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The Colombian makes a late acceleration inside the final kilometre to take a surprise victory ahead of Degenkolb and Dumoulin in  very hectic finale

Photo: Sirotti

AG2R CITROEN TEAM

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CARLOS ALBERTO BETANCUR

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JOHN DEGENKOLB

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SAMUEL DUMOULIN

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TOUR DU HAUT VAR

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22.02.2014 @ 18:49 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) became a surprise winner of the first stage of the two-day Tour du Haut Var when the Colombian climber made a late attack inside the final kilometre of a race that was expected to suit the sprinters. He held off big favourite John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and his teammate Samuel Dumoulin to take his first win of the season and become the first leader of the race.

 

All was set for a bunch sprint in the first stage of the short two-day Tour du Haut Var stage race in France but in the end it was a climber who came away with the goods. Carlos Betancur surprised all the fast finishers by launching a solo attack in the finale and took a surprise win on the opening day of the race.

 

The race finished on a difficult finishing circuit that was by no means flat and had an uphill finishing straight. This opened the door for some aggressive racing that wore the Giant-Shimano team down.

 

The Dutch squad had done a lot of work throughout the entire stage to keep things under control and when Quentin Jauregui  (Roubaix), Brice Feillu (Bretagne), and Remy Di Gregorio (Marseille) attacked in the finale, they were on their knees. They had to use up all their resources to catch the three climbers as the hard pace saw several riders being dropped from the bunch.

 

They managed to catch the group inside the final kilommetre but had no more riders left to support their fast German sprinter Degenkolb. This opened a door for another attack and Betancur was quick to grab the opportunity with both hands.

 

The Colombian accelerated off the front and while Degenkolb dutifully beat Samuel Dumoulin in the sprint, it was too late. At that point, Betancur had already crossed the line to take a hugely surprising win.

 

With the victory, Betancur is the first leader of the two-day race and he takes his jersey into tomorrow's difficult second stage. The long 203.4km route starting and finishing in Draguignan is up and down all day, with several very steep climbs featuring along the way. The final one, the Cote des Tulieres, comes just 20.5km from the finish and the scene is set for an aggressive and very exciting finale of the race.

 

One for the sprinters

The 151km first stage from Le Cannet des Maures to La Croix Valmer was expected to be one for the sprinters but the course was by no means flat. The riders had to tackle three climbs along the way and the race ended with four laps on a 6.1km finishing that was rather lumpy and had an uphill finishing straight.

 

The race was off to a rather calm start and the first attack was the one that created the early breakaway. Gert Joeaar (Cofidis), Thomas Rostollan (La Pomme Marseille), Rodolfo Torres (Colombia), Joe Perrett (Ralegih), and Florian Guillou (Bretagne) took off and started to build up a gap.

 

Giant-Shimano lead the chase

After 26km of racing, the quintet were 4 minutes ahead and now it was time for Giant-Shimano to start their chase. The Dutch team allowed the advantage to grow to 4.25 at the 29km mark but from there they brought it down to between 3 and 4 minutes where they kept it for a long time. Initially, they got a bit of help from Europcar but for most of the day they had the sole responsibility.

 

Rostollan beat Torres and Guillou in the first intermediate sprint. Those three riders were again the contenders on the day's first climb, with Torres and Rostollan going head to head, but just before the line, they were passed by Guillou who took maximum points ahead of Torres and Rostolland.

 

Mechanical for Degenkolb

Degenkolb had a mechanical which briefly interrupted the chase while Rostollan also won the intermediate sprint up ahead. At that point, Giant-Shimano decided to up the pace and with 56 km to go, they had brought the gap down to 2.15.

 

Just before the second climb of the day, Joeaar punctured but he managed to rejoin the front in time for Guillou beating Torres, Perrett, Joeaar, and Rostollan at the top of the ascent. A little later the gap was down to 1.10 and this prompted attacks to be launched from the front group.

 

The break splits up

Perrett and Torres made an unsuccessful attempt but Torres refused to give up. On the ascent, he took off on his own and managed to build up an 18-second gap while Rostollan fell off the pace.

 

Remy Di Gregorio (La Pomme Marseille) attacked from the peloton while Torres crested the summit as the lone leader ahead of Guillou, Rostollan - who had regained contact - Joeaar, and Perett. Tom Stamsnijder who had done much of the work for Giant-Shimano had now been joined by Steve Morabito (BMC) in the pace-setting, with the Swiss keen to see Thor Hushovd come to the fore.

 

Vaubourzeix attacks on home soil

The front quintet found back together but the peloton was now riding full gas and 28km from the finish, the escape was over. This prompted Thomas Vaubourzeix (La Pomme Marseille) to attack on his home roads while Theo Vimpere (BigMat) set off in pursuit

 

Vimpere was quickly back in the fold but Vaubourzeix had 18 seconds when he crossed the finish line for the first time. He managed to increase his advantage to 22 seconds but against Giant-Shimano, he had no chance and 13km from the finish, it was back together.

 

A dangerous trio

The finishing circuit invited to attacks and Quentin Jauregui (Roubaix) decided to take the opportunity. Di Gregorio, Brice Feillu (Bretagne), and a Colombia rider set off in pursuit and the former two managed to make the junction.

 

The trio managed to build up a gap of 25 seconds while Giant-Shimano and Europcar were chasing hard behind. As they passed the line to start the final lap, the gap was even up to 30 seconds, meaning that they had a real chance of making it.

 

Giant going full gas

5 Giant-Shimano riders were lined out on the front of the peloton with 3 Ag2r riders on their wheel but all the work was left to the Dutchmen. They had to go full gas to catch the break and they succeeded inside the final kilometre.

 

All was now set for Degenkolb to finish the work but the German was surprised by a rider he didn't expect to see in a sprint finish. Betancur launched an acceleration to take a hugely surprising win on the opening stage of the race.

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