next weekend’s race unlike most of the others in the top ten. We should keep an eye on the young Bardet and the more experienced Georges whose directeur sportif today commented:
The riders made a good race, we simply didn’t succeed in concluding the race well but if we compete like that we will be able to win and that is what we have to remember today. We have to continue to work in this way and this is how we will find the keys that will lead us to victory.