AntBanter: The secret of Gallic flair

From Hinault to Chavanel, Anquetil to Voeckler, French cycling is well-known for its colourful and often controversial characters. Playing host to the world’s biggest bike race, it is not difficult to see France’s influence on the sport, and the sport’s influence on France. Cycling heroes permeate French culture in a very big way –  you even get French punks singing about Louison Bobet! Continue reading

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

Tour de France: Stage 15 review

Stage 15: Samatan to Pau, 158.5km

Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) handed the French their fourth win of the Tour  – and his team’s second – when he beat Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) in a two-man sprint after the pair had distanced their four breakaway companions 6km from the finish. This was the second time in three years that Fedrigo’s won into Pau, his fourth Tour victory, but his first since 2010 and his return to competition after suffering from Lyme’s disease for most of last season.

The other four, having lost out in the inevitable game of cat-and-mouse, which started 10km from the finish, finished seconds behind, with stage 10 winner Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) rounding out the podium.

Maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and the main peloton, lead home by birthday boy Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), rolled home nearly 12 minutes behind the breakaway. Indeed, it had taken over 60km for the successful break to slip away, after several had tried and failed in a fast and furious start to the race. With Fedrigo, Vande Velde and Voeckler were Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) and another Kitty favourite, Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who were eventually joined by Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Nicki Sorensen after a long solo chase.

The peloton, possibly intent on keeping their powder dry for the next two monster stages after tomorrow’s rest day, were only too happy to cruise in the last half of the stage after the frantic early pace.

VeloVoices rider of the day

VeloVoices’ rider of the day, by a nose [I see what you did there – Ed], is stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat), who carefully weighed up his options and eliminated his sprint opposition, the diminutive Dumoulin, on the run in to the finish line. Indeed, one might say that the last two stages, both won from breakaways, have been won by classic stage-hunters.

Observations

Today was another short punchy stage televised from the start. In theory it was a stage for the sprint teams but there were still 14 empty-handed teams so today was always going to be a battle royal to get into the breakaway. You might wonder why more didn’t try but the speed was pretty much flat out for the first 60km. With a successful break finally forming, Nicki Sorensen tried to bridge but only succeeded dangling in no man’s land until his team came to the rescue, no doubt on the orders of Saxo Bank team manager and master tactician Bjarne Riis. After 75km, the front five had built a lead of over six minutes but Sorenson was still 30 seconds adrift when his team mates hit the front of the peloton and began to drag back the leading group. Hobson’s choice, so the five-man group slowed and allowed the Dane to catch up with them. Once he’d done so, his team mates disappeared from the front of the peloton and the gap began to grow again.

Tactical analysis

Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) was allowed to roll over the line at the intermediate sprint point, a signal of the other riders’ capitulation in the face of his dominance in the points competition: game over, barring any mishaps.

Tejay Van Garderen is still comfortably leading the young riders’ competition and there’s speculation that he may be BMC’s sacrificial lamb in the Pyrenees, used to tempt Sky’s black-and-white sheep dogs into  a rash move in an effort to get teammate and defending champion Cadel Evans back onto the podium.

Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) is still wearing the mountains jersey  – plus matching shorts, helmet, socks and gloves – but today Thomas Voeckler made a point of taking all five points on offer to move up in the competition. Has he now set his cap at the jersey? If so, he’ll need to get into either or both of the next days’ inevitable breakaways. Even for him, this might be one break too far.

Meanwhile, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and his team are looking unassailable. The next two stages represent the last chance saloon for anyone wanting to disturb their one-two lock on the podium. But will the others want to gamble their places and precious UCI points? I see more potential downside than upside for the challengers on terrain that’s difficult, yes, but there’s virtually no painful and unsettling changes of gradient to disturb Wiggo’s rhythm. In week one, Bradley said it’s not over until the fat lady sings, and she’s not even in the room. I would venture to suggest that she’s now in the room and warming up at the mike.

In reality, maybe there’s only Samu Sanchez’s (Euskaltel-Euskadi) successor as the winner of the mountains classification to be decided in the coming days. Not of course forgetting those 14 teams still intent on chasing a precious stage win, which will ensure places in the day’s breakaway will be hotly contested.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Tour de France official website