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In an extremely close bunch sprint, Ahlstrand narrowly held off Coquard and a fast-finishing Giraud to win stage 2 of the 4 Days of Dunkirk; courtesy of bonus seconds Coquard extended his overall lead

Photo: Team Giant-Shimano

BRYAN COQUARD

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DIRECT ENERGIE

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JONAS AHLSTRAND

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07.05.2015 @ 17:24 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jonas Ahlstrand took his first win in the Cofidis jersey when he narrowly held off Bryan Coquard (Europcar) and Benjamin Giraud (Marseille) in am an extremely close bunch sprint on the second stage of the 4 Days of Dunkirk. Having jumped over a traffic island to move up in the technical finale, he launched a long sprint that was enough to open his account while Coquard extended the overall lead.

 

In his first few years as a professional, Jonas Ahlstrand has learnt the trade of sprinting at the Giant-Alpecin team which is famously known for their lead-out skills. Having mostly been riding in a support role, he got his occasional chance to sprint for himself and picked up a few wins along the way.

 

For the 2015 season, he decided to leave the German team to try his hand as a lead-out man for Nacer Bouhanni who was building a new train at the Cofidis team. In the first part of the year, he has been working tirelessly for his French captain but as the star rider was not at the start of this week’s Four Days of Dunkirk, he was selected as the protected sprinter for the race which usually has lot of opportunities for the fast men.

 

Today he got his first chance to sprint in the Cofidis jersey and he proved his potential right from the start by taking a very close solo victory. In a photo finish, he edged out Bryan Coquard and a very fast-finishing Benjamin Giraud by a very small margin to open his account in a technical downhill finish.

 

With less windy conditions than yesterday, everything was set for a bunch sprint in Dunkerque and the Cofidis bided their time while several teams combined efforts to bring back an early escape. With Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) taking a huge turn for several kilometres, the catch was made with 12.5km to go and it was time for the fight for position to intensify.

 

Christian Mager (Cult) moved to the front to work a bit with Voeckler but with 10km to go, it was the Topsport Vlaanderen team which lined out their train, with Oliver Naesen taking a huge turn. That’s when the riders got to the very technical part and this was the signal for Ag2r to kick into action. With huge work from Alexis Gougeard and Sebastien Minard, they took complete control and brought back a lone Armee de Terre rider who got a gap with 8km to go.

 

Minard and Gougeard remained in control until Marseille and Roompot made big surges with 4km to go. The former team came out on top before Minard took one final turn.

 

Until now Cofidis had been hiding in the bunch but now they took control. Adrien Petit took a huge turn before Kenneth Vanbilsen took over but they had lost sprinter Ahlstrand who had nearly gone down in a crash.

 

Damien Gaudin hit the front for Ag2r before his teammate Quentin Jauregui made an attack. However, Marseille were quick to shut it down and seemed to be in a great position with four riders on the front.

 

Just before the flamme rouge which signaled the start on a very technical part, Bora-Argon 18 took over with Christophe Pfingsten leading his sprinter Phil Bauhaus. The German led his captain through the final roundabouts but when he swung off, the sprinter was in the wind too early.

 

This caused the pace to go down and allowed Edward Theuns (Topsport) to come from far back with Coquard on his wheel. The Belgian tried to go from afar but he was passed by Ahlstrand with 300m to go when the Swede jumped over a traffic island to move into the lead position. Ahstrand did a long sprint while Coquard tried to pass him on the right. In the end, Giraud, Coquard and Ahlstrand were side by side when they crossed the line and no one dared to celebrate.

 

In the end, Ahlstrand was declared the stage winner while Coquard had to settle for a frustrating second place. However, the Frenchman who had already picked up two bonus seconds in the first intermediate sprint, extended his overall lead over Theuns from 4 to 12 seconds.

 

He takes that advantage into tomorrow’s third stage which is another mostly flat affair. There are four smaller climbs in the first two thirds of the race but in the end, the riders descend to Saint-Omer where they finish the stage by doing two laps of a 14.3km finishing circuit.

 

One for the sprinters

After the cobbled opening stage, the riders faced a significantly easier stage on day when they headed over 178.8km from Fontaine au Pire to Maubeuge. After a flat first part, the riders tackled three small climbs with around 50km to go before they followed flat roads to the finish where the race ended with one lap of a 31.8km finishing circuit that had a very technical finale.

 

The riders had significantly more pleasant condition when they gathered at the start in Fontaine au Pire and they got the race off to an incredibly fast start with lots of attacks. David Boucher (FDJ) was one of the early attackers but after 30 minutes of racing with an average speed of 49km/h, no one had managed to get clear. This meant that the GC riders could sprint for the bonus second in the first intermediate sprint where Laurent Pichon (FDJ) beat race leader Bryan Coquard (Europcar)

 

The break takes off

Passing through Troisvilles, a crash split the peloton into two groups but things came back together after a little while. Moments later, the break was established when Maxime Renault (Auber 93), Julien Antomarchi (Roubaix), Fabricio Ferrari (Caja Rural) and Boris Dron (Wanty) escaped. However, the former didn’t stay in the group for more than a few kilometres before he was distanced by his companions.

 

Renault managed to rejoined the front group at a point when the peloton had been distanced by 2 minutes. Finally, the peloton decided to take a breather and the gap quickly grew to 5.20.

 

The chase gets organized

It even went out to 6.20 before the peloton organized a chase. Europcar, Roompot, Bora-Argon 18 and Armee de Terre all put riders on the front, with Julien Morice, Vincent Jerome (Europcar), Ivar Slik, Tim Kerkhof, Michel Kreder (Roompot) and Daniel Schorn (Bora-Argon 18) being among the riders that set the pace.

 

The gap was coming steadily down and as they entered the final 60km, it was already down to 4 minutes. At this point, the escapees had reached the hilly zone and Ferrari was allowed to win the first KOM sprint uncontested, rolling across the line ahead of Renault and Antomarchi.

 

A close fight for KOM points

The Uruguayan didn’t get the same gift in the second sprint where he went head to head with Antomarchu, with the Frenchman coming out on top and Dron taking third. In the final sprint, those two riders again sprinted and this time Ferrari was the fastest.

 

At this point, the gap was only 3.05 and Armee, Roompot, Europcar and Bora-Argon 18 were still working well together. With 35km to go, Colombia even put a rider on the front and when Dron led Antomarchi and Ferrari across the line in the final intermediate sprint with 34km to go, the gap was only 2.00.

 

Voeckler kicks into action

Going through the technical final turns, Johan Vansummeren hit the front for Ag2r but as they again got onto bigger roads, Armee, Roompot, Colombia and Europcar wnt back to work. Slik, Kekhof and Alexandre Pichot (Europcar) were among the pace-setters and as they entered the final 20km, they had reduced their deficit to just 1.10.

 

Colombia stopped their work before Europcar took complete control with 16km to go. Voeckler and Pichot traded pulls before the latter swung off with 15km to go when the gap was 30 seconds. From there Voeckler set the pace until the escapees were caught with 12.5km to go but in the end it was Ahlstrand who denied Europcar another win.

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