There is nothing we like better than an unpredictable stage and two teams willing to light it up.
Alejandro Valverde successfully defended his crown at the 59th Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista del Sol, a four-day stage race ranked 2.1 on the UCI Europe calendar. He recorded top-and-tail wins in the prologue and queen stage to give him the edge over runner-up Jurgen Van Den Broeck, who took the combined jersey, and third-placed Bauke Mollema. That’s four wins – three stages and one overall – and a runner-up placing for Valverde in only seven days of racing so far in 2013. The other two stages were won by Jonathan Hivert. Tom Dumoulin (Argos-Shimano) was the king of the mountains, Luis Mas (Burgos-BH) won the sprints jersey and Movistar collected the award for best team, while Valverde himself claimed the points competition.
Defending champion Valverde (Movistar) zoomed around the straightforward 6km prologue course in San Fernando in a time of 6:46 – a 20-second improvement on his time last year – to take the opening stage of this four-day race. Runner-up, two seconds back, was Simon Spilak (Katusha) while Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) was four seconds behind in third.
Big win today and most of all satisfied for improving a lot in ITT 👍
— alejandro valverde(@alejanvalverde) February 17, 2013
Etoile de Besseges winner, Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun) won the sprint from a large breakaway on Monday’s 164km stage from San Fernando to Ubrique. Valverde finished second to retain the overall lead and Bauke Mollema (Blanco) was third.
An early escape group built a lead of over four minutes from which Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) took a flyer on the second category three climb of the day. However, he was finally pulled back on the final category one climb, Puerto de Las Palomas, 34km from the finish. On the run in to Ubrique a large group formed, including race leader Valverde, which gained about a minute on the rest, to contest the sprint finish.
Hivert made it back-to-back victories in the bunch sprint at the end of the undulating 194.2km stage from Trebujena to Montilla ahead of Farrar, who keeps racking up those runner-up slots. Francesco Lasca of Caja Rural was third. Valverde finished in the peloton to keep the leader’s jersey, seven seconds clear of Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), second overall.
The stage featured yet another early breakaway which built an advantage of eight minutes. Despite Clement Lhotellerie’s (Colba-Superano Ham) solo bid over the Alto de Santaella, the trio were all back in the peloton with 17km to run thanks largely to the work done by Movistar. The peloton remained intact over the two last climbs to arrive all together at the finish where Hivert won his second consecutive stage. After the stage, a delighted Hivert said:
I’m happy: I’ve never won a stage race: I did that at Besseges. I’ve never won two consecutive stages. That’s now done. I have never recorded more than two wins per season; I’ve now done that too. I think I can now go on holiday!
Valverde took his second victory on the last, queen stage, 183km from Luceno to Rincon de la Victoria, beating Spilak and veteran Davide Rebellin (CCC Polsat Polkowice) to the finish.
A two-man breakaway set off after 30km only to be captured in the final run-in. Astana and Lotto-Belisol combined resources to try to spoil the Movistar party but Valverde, ably supported – as he was in last year’s Vuelta a Espana – by teammate Nairo Quintana formed part of a select 12-man group which included all the other leading contenders that went clear of the peloton on the final descent. Jon Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) launched a solo attack but it was all in vain as Valverde proved to be the strongest rider on the day.
Recuperando después de un día duro / recovering after a tough day. twitter.com/alejanvalverde…
— alejandro valverde(@alejanvalverde) February 18, 2013
Analysis & opinion
Movistar will leave Andalucia with smiles on their faces as Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana (seventh overall) and indeed the rest of the team ably defended their Ruta del Sol crown with a truly dominating performance. Next up for Valverde at the weekend is his home tour, the Vuelta a Murcia – reduced from a two to a one-day race due to economic difficulties – where he’ll come up against many of the protagonists from this race. Will he go for the win or help teammate Quintana defend his title? Both riders are clearly in fine form and, dare I say, better than at the same time last year.
Lotto-Belisol will also look back on the performances of Jurgen Van Den Broeck (runner-up) and Bart de Clerq (fifth overall) with pleasure and expectation of maybe better things to come in respectively Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice.
Jonathan Hivert‘s two wins will have helped plead their cause for one of the three Tour de France wild cards. He’ll hope to carry this form into Paris-Nice. Elsewhere, there were strong performances from Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), hoping to lay claim to leadership responsibilities in one of the Grand Tours and another solid Blanco performance, this time from Bauke Mollema, as they continue their hunt for a replacement sponsor.
Personally, I was delighted to see Jon Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) giving it a go on the queen stage. He came away empty-handed but his aggression augurs well for forthcoming races such as Paris-Nice, where he’ll be riding with his older brother Gorka.
1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 13:47:17
2. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) +0:07
3. Bauke Mollema (Blanco) +0:11
4. Simon Spilak (Katusha) +0:12
5. Bart De Clerq (Lotto-Belisol) +0:17
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +0:19
7. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +0:24
8. Sander Armee (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) +0:30
9. Davide Rebellin (CCC Polsat Polkowice) same time
10 Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) +0:38
Link: Official race website
Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise (27th January)
The 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.
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.
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)
Jonathan 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.
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.
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)
An 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).
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.