At this time of year, the races come thick and fast but not everyone’s riding on the cobbles or in the monuments. Sebastian Chavanel has been pounding the roads of France and Belgium over the past couple of weeks, with some successful results. Here’s his latest update.
Nokere Koerse (19th March)
In the pre-race meeting, it was agreed that everyone would work for Nacer Bouhanni if the race finished in a bunch sprint. This was Nacer’s first race back after dropping out of Paris-Nice with a knee injury. From the start, the race was very fast and there was a breakaway of 17 riders – not good. They quickly built an advantage of over three minutes. My teammates went to the front to pull the break back while I stayed with Nacer. We worked a lot and with 3km to go, the breakaway still had 30 seconds’ advantage.
But naturally Nacer wanted to try. He was lying about 20th in the pack and, with 500 metres to go, moved up to the head of the bunch. The peloton caught the escapees in the dying seconds and because he was leading the bunch, Nacer finished third. Naturally he was a little bit disappointed but the great news was his knee was okay after his crash in Paris-Nice.
Team manager Marc Madiot said:
Nacer was protected by Geoffroy Soupe and Sebastien Chavanel, but it was confusing, not easy to understand what was happening. Finally, when he saw the sprinters risking all, he knew he had to try. He was about 20th with 500 metres to go. On the line he was just a wheel width short and finished third. It’s a shame but the good news is that there was no pain in the knee. Nacer will be taking part this Sunday in Cholet-Pays de la Loire.
Cholet-Pays de la Loire (23rd March)
Again, Marc Madiot wanted the race to finish in a sprint for Nacer but after only 3km the breakaway of 23 riders included two of ours, Pierrick Fedrigo and Arnaud Courteille: probably not an ideal scenario for a sprint finish.
When I got to the feed zone, I climbed off the bike. Better to save some energy for the next race. Nacer and Francis Mourey were in a group of around 40 riders who tried to chase down the break, but to little avail. Nine years after he’d won the race, Fedrigo finished fourth, and Courteille ninth, which looked good for our next race, the Criterium International.
This was a French Cup race and we were now lying third behind Ag2r La Mondiale and Roubaix-Lille Metropole.
Criterium International (29th-30th March)
The strategy meeting was clear. The morning stage was one for the sprinters so everybody would work for Nacer. Unfortunately, we were down to seven riders because Geoffroy Soupe had an inflamed sciatic nerve.
Fortunately, the break was small – only four riders – which was good for us. The peloton split a couple of times after we caught the break each time but we all came back together again. Astana’s Alessandro Vanotti took a flyer with about 10km to go but he was caught with 2km left. I worked with Benoit Vaugrenard and then Laurent Pichon to ensure Nacer was in the best place. He then followed the wheel of Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) and he crossed the line first for his third, and our fifth, victory of the season. We were all happy – job well done.
Directeur sportif Franck Pineau said:
Yes, it’s a good win for everyone, we lacked a bit of success since Paris-Nice. During this stage, everything went as we had hoped, with a breakaway of just four riders that never had more than two minutes’ advantage. All the team’s riders fulfilled their role until Laurent Pichon and Sebastien Chavanel took things in hand for the sprint.
Having gained our anticipated victory, everyone was now riding in support of Pierrick Fedrigo who finished 11th, just ten seconds off the pace in the afternoon’s 7km twisty time trial.
Sunday’s stage was one for the climbers, not sprinters like me. But unfortunately, Fedrigo was not feeling well. He had stomach cramps on the last climb of the L’Ospedale and dropped out of contention. But with a victory for Nacer, it was still a good weekend.
My next races will be Route Adelie du Vitre (4th April) and Circuit Cycliste Sarthe (8th-11th April) and then I’ll be taking a bit of a well-earned break.