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With a powerful sprint on the uphill finishing straight, Boasson Hagen held off a fast-finishing Alaphilippe and Bouhanni to win stage 4 of the Criterium du Dauphiné; Contador retained the lead but lost 9 seconds to Froome

Photo: Sirotti

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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CRITERIUM DU DAUPHINE

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DIMENSION DATA

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EDVALD BOASSON HAGEN

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JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE

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NACER BOUHANNI

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09.06.2016 @ 18:03 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) took his first WorldTour victory since 2013 when he powered across the line in the uphill sprint on stage 4 of the Criterium du Dauphiné. Having worked well to stay near the front in the hectic finale, he launched a long sprint and narrowly held off a fast-finishing Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep), with Nacer BouhannI (Cofidis) having to settle for third. The bunch split in the hectic finale and so Chris Froome (Sky) gained nine seconds on Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) who retained the lead.

 

When he turned professional, many expected Edvald Boasson Hagen to become a dominant figure in the cycling world. The Norwegian seemed to master all disciplines and was a contender in classics, sprints and hilly stage races. Some even wondered whether he could develop into a grand tour contender.

 

However, Boasson Hagen never fulfilled those lofty expectations and even though he is one of the most successful riders in the peloton, he doesn’t have a lot of wins in the WorldTour. In the early years, he won stages at the Giro and the Tour and a big classic at Gent-Wevelgem but in recent years he has had very little success in the biggest races. In fact his last win in the major race series came in 2013 when he won a bunch sprint at the Criterium du Dauphiné.

 

Today Boasson Hagen finally broke his long WorldTour drought and again it was the French race in the Alps that allowed him to deliver the goods. Unlike three years ago when he was the fastest in a flat sprint, the Norwegian came out on top on the tough uphill drag to the line in the fourth stage of the race.

 

Boasson Hagen had stayed calm in the bunch all day while a three-rider break of Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Bryan Nauleau (Direct Energie) and Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickStep) had dominated a stage that was made very slow by a strong headwind. With the stage being the final chance  for the sprinters, the sprint teams had controlled things firmly and it was Angel Vicioco (Katusha), Gert Dockx, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Rudy Molard (Cofidis) and Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18) who rode on the front as they approached the 32km finishing circuit.

 

Veuchelen led the front group across the finish line to start the 32km circuit while Vicioso was first from the peloton 1.40 later. Meanwhile, the fight for position had clearly started in the peloton as both sprinters and GC riders wanted to be near the front in the lumpy terrain.

 

The escapees responded well to the fast pace and managed to stabilize the gap around 1.30 but as the pace increased, they again started to lose momentum. With 21km to go, the advantage had dropped to 40 seconds and this prompted local rider Bouet to make an attack. However, he had no success and the trio stayed together.

 

Apparently, the attack had an effect as the escapees managed to keep the peloton at 30 seconds for several kilometres while Benedetti, Molard, Dockx, De Gendt and Vicioso continued to lead the peloton. However, Bouet was in no mood for company and he tried again with 14km to go. At first he got a small gap but while Nauleau was left behind, Veuchelen managed to rejoin the Frenchman.

 

Bouet refused to give up and when he went again, he finally dropped his Belgian companion. Meanwhile, the peloton was losing firepower as De Gendt and Vicioso both disappeared and with 12km to go, Molard was the only rider working on the front. Hence, Bouet managed to push the gap out to 40 seconds. Meanwhile, Wanty climber Guaillaume Martin was involved in a small crash and was forced into chase mode to avoid any unnecessary time loss.

 

When Molard swung off, Marcus Burghardt hit the front for BMC, leading Richie Porte safely into the final 10km 30 seconds behind the lone leader. He brought Veuchelen and Nauleau back and kept riding strongly on the front.

 

With 8km to go, the gap was still 30 seconds and this prompted the sprint teams to react. Molard and Jurgen Van den Broeck (Katusha) hit the front but very soon it was left to the Belgian to set the pace.

 

With 6km to go, Christian Meier hit the front for Orica-GreenEDGE and as Bouet turned into a headwind, the gap came down fast. He stayed on the front for a kilometre before Bora-Argon 18 and Etixx-QuickStep moved up next to him.

 

Etixx-QuickStep took control and it was actually Tony Martin who closed the final bit of the gap to his teammate Bouet. He kept riding on the front until Giant-Alpecin launched their train with 3km to go.

 

Zico Waeytens took a massive turn for the German team before Roy Curvers took over. Meanwhile, Alexander Kristoff’s Katusha rain was nowhere to be seen and it was evident that the Norwegian would not be in contention.

 

Koen De Kort was the next rider for Giant to take control while Borut Bozic (Cofidis) hit the deck hard, bringing and Ag2r rider down in the process. However, that didn’t stop the sprint preparation and it was Orica-GreenEDGE that came to the fore with Daryl Impey who led protected sprinter Jens Keukeleire under the flamme rouge.

 

Ramon Sinkeldam again put Giant-Alpecin on the front as he launched the lead-out in the uphill finale. However, both he and teammate John Degenkolb lost a few positions when Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) came from behind with Greg Van Avermaet( BMC) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) on his wheel.

 

Keukeleire slotted in next to Van Avermaet while Gallopin rode on the front and then the two Belgians launched a long sprint. However, Boasson Hagen started his effort immediately and easily came around the fading compatriots. Nacer Bouhanni was in the perfect position behind Boasson Hagen but couldn’t come around and had to settle for third. Instead, it was a very fast Julian Alaphilippe who became the big threat for the Norwegian and the Frenchman would have won the stage if the stage had been just a few metres longer.

 

There was a split in the tough finale and this meant that Chris Froome (Sky) who sprinted to 14th, gained nine seconds on Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Richie Porte (BMC). Hence, the Brit moves into second, 4 seconds behind Contador who retained the lead.

 

The Spaniard is now ready for his first big battle in the mountains on stage 5. It has no less than 6 categorized climbs in the first half before an easier second part leads to a long gradual ascent to the bottom of the final climb. It averages 6.5% over 6.4% but is a very irregular affair with two kilometres that average more than 10%, meaning that there’s room for the GC riders to test themselves in the first difficult summit finish of the race.

 

A final chance for the sprinters

After yesterday’s lumpy stage, the terrain was flatter for stage 4 which brought the riders over 176km from Tain-l’Hermitage to Belley. The course was mostly flat with two category 4 climbs in the first half. However, it ended with one lap of a lumpy 32km circuit that included several non-categorized ascents, a technical finale and a final kilometre that was uphill at 2.6%.

 

Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEdge) stayed at the hotel this morning when the rest of the field gathered under a sunny sky. However, there was no great desire to ride hard as a strong headwind made the conditions difficult so when Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) attacked right from the start and was joined by Bryan Nauleau (Direct Energie) and Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickStep), the peloton let them go. Already after 6km of racing the gap had gone out to 2.50, and it reached 3.30 before Cofidis slowly increased the pace.

 

The sprint teams come to the fore

The French team realized that it was too early, and when Tinkoff took over, the gap went out to six minutes after just 17km of racing. It was the signal for Cofidis to send Rudy Molard to the front, and the Frenchman started to slowly reduce the gap. Thus, it had dropped to 5.45 when Nauleau won the first KOM sprint.

 

The headwind meant that it was a very slow first hour during which only 30.6 kilometers were covered, but Cofidis apparently had no plans to increase speed. They allowed the gap to grow to 6.45 after 25km of racing which prompted Lotto Soudal to lend them a hand. Also Katusha came to the fore and thus the gp finally started to come down steadily. It was 5.20 after 43km, 4.15 after 49km and 3.50 after 67 km. At the same time the pace got a bit higher as the average speed after two hours was 31,6km/h.

 

The pace goes up

As the peloton hit the last 100km, they were met by a big shower. Meanwhile, the gap remained stable at about 3.45 and it had not changed when Veuchelen won the final KOM sprint.

 

Angel Vicioso (Katusha), Gert Dockx (Lotto Soudal) and Rudy Molard (Cofidis) did the early work and led the peloton into the final 65km with a deficit of 3.50. Meanwhile, they upped the pace considerably as they covered 39.3km during the third hour.

 

The chase gets more firepower

With 60km to go, the chase got a bit more firepower as Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) joined forces with Dockx, Molard and Vicioso. The increased effort paid off and the gap had dropped to 2.50 with 55km to go.

 

The escapees reacted well to the faster pace and managed to stabilize the situation during the next 10km. There was no stress in the peloton though and the riders enjoyed a relaxed and easy ride as they approached the finishing circuit.

 

With 42km to go, Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) also showed his intentions as he asked teammate Cesare Benedetti to contribute to the chase. With five riders working on the front, the peloton reduced the gap to less than 2 minutes as they entered the final 38km. Moments later they hit the circuit where the final action unfolded.

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