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Ahlstrand holds off Lobato and Bouhanni in the bunch sprint in the morning half-stage of the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe to take his first win since turning professional with Giant-Shimano; Bouhanni defends yellow

Photo: Team Giant-Shimano












09.04.2014 @ 12:40 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jonas Ahlstrand (Giant-Shimano) has got a rare chance to sprint for himself in the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe and today he grabbed the opportunity with both hands when he won the morning half-stage on the second day of the race. The young Swede held off Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) who earned enough bonus seconds to defend his lead ahead of the afternoon time trial in Angers.


One year ago Jonas Ahlstrand turned professional with the Giant-Shimano team but in his first time with the Dutch team he has mostly been working as a domestique. The fast Swede has played an integral role in the team's success in the bunch sprints, doing the job as a trusted part of the lead-out train.


With the team's main sprinters being focused on the classics, Ahlstrand has got a rare chance to be the lead sprinter in the French stage race Circuit Cycliste Sarthe. He didn't get his campaign off to the best start as he could only manage 10th in yesterday's opening bunch sprint but today he turned everything around.


When the morning half-stage came down to the expected bunch sprint, the fast Swede proved his speed as he held off Juan Jose Lobato and yesterday's winner Nacer Bouhanni in the final dash to the line. The win was his first since he took a surprise victory in the 2012 Tour of Norway before he had even turned professional.


Bouhanni had hoped to repeat last year's feat where he had won the two opening stages of the race but this time he had to be content with third. Earning four bonus seconds, however, he defended his overall lead while Lobato's second consecutive podium spot moved him into second.


The sprinters are expected to step into the background later today when the race continues with the first GC stage. The short, flat 6.8km time trial in Angers is set to produce the first indications of who may go on to win this year's edition of the French race ahead of the final two hillier stages.


A short, flat affair

As per tradition, the second day of the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe opened with a short, flat half-stage. The route brought the riders over 88.3km from Ancenis to Angers and with only one categorized climb, it was expected to be one for the sprinters. The stage ended with 3 laps of a 6.3km finishing circuit in Angers.


Many riders were keen to save energy for the afternoon time trial and so the early escape took off right from the gun after the riders had left Ancenis in beautiful sunny conditions. For the second day in a row, Duber Quintero (Colombia) was part of the action and he was joined by Tony Hurel (Europcar) and Emanuele Sella (Androni).


The gap is stable

The peloton was happy to let the gap grow and it reached a maximum of 1.40 at the 8km mark. In such a short stage, however, the sprint teams could not allow themselves to take any risks and so the FDJ team of race leader Bouhanni hit the front, bringing it down to just a minute at the 10km mark.


While Hurel beat Sella and Quintero in the only intermediate sprint, FDJ set a steady pace that kept the gap just around the one-minute mark for almost the entire stage. On the day's only climb at the 32.4km mark, Quintero added to his tally by cresting the summit first ahead of Hurel and Sella but he failed to take the lead away from Thomas Sprengers (Topsport Vlaanderen).


Quintero is caught

After 47km of racing, FDJ started to get a bit of assistance from BMC and Trek but it didn't have any significant impact on the gap which remained stable at around a minute. At 56km mark, Quintero fell off the pace in the break and he was quickly back in the peloton.


The two remaining escapees battled on and they crossed the line to start their first lap of the finishing circuit with a 1-minute advantage. However, it now started to come down and after the first lap, they were only 30 seconds ahead.


The break is over

A crash brought down Colombia sprinter Leonardo Duque while local rider Hurel decided to take off on his own when the gap was down to just 15 seconds. Sella was quickly caught and just before the start of the final lap, Hurel was also back in the fold as BMC had now taken control of the peloton.


On the final lap, Europcar, Movistar and Trek led the peloton but as they got closer to the finish, it was a repeat of yesterday's stage, with Europcar setting the pace. The French team was eager to set up Bryan Coquard and made sure that the speed was very high all the way around the final lap.


In the end, they were left disappointed as it was Ahlstrand who took the win while Bouhanni's third place was enough for him to defend his leader's jersey.



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