Sylvain Chavanel rolled back the clock to take victory in a seven-up sprint at the GP Ouest France-Plouay, capping a successful week to become the oldest winner of the race in 66 years.
Chalk one up for experience
This 229km race featured 23 climbs, rendering it a race for the strong men and producing lots of attacking racing. After the day’s main five-man break had been swallowed up with around 40km remaining, a subsequent seven-man attack including such notable names as Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), recent Eneco Tour winner Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) and former GP de Montreal champion Lars Petter Nordhaug (Belkin) eked out a half-minute’s advantage. However, with the peloton closing in approaching the eighth and final ascent of the Cote de Ty Marrac, the break started to attack themselves as Wellens, Europcar’s Angelo Tulik and Nordhaug all launched moves which caused the group to lose cohesion. Over the top of the climb with less than 4km remaining, their bid for victory was over.
Cyril Gautier (Europcar) then struck out, taking six others with him: Wellens, IAM’s Chavanel. Andrea Fedi (Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo), Arthur Vichot (FDJ), Julian Alaphilippe (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Ben Hermans (BMC). With a lack of organisation in the reduced bunch behind them, they were able to maintain a narrow advantage into the slightly uphill finish. Chavanel found himself pinned to the front with just over 300 metres remaining but it was Hermans who blinked first and opened up the sprint. The wily Frenchman hopped on to his wheel before surging past with 150 metres to go and holding off Fedi by a bike length. It was a victory for experience and a calm head as well as strong legs.
Pre-race favourite Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) cut a frustrated figure as he led home the main bunch for eighth place, just two seconds in arrears.
Okay, it’s not quite autumn yet, but with the Vuelta in progress and the Road World Championships on the horizon, we’re very much into the back end of the 2014 season. So it was perhaps fitting that Chavanel, a rider in the twilight of his career, should employ his race smarts to claim victory just 48 hours after he wrapped up the overall at the Tour du Poitou-Charentes.
Chavanel has always been a popular rider amongst fans for his swashbuckling attacking style but, despite three career Tour de France stage wins, his record in the big one-day classics is surprisingly paltry. A second place at the Tour of Flanders in 2011 remains his only podium finish in the major spring classics, making today the biggest one-day win of his career. Chava will savour this victory, and so should we. Having dropped down to Pro Continental level this season with IAM, opportunities to impress at big races are now few and far between. In his current form, though, he’ll look forward to the chance to put in a strong showing at the Worlds next month.
A timely opportunity to show form
Many of the major players for the Worlds road race are using the Vuelta as preparation, but races such as this and the Canadian double-header in Quebec and Montreal in a fortnight’s time take place on lumpy parcours which are well suited to those with an eye on inclusion in their national squads for Ponferrada.
And it’s not just inclusion for the Worlds that is on riders’ minds at this time of year. Many are still looking to secure contracts for next year, and a strong showing in the handful of high-profile events in these final two months of the cycling calendar can make all the difference in the search for gainful employment and the opportunity to take a step up the professional ladder. As we saw today, there will be no shortage of riders happy to show their face in an attack in the season’s closing races, which makes for exciting viewing.
Race in numbers
61 – Chavanel delivered the 61st victory by a French rider in 78 editions of the race – but it was the first ‘home’ win for six years.
5 – This was Chavanel’s fifth win of the season and his third this week alone, having won the individual time trial and the overall at the Tour du Poitou-Charentes, which finished on Friday.
35 – At 35, Chavanel is the oldest winner of this race since Eloi Tassin (who was 36) in 1948.
1. Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) 5:38:26
2. Andrea Fedi (Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo) same time
3. Arthur Vichot (FDJ) s/t
4. Cyril Gautier (Europcar) s/t
5. Julian Alaphilippe (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
6. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) s/t
7. Ben Hermans (BMC) s/t
8. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) +0:02
9. Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) s/t
10. Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) s/t