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Will Bryan Coquard continue his recent success by taking a second stage race victory in 2016?

Photo: Sirotti




02.06.2016 @ 17:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

This week most French cycling fans have their eyes on the Criterium du Dauphiné but there’s an alternative option for ambitious French riders to pick up valuable UCI points. The Boucles de la Mayenne may not be the biggest race on the French calendar but it has gradually gained prestige and now stands out as a big chance for young Frenchmen to show themselves on the big scene.


While many countries have witnessed a massive reduction in the number of high-level races, things have been slightly different in France. Some races have disappeared – most notably the Circuit de Lorraine and the Tour Mediteraneen – but apart from that, the calendar is mostly unchanged. Some races have been battling for survival but most of them have managed to find the necessary backing.


This year new races have even been created. February witnessed the inaugural editions of La Mediterraneenne and Tour La Provence and they were both very successful. However, other events have had a more gradual rise through the ranks of the flourishing French racing scene. One of them is the Boucles de la Mayenne.


Most of the French departments have their own stage races. The races in Picardie, Limousin, Haut-Var and Poitou-Charentes are all big events that welcome WorldTour teams. Other like the ones in Alsace, Bretagne and Normandie are 2.2 races where some of the smaller teams and younger riders can prove their potential


For many years, the race in the Mayenne department was one of those 2.2 races. Created in 1975, it was first an amateur race but became a UCI race in 2004. Its status changed again in 2014 when it was given 2.1 status which means that it is now open to WorldTour teams.


As a relatively new 2.1 race, it hasn’t been able to attract foreign WorldTour teams and so it is still below the level of the races in Picardie, Haut-Var and Poitou-Charentes. However, the first two editions at the new level have been very exciting and a great chance for the young WorldTour talents to show themselves. While the biggest French stars head to the Criterium du Dauphiné, the younger riders can test themselves on a mixed course that includes a prologue, two flat stages and a lumpier stage for the classics riders.


In 2014, it was Stephane Rossetto who continued to show his huge potential as a stage race rider by taking a big win for the small BigMat-Auber 93 team. Last year Anthony Turgis underlined his status as one of the biggest French talents by winning the race just a few months before he took the bronze medal at the U23 World Championships.


The course

The Mayenne department is located in a relatively flat part of France and so it is no surprise that the race is one for the fast riders who can overcome smaller climbs. Since the race got its 2.1 status, it has had the same format, with a very important prologue, two sprint stages and a harder stage where the punchy classics riders can make a difference. Nothing will change for the 2016 edition.



For the third year in a row, the race will kick off with the same 4.5km evening prologue in the city of Laval. It’s a flat course with numerous turns and this makes it a stage for the real prologue specialists who have the explosiveness and technical skills to do well in a short, hectic effort.


This is reflected in the previous winners. In 2014, it was won by Jimmy Engoulvent – one of the best French prologue riders in recent years – while it was TT specialist Johan Le Bon who came out on top in 2015.



Stage 1

The first stage has traditionally been for the sprinters and this will again be the case in 2016. The 190km route will bring the riders from Renault to Craon and includes four smaller climbs along the way. In the end, they will do four laps of a flat finishing circuit


The terrain is relatively flat so this should be a controlled sprint stage. However, the wind can always play a role in this part of France. Furthermore, the bonus seconds are crucial in this race so the GC riders may be keen to battle it out in the intermediate sprints.



Stage 2

The third day has often been the chance for the classics riders to make a difference and this is likely to be the case again in 2016. The 182km will link Laval and Villaines-la-Juhel and will offer a new finale. There will be two categorized climbs in the first half but the real challenge is the three climbs that come in quick succession before the riders get to the finish for the first time. Here, they will end the race by doing four laps of a finishing circuit.


The amount of information released by the organizers is very limited so it is hard to gauge how tough the stage really is. In the last two years, Anthony Turgis and Eliot Lietaer have taken solo wins in this stage but the course for the queen stage is a new one so it can either be more selective or be another stage for the sprinters. In any case, this is the day where the puncheurs and attackers have to make a difference.



Stage 3

The race always returns to Laval for the final stage where the sprinters get another chance to show themselves. This year’s course is 180km long and stats in Juvigné. There are two categorized climbs early in the stage and three climbs in the second half. However, the stage ends with 5 laps of a flat circuit in Laval.


The stage has some smaller climbs but they are unlikely to make a difference. Only the wind can potentially prevent another bunch sprint. That failed to happen in 2014 and 2015 when Yoann Gene and Danilo Napolitano won the sprints.



The favourites

The limited amount of information from the race organizers and lack of details about the climbs make Boucles de la Mayenne a very hard race to predict. However, history shows that stages 1 and 3 are usually for the sprinters and as there are no climbs of the highest categories late in those stages, it seems likely to be the case again in 2016. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be important for the overall classification though as it’s a race that is decided by seconds. Hence, the bonus seconds in that can be picked up both at the finish and in the intermediate sprints can be crucial.


The race will be decided by three factors. Of course the prologue is the single most important stage as it is the best chance to gain time. The bonus seconds are crucial as the sprinters can easily erase their time losses from the time trial if they manage to dominate the sprints. Finally, the queen stage is a chance for the classics riders to make a difference. However, both edition have been decided in the queen stage where the prologue winner and the sprinters have been unable to follow the best. That has allowed Stephane Rossetto and Anthony Turgis to win the races even though they could only manage 10th and 15th respectively.


Overall the race can be won by three riders: a good time triallist who can win the prologue, a sprinter who can limit his losses in the prologue, survive the queen stage and do well in the sprint stages, and a strong rider who can do well in the prologue and make the difference in the queen stage.


The level of selectiveness will be influenced by the weather. However, there will barely be any wind for the four-day race and after a cloudy start on Thursday and Friday, there will even be lots of sunshine for the weekend. That favours the sprinters. On the other hand, the teams only have small six-rider line-ups and this makes it much harder to control the races. This plays a big role in explaining why the queen stage has never come down to a sprint.


The biggest star in the race is undoubtedly Bryan Coquard. The Frenchman has stepped up another level in 2016 as he has been climbing better than ever. He was an impressive fourth at the Amstel Gold Race which speaks volumes about what he can now do in hilly terrain and he completely dominated the 4 Days of Dunkirk where he won three stages and was second in the tough queen stage.


Coquard has just returned from California where he did well on the climbs even though he came up short in the sprints. He now targets victory in this race which suits him really well. There is no chance that he will get dropped in the queen stage and on paper he is the fastest rider here. Furthermore, he has a fantastic lead-out train led by Adrien Petit who did an outstanding job in Dunkirk.


The big challenge will of course be the prologue. Coquard is definitely not a TT specialist but he is no bad prologue rider. In fact, he was second in the Tour de Luxembourg prologue in 2015 and even though that course suited him better, he should be able to limit his losses well by riding to a top 10 finish. The second big challenge will be for Direct Energie to control the road stages but they have a very powerful team her. Furthermore, Coquard is so strong that he can follow the attacks in the queen stage and this will make it much easier to keep things together. He is the favourite to win every road stage and as he is a good prologue rider, he is the natural favourite for the race.


The favourite for the prologue is definitely Johan Le Bon. The Frenchman won the stage in 2015 and hopes to make it two in a row. This year he has been time trialling better than ever and it was a bit of a breakthrough for him to finish second behind Cancellara in the Tirreno-Adriatico TT. His form seems to be solid as he rode aggressively while working for the team in the Coupe de France races this weekend where the hilly courses didn’t really suit him. He is a strong rider and if he is at 100% of his condition, he can even go with the best in the queen stage. However, he can’t sprint so he has to hope that he can build enough of a buffer in the prologue to hold off the sprinters.


A big rival for the prologue will be cyclo-cross star Mathieu van der Poel. The Dutchman is ready for his road debut after a short mountain bike campaign and this is a race that suits him really well. His explosiveness and technical skills make him a great prologue rider and he will be one of the obvious favourites for Thursday’s battle after having taken third here in 2014. Furthermore, he is very fast in a sprint – he won the Ronde van Limburg in a sprint in 2014 – and he is a great climber. He should be able to keep up with the best in the queen stage and can go for bonus seconds too. Of course his lack of road racing means that his form is a bit uncertain but as he has been active on his mountain bike, he can’t be too bad.


Daniel McLay is enjoying a breakthrough season. The Brit has finally confirmed his huge potential by taking big sprint wins at the GP de Denain and the GP de la Somme and especially the former race proved that he is one of the very fastest riders. Recently, he was second in the two sprints at the Belgium Tour where he was clearly the fastest rider. However, he paid the price for poor positioning which has always been his weakness. He is a solid prologue rider and did well in the Belgium Tour prologue so he should be able to limit his losses here. He climbs decently but the queen stage could be a challenge. However, if he can hang on there and do a solid prologue, three great sprints may allow him to win the race overall.


Another great prologue favourite is U23 world champion Mads Würtz Schmidt. The Dane turned heads when he beat the WorldTour stars in the Tour of Denmark TT last year and this proves that he can do well in a short TT. His form is good as he has just made the double in the Danish U23 Championships and last year’s Tour of Denmark showed that he can follow the best in hilly terrain. A prologue win could set him up for overall victory.


The same goes for William Clarke who is one of the greatest prologue specialists. The Australian has won lots of prologues in Asia and Australia and now he is ready to prove what he can do in Europe. However, he is a pretty big guy so if the queen stage becomes selective, it could very well be too hard for him.


FDJ will not be fully focused on Le Bon. Marc Sarreau is a back-up plan as he has proved that he can do good prologue. Last year the young sprinter was second in the Tour de l’Ain prologue and if he can repeat that kind of performance, he will win the internal battle against Lorrenzo Manzin for sprint leadership. FDJ have a great lead-out and he has proved that he can win sprints at this level so bonus seconds may allow him to erase his small deficit from the TT. The main question is whether his form is good as he had to abandon the Giro d’Italia.


Florian Senechal is one of the biggest French classics talents. He is definitely no time triallist but he used his good technical skills and explosiveness to finish second in the prologue two years ago. If he can repeat that kind of performance, he will be a danger man. He can go for bonus seconds in the intermediate sprints and is strong enough to make the difference in the queen stage. He was solid in Belgium even though he was not at his best yet.


Jose Goncalves is one of the strongest riders here. He can do a solid prologue and is fast in a sprint. However, he won’t win the TT and he is not fast enough to be in the top 3 in the bunch sprints. To win the race, he has to make a difference in the queen stage which he is strong enough to do.


Anthony Delaplace is also a good time triallist and he should be one of the best in the prologue. However, he is unlikely to win and he is not fast so he has to rider aggressively in the queen stage. The same goes for Gert Joeaar who won the 3 Days of West-Flanders prologue a few years ago. Since then he has not been at the same level but he showed signs of improvement in the Belgium Tour prologue.


Finally, we will point to Marcel Meisen and Rudy Barbier. Both are among the best sprinters here and are climbing well enough to be there in the queen stage. However, they will lose time in the prologue so they really have to be on fire in the sprints to win the race.


***** Bryan Coquard

**** Johan Le Bon, Mathieu van der Poel

*** Daniel McLay, Mads Würtz Schmidt, William Clarke, Marc Sarreau, Florian Senechal

** Jose Goncalves, Anthony Delplace, Marcel Meisen, Rudy Barbier, Gert Joeaar

* Lluis Mas, Eliot Lietaer, Pierrick Fedrigo, Maxime Vantomme, Angel Madrazo, Adrien Petit, Andrea Pasqualon, Jonas Ahlstrand, Yannick Martinez, Lorrenzo Manzin, Martijn Tusveld, Garikoitz Bravo, Thomas Sprengers, Daniele Ratto, Jordan Kerby, Jens Mouris



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