What’s happening in June?

With just five weeks between the end of the Giro d’Italia and the beginning of the 100th Tour de France, June is a busy month which sees both key warm-up races and the start of the Tour itself. Here’s a quick preview of the races and some of the more notable rider birthdays which occur over the course of June. Continue reading

Boucles Drôme-Ardèche review: Drujon springs a surprise

boucleslogoThe 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.

Bouclesprofile

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.

Race summary

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.

Drujon, Winner of Boucles de Sud Ardeche 2013 (image courtesy of BigMat-Auber 93)

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.

Result:

1. Mathieu Drujon (BigMat-Auber 93) 5:08:34

2. Remi Pauriol (Sojasun) same time

3. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t

4. Sylvain Georges (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:05

5. Fabrice Jeandesboz (Sojasun) +0:22

6. Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:29

7. Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t

8. Julien Simon (Sojasun) s/t

9. David Malacarne (Europcar) +0:31

10. Marc De Maar (UnitedHealthcare) s/t

Link: Official website

French early season races review (part 1)

Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise (27th January)

GPLaMarseillaiselogoThe relatively unknown 26-year old Justin Jules (La Pomme Marseille) outsprinted 30-odd riders, including last year’s defending champion, Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r La Mondiale), to take victory in the opening round of the Coupe de France on his team’s home turf.

Teammate Thomas Vaubourzeix and Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) had established a lead of almost eight minutes with 100km of the 148.1km course remaining before the bunch started to reel them in. With 30km left and the gap down to only 60 seconds, Cedric Pineau (FDJ) and Benjamin Giraud (La Pomme Marseille) joined them. Ultimately, all four were back in the bunch 15km later.

As anticipated there was a flurry of attacks but a police motorbike crash in the finishing straight brought down some riders, including Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil), leaving a select bunch to contest the closely fought sprint finish. Wallays won the King of the Mountains prize while Vaubourzeix was adjudged most combative.

Podium l to r Dumoulin, Jules and  (image courtesy of La Pomme Marseille)

Podium l( to r) Dumoulin, Jules and Damuseau (image courtesy of La Pomme Marseille)

Jules rejoined VC La Pomme this year after a season with Super Vernada Rideau-U marred by a bout of mononucleosis. His father Pascal was a Tour de France double stage winner in the Renault team of Laurent Fignon, who was killed aged 26 after being hit by a car, when Jules was barely a year old. A few years ago, young Jules spent time in prison after a family drama which ended with the death of his alcoholic stepfather. Let’s hope this second – and biggest – professional win is the start of better things for him.

Result:

1. Justin Jules (VC La Pomme Marseille) 3:40:05

2. Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r La Mondiale) same time

3. Thomas Damuseau (Argos-Shimano) s/t

4. Anthony Roux (FDJ) s/t

5. Sander Armee (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) s/t

6. Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t

7. Maxime Vantomme (Crelan-Euphony) s/t

8. Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano) s/t

9. Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t

10. Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) s/t

Etoile de Bessèges (30th January-3rd February)

EtoiledeBessegeslogoJonathan Hivert (Sojasun) recorded his and his team’s maiden 2013 victory by virtue of his sixth place on stage three and consistent performances on the others. It was his first win since stage two of last year’s Tour de Romandie and could lay the foundation for what he hopes will be his best season to date.

Triumphant in Etoile de Besseges (image courtesy of race site)

Triumphant in Etoile de Besseges (image courtesy of race site)

Georg Preidler (Argos-Shimano) was top dog in the mountains, FDJ easily won the team competition, double stage winner Bryan Coquard (Europcar) took the points jersey and runner-up Jerome Cousin (Europcar) was the best young rider.

On the opening stage, 24-year old Belgian Michael Van Staeyen (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) held off Frederique Robert (Lotto-Belisol) and La Marseillaise winner Justin Jules (La Pomme Marseille) in the sprint to the finish line on the opening 154km stage from Bellegarde into Beaucaire to record his first win since 2011.

Stage two’s 157km route from Nimes to Allegre les Fumades finished in another sprint won by London 2012 omnium runner-up and neo-pro Bryan Coquard (Europcar). It was his maiden professional victory on only his second day of racing in the professional ranks – one to watch! He was shepherded for most of the stage by teammate Sebastien Chavanel, who five years earlier had mentored Coquard for a season. Runner-up Van Staeyen retained the coral leader’s jersey.

Europcar enjoyed back-to-back victories as 23-year old Jerome Cousin beat FDJ pair Anthony Roux and Arthur Vichot to the finish on a 152km stage around Besseges which featured three ascents of the cat 1 Col de Trelys, after an 11-man breakaway managed to hold off the advancing peloton. Cousin took over the race lead from Van Staeyen, who led the peloton over the line in 12th place. Lying second overall, just three seconds back, was Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun).

It was three from four for Europcar as Coquard took yet another bunch sprint victory, beating Frederique Robert (Lotto Belisol) and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) to the line on the 154km fourth stage from Sabron to Pont Saint Esprit. Jerome Cousin retained the overall lead going into the final day’s double-header of a short road stage followed by a time trial.

On Sunday morning’s 65.5km stage around Arles, Dumoulin finally got on the scoresheet for his new team after they’d effectively controlled the stage. Dumoulin took a flyer at a roundabout 500m from the line for an easy victory, ahead of Coquard. Mathieu Drujon (BigMat-Auber 93) was third.

The afternoon’s 9.7km individual time trial around Ales belonged to FDJ. Anthony Roux pipped teammate and breakaway specialist Jeremy Roy by three seconds to take the stage with a time of 14:48. Lieuwe Westra punctuated the French dominance to finish third, just ahead of FDJ’s Arthur Vichot. Indeed Westra was the only non-Frenchman in the top ten of the general classification. Race leader Cousin finished six seconds behind Hivert (who had finished eighth on GC last year), who leapfrogged him to take overall victory by four seconds.

Result:

1. Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun) 16:29:35

2. Jerome Cousin (Europcar) +0:04

3. Anthony Roux (FDJ) +0:05

4. Jeremy Roy (FDJ) +0:11

5. Cyril Gautier (Europcar) same time

6. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) +0:17

7. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:20

8. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:31

9. Arthur Vichot (FDJ) +0:35

10. Julien Antomarchi (La Pomme Marseille) +0:36

Ronde d’Aix (3rd February)

65ronde_aixAn invitational criterium, the first of the season, fittingly on the Avenue des Belges in Aix-en-Provence was won by world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC), who last won the race in 2006, to mark his first victory of 2013 and BMC’s second of the day [after Brent Bookwalter on stage one of the Tour of Qatar – Ed]. One of FDJ’s sprint stars, Arnaud Demare, was runner-up, while completing the podium was friend of VeloVoices Geoffroy Lequatre (Bretagne-Seche). A pretty stellar cast, most of whom live in the region, had been assembled including two-time former winner and Norse God Thor Hushovd (BMC) and Alberto Contador’s new teammate, Nico Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).

Podium l to right Demare, Gilbert, Lequatre (image courtesy of FDJ)

Podium (l to r) Demare, Gilbert, Lequatre (image courtesy of FDJ)

Conclusion

The French teams, particularly those outside the WorldTour, always look to perform well in the early season races. Not only are they keen to grab points but they’re also hoping their efforts will garner them wild card invites to the larger WorldTour races, particularly the all important Tour de France. It’s also good to see new French talent like Coquard emerging [more of that coming soon – Ed]. Let’s see how the above fare in the forthcoming Tours de Med and du Haut Var.

Links: GP La Marseillaise official website, Etoile de Besseges official website