Before participating in this week’s Paris-Nice, Sebastien had just enough time to file his report from the two Belgian races Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Le Samyn.
Here I was just a teammate in the classics group where our leader was Arnaud Demare. The pre-race team talk focussed on how to handle the race-ending bunch sprint, but the Belgian semi-classic had other ideas!
Just before the Oude Kwaremont the position in the peloton was very, very important. And FDJ’s position was not perfect, we were too far back. So when Belkin and Omega Pharma-Quick Step attacked and ignited the race, the peloton collapsed. We never saw the ten-man front group again! There was still around 80km to go but that one-minute gap proved decisive. Tom Boonen (OPQS) triumphed while Arnaud finished in the peloton – game over.
If you watched the race, you might have wondered why FDJ didn’t lend a hand sooner with the chase but, as team management explained:
For 60km the gap didn’t change, it remained at a minute. The Lotto-Belisol team for Greipel and Sky for Boasson Hagen chased and Katusha came to lend a hand but I think everyone had tired legs from the previous day’s race – Het Nieuwsblad. This was also true for my riders.
Johan Le Bon had not recovered from his excellent Nieuwsblad, understandable as he only has five days of racing in his legs. David Boucher has a big job to protect Arnaud Demare and Yoann Offredo but he broke his front wheel. William Bonnet sacrificed himself to help and suddenly there was only Yoann and Arnaud. Herman Frisian (Lotto-Belisol) came and asked me to collaborate in the pursuit but I did not have the means … However we leave Belgium with great satisfaction and belief.
Another race in Belgium, but this time we were all riding for Nacer Bouhanni. The race finishes with a number of circuits and every year the scenario is the same.
At the end, I did a great job because I finished my sprint with 150 metres to go. But the finish was on a slight incline, around 3%, Nacer stayed on my wheel as long as possible but the sprint for the line started back at 200 metres to go, so Nacer finished third behind Maxime Vantomme (Roubaix-Lille Metropole) and Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha).
When late attacker Vladimir Isaichev (Katusha) was caught inside the final kilometre on the deceptive drag towards the line, the stage seemed set for Bouhanni to land his second win of the new season.
Bouhanni was well-positioned on the wheel of lead-out man Sebastien Chavanel when the bunch swung around the final bend, but Vantomme anticipated the Frenchman by launching his sprint on the opposite side of the road with 200 metres to go.
Now we’re looking forward to our group’s first big objective of the season: Paris-Nice. So all the riders, staff and team directors are very motivated.
We’re leaving the last word to Mikkel Conde who has an uncanny knack with his race predictions.
My personal favourite for Stage 1 is Bouhanni. Despite standing still after a perfect leadoutin Samyn, he’s still N.1 sprinter in #ParisNice
— MikkelCondé v2.0 (@mrconde) 8 Mars 2014
Tune in after Paris-Nice to see how the race unfolded for Sebastien and his teammates, and look out for his race reports throughout the season.