Tour du Haut Var review

Tour du Haut Var logoThis year’s Tour du Haut Var-Matin attracted a stellar cast whose performances didn’t disappoint despite the contrasting weather, with glorious warm sunshine on Saturday and a chilly damp Sunday with outbreaks of rain and hail. Arthur Vichot (FDJ), already prominent in the early season races, beat off more fancied opposition with his consistency on both stages to take overall victory. He rather cleaned up on the jerseys too, claiming those for the points and best young rider. RadioShack’s Laurent Didier was king of the mountains and Blanco were best team. Vichot finished on the same time overall as Blanco teammates Lars Boom and Laurens Ten Dam but his superior placings saw him claim the crown with the other two second and third respectively.

Race summary

Back with a bang (of thunder!), Norse God Thor Hushovd (BMC) buried his frustratingly dry 2012 season to take the first stage on a parcours perfectly suited to his powerful racing style.

Thor, the Norse god of war, allegedly patrolled the skies in a chariot pulled by two goats. Here it was his teammates Daniel Oss and Manuel Quinziato who brought him to the front with 200 metres remaining. Tour Down Under winner Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco) tried to jump him but Thor still had one more throw of the hammer to hold off him and the advancing Arthur Vichot to record his first win since September 2011.

On the opening undulating 152.7km sprint-friendly stage from Le Cannet des Maures, an early trio had built a lead of eight minutes before being hauled back on the first of the day’s two small climbs with 55km remaining. This prompted a flurry of attacks as the peloton headed for the final five circuits around the finish in La Croix-Valmer. BMC, ever present in the leading group, controlled the final charge and guided Thor to victory.

While Thor himself was delighted to confirm his form with a victory, an old friend perhaps said it best:

After Saturday’s thunderous bang, on Sunday we had a Boom: Lars Boom (Blanco), who sprinted across the finish line on the second and final stage – a 207km parcours around Draguigan reminiscent of a Belgian semi-Classic – to add to his stage two victory in the recent Tour Mediterraneen.

Arthur Vichot (image courtesy of FDJ)

Arthur Vichot (image courtesy of FDJ)

Boom was one of the survivors of the day’s 15-man break which splintered in the circuit around the hill-top villages. Vichot, the day’s runner-up, only bridged across to the leaders on the run-in to the finish but managed to follow the decisive attack in the last 3km.  Daniel Oss finished third.

Boom and Vichot were tied on aggregate time with Laurens Ten Dam but Vichot got the nod on account of his superior placings – third and second. Stage one winner Hushovd led home the peloton to finish fifth overall.

Vichot was delighted with his victory and confirmed:

This is a race that I had in mind since the beginning of the season, with a course that suits me perfectly. I had good legs since the beginning of the year. My team was at my service and I am proud to have met their expectations.

Analysis & opinion

A number of team managers will have departed the Var feeling quietly confident of their charges’ form ahead of next weekend’s double-header in Belgium. [Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne – Ed.] The length and climatic conditions of Sunday’s stage will have been excellent training for those forthcoming races.

2013 podium l to r Boom, Vichot, Ten Dam (image courtesy of official race website)

Podium (l to r) Boom, Vichot, Ten Dam (image courtesy of official race website)

Most notably, BMC’s Thor Hushovd is getting back to his best and will soon be locking horns again with the other stage winner, Blanco’s Lars Boom, who has displayed excellent early season form. Indeed, in the search for a replacement sponsor the team have been firing on all cylinders. In addition, the management of both teams will have been delighted at the respective team efforts which resulted in those individual stage wins.

A number of French teams have been quickly out of the start gate, racking up points and wins both on home and foreign soil, none more so than FDJ who will have been delighted with Vichot’s overall win and the part played by his teammates, most notably team leader Perrick Fedrigo, who finished fourth overall. You may recall Vichot first came to the world’s attention when the Adelaide cycling club made him a viral star with their support in his maiden Tour Down Under in 2010.

Much to the disappointment of the crowd, one of the race’s much fancied runners, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was felled in Sunday’s slippery conditions thereby ending his race ambitions.

General classification

1. Arthur Vichot (FDJ) 9:00:28

2. Lars Boom (Blanco) same time

3. Laurens Ten Dam (Blanco) s/t

4. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) +0:04

5. Thor Hushovd (BMC) +0:14

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

7. Egoitz Garcia (Cofidis) s/t

8. Justin Jules (La Pomme Marseille) s/t

9. Julien Simon (Sojasun) s/t

10. Mathieu Drujon (BigMat-Auber 93) s/t

Link: Official website

European national road race championship round-up

New French champion Nacer Bouhanni (image courtesy of nacerbouhanni.free.fr)

“Today is the happiest day of my life!” beamed Nacer Bouhanni on winning his first national championship, with new Belgian champ Tom Boonen describing the win as “something special”. For cycling geeks worldwide this single weekend of racing is almost as exciting and intriguing as the rather better publicised three-weeker which it precedes.

Not only does the race determine national champions and give riders a nice addition to their palmares, but also the right to wear their national colours for the year. The likes of Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain have all won their respective championships and have had the honour to be the sole rider in the peloton flying their national flag.

The excitement is heightened by the fact that the races are purely one-day affairs, and therefore every rider in the peloton can dream of donning their nation’s colours, particularly in sprint finishes and unpredictable weather conditions. While riders tend to participate in their usual teams, it often boils down to ‘every man for himself’ nearer the finish.

Below is a quick round-up of the most noteworthy of this weekend’s national champions.

France – Nacer Bouhanni

21-year old Nacer Bouhanni‘s remarkable start to the season has excited French cycling fans greatly, reinforcing his potential by taking the tricolore. But one Frenchman who may not be so delighted is his FDJ-BigMat teammate Arnaud Demare, who he narrowly pipped to the line in an exciting sprint finish after 256.2km in miserable conditions.

Bouhanni gave an infectiously enthusiastic interview after the race, where he described it as “the happiest day of my life!” He didn’t however express great sympathy for his teammate who so narrowly missed out:

We like each other, but in a finish like this, things are clear. The strongest wins.

Belgium – Tom Boonen

Like Bouhanni, Tom Boonen continued the best start to a season of his career (albeit a rather longer career) with another win, as he rode away to take his second national title. Boonen – who has won the two great Classics Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix this season – sprinted out of a five-man breakaway to take the victory, with AG2R’s Kristof Goddaert narrowly behind.

Boonen, who targeted this championship along with the Olympic road race, said he was “overjoyed”:

This was a real goal, I am overjoyed. The Belgian champion’s jersey is still a highly respected one in the peloton. Each life has its ups and downs. Now, I have my share of bad luck behind me. This year, it’s going good. I have to try and harvest the fruit of my hard work and aim at the last targets of this year.

Netherlands – Niki Terpstra

Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Niki Terpstra took his second Dutch title, this time in emphatic fashion after going solo with 40km remaining. He finished over two minutes ahead of Rabobank’s Lars Boom, in another of the many races run in grim conditions.

Terpstra said that he “surprised” himself with his performance:

I’m happy about my performance. I have to say that I surprised myself. We were in a little group and I tried to accelerate to split the group and make it smaller but I remained alone. At that point I took the risk and I did a time trial. I like these kinds of races with bad weather conditions. It’s my second title, and the first win was great, but this one, with a solo ride, is even better!

Italy – Franco Pellizotti

Franco Pellizotti got his return from a two-year ban off to an excellent start, as he claimed the Italian title in Borgo Valsugana. The Androni Giocattoli rider attacked as the final 13km loop began, and won by a mammoth 27 seconds. Danilo Di Luca (Acqua & Sapone) and Moreno Moser (Liquigas-Cannondale) finished second and third respectively.

Pellizotti emphasised the significance of the national championships after the race, describing it as his “number one goal” adding:

At 400 metres to go, I knew I’d won and was able to enjoy it. I wish that it could have never ended. I must thank Androni for the great trust they have shown in me. After they confirmed my appointment I was able to train in the best possible way for this race.

Great Britain – Ian Stannard

As we have come to expect, Sky dominated the British national championships, with Ian Stannard and Alex Dowsett taking a one-two. Former winners Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas chose to concentrate on Tour de France/Olympics preparation along with Mark Cavendish, missing the event in North Yorkshire.

Stannard rode to the finish alone, attacking out of a breakaway which included teammate Dowsett. After the win, he reflected on the honour of wearing the red, white and blue:

It’s really nice to keep [the jersey] in the team. There’s been so many great riders wear it over the years. It will be really cool to ride the Classics and just race in it. That will be really special.

Luxembourg – Laurent Didier

There was a shock at the Luxembourg national championships as Frank Schleck – seemingly constantly donning his national colours – was beaten by RadioShack-Nissan teammate Laurent Didier in rainy conditions.

Schleck attacked out of a break of nine first, but AG2R’s Ben Gastauer stayed locked onto his wheel. Didier and Schleck then proceeded to trade attacks in a bid to break Gastauer, with Didier eventually wriggling free. Gastauer came across in second place, with Schleck third.

Didier spoke about his first victory as a professional:

I’m incredibly happy with this result. It’s my first pro victory and pro title, so I’m really happy. It’s an honour to wear the colours of your country.

Germany – Fabian Wegmann

Garmin-Sharp’s Fabian Wegmann won his third German national title and his first race in two years in a sprint finish, with RadioShack’s Linus Gerdemann and Leopard-Trek CT’s Julian Kern second and third respectively. A relieved Wegmann described his feelings:

I didn’t win a race last year, so this is huge. I have already seen that I am on track, but as an individual competitor, of course it’s difficult. I played a game of poker and then put everything on the sprint.  I knew, because I was the fastest.

In brief

Below is a simple list of most – but not all – of the current national champions:

Australia: Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE)

Belgium: Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Canada: Ryan Roth (SpiderTech-C10)

Croatia: Vladimir Miholjevic (Acqua & Sapone)

Czech Republic: Milan Kadlec (ASC Dukla Prague)

Denmark: Sebastian Lander (Glud & Marstrand)

Estonia: Tanel Kangert (Astana)

France: Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat)

Germany: Fabian Wegmann (Garmin-Sharp)

Great Britain: Ian Stannard (Sky)

Ireland: Matthew Brammeier (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Italy: Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli)

Kazakhstan: Assan Bazayev (Astana)

Latvia: Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis)

Luxembourg: Laurent Didier (RadioShack-Nissan)

Moldova: Alexandr Pliuschin (Leopard)

Netherlands: Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Norway: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky)

Poland: Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Russia: Eduard Vorganov (Katusha)

Slovakia: Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)

South Africa: Robert Hunter (Garmin-Sharp)

Spain: Francisco Ventoso (Movistar)

Switzerland: Martin Kohler (BMC)

Ukraine: Andriy Grivko (Astana)

USA: Timothy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale)