While most of us were marvelling at exploits in the cobbled and Ardennes classics, many professional riders were pounding the roads elsewhere in search of victories for their team. Ahead of his participation in the forthcoming Giro d’Italia, here is FDJ’s Sebastien Chavanel’s April report.
Circuit Cycliste Sarthe – Pays de la Loire (8th-11th April)
Stage 1: St Jean de Monts to St Gereon, 197.2km
The first day was a sprint stage and everyone was working for Nacer Bouhanni. The peloton knew this and so we took responsibility for working on the front of the bunch. It was a typical scenario with a breakaway which escaped early on. The stage finished with six laps of a circuit on a narrow road with a small climb. There was the usual first day niggles and the peloton was nervous. We worked hard to keep Nacer out of trouble but I lost him at 500 metres to the line. Fortunately, he was in third position and began his sprint with 250 metres to go and he won easily. Afterwards, Nacer confirmed:
With two curves before the finish, it was a bit dangerous but it went well. I positioned myself in third place with 350 metres to go, and I launched my sprint 100 metres later. Given the tailwind, I preferred to start from further out to avoid taking any unnecessary risk. I was supposed to follow my teammates Anthony Roux, Laurent Pichon and Sebastien Chavanel in that order, but I lost all of them and had to fend for myself.
Even so, the team was really happy with the result. We had the leader’s and the points jersey.
Stage 2: COMPA-Ancenis to Angers, 88.3km
This was a short and fast stage. Again, there was a small break so we took responsibility to work at the head of the peloton to pull it back. Everything was going well, there was a slight downhill to the finish and with 1,500 metres remaining Laurent and I were still in front of Nacer. This time, he left his sprint until 150 metres from the line but young Jonas Ahlstrand (Giant-Shimano) had been sitting on his wheel and he took an early flyer, launching his sprint and shooting past an unhappy Nacer who finished third. He was so disappointed. Us too as we’d anticipated and worked hard for another victory. We still had both jerseys though.
Stage 3: Angers, 6.8km individual time trial
There was a short individual time trial in the afternoon.Here’s where we need to conserve our strength for another effort on another day. We tend to treat them as training rides but have to watch the times. Don’t want to get eliminated! Our best placed rider was Anthony Roux who finished sixth.
Movistar’s Alex Dowsett won the stage and took over the yellow jersey but we still had the green sprint jersey.
Stage 4: Angers to Pre-en-Pail, 196.2km
This was a stage for the general classification riders and climbers. I did my work on the front of the stage to help Roux and Francis Mourey and then I was back in the gruppetto looking after Nacer. We had a great result, Roux finished third!
Stage 5: Abbaye de l’Epau to La Fete Bernard, 184.8km
We were expecting the stage to finish in a sprint but things didn’t quite work out as we discussed in the morning meeting. On the last lap of the circuit, the breakaway was still ahead and we didn’t succeed in catching them. Anthony Geslin escaped, joined the break and finished third while Nacer won the bunch sprint finish in sixth. FDJ team management confirmed their disappointment with the overall classification despite their delight at Nacer’s stage win and points’ jersey:
Anthony [Roux] wasn’t racing flat-out for the overall because, with the break just ahead, we anticipated a regrouping and another victory for Nacer. Alas, the break attacked again and although ‘Ges’ joined them and took third place on the stage, Anthony Roux finished fourth overall as he was overtaken by Julien Simon (Cofidis) who had bonus points. For us, and even if Nacer won a stage, the results are mixed because we could have done much better. We are fortunate to have a sprinter who wins but it mobilises energy especially when there are only five teammates. If he had not been sacrificed in the first two stages, Francis Mourey would have won the queen stage and maybe the overall.
GP de Denain Porte du Hainault (14th April)
The team was at Denain with only one objective: to help Nacer win the sprint. Last year he was third, this year we wanted victory. You’re getting familiar with the scenario now in these types of races. There’s a breakaway but this time Europcar wanted to take charge, so we gave them a bit of help but not too much so we managed to conserve our energy. The break was over with under 20km to the finish. We continued to sit back and watch the other sprint trains jostling for position and coming to the fore. Laurent Mangel was near the front of the bunch while, Laurent Pichon, Geoffroy Soupe and I used our elbows to keep Nacer safe and in place.
On the final corner we got Nacer into position with under a kilometre to go and everything just fell into place. Nacer kicked and easily crossed the line ahead of the others. It was his fifth victory of the season. Don’t you just love it when a plan really comes together?
The race was Nacer’s first victory this season in the Coupe de France, in which the team currently lies fourth.
Meanwhile, Sebastien’s recently been enjoying a short, well-earned break in Tuscany with his wife Sophie and they’ll both be at the start of the Giro d’Italia in Belfast.