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Bouhanni wins the expected sprint battle on the first stage of the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe as he hold off Nizzolo, Lobato and Coquard to become the first leader of the four-day race

Photo: ©A.S.O. / P. Perreve










08.04.2014 @ 18:09 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) continued his recent run of success when he won today's first stage of the short French stage race Circuit Cycliste Sarthe. A little more than a week after winning the first stage of the Criterium International, he held off Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek), and Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) in the expected bunch sprint at the end of the flat opening stage to take both the win and the first leader's jersey.


Nacer Bouhanni was furious when his FDJ team decided not to include him on their Milan-Sanremo roster but he has decided to prove them wrong in the best possible way. Less than two weeks ago he won the first stage of the Criterium International and today he added another win to his palmares as he continued his love story withe the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe.


Last year Bouhanni already won the two first stages of the race and this year he set himself up for a repeat of that feat by again winning the opening ride. The Frenchman had the full support from his FDJ team who rode on the front of the peloton all day long to keep a three-rider break in check.


The race had been billed as a big battle between Bouhanni and another young French sprint star, Bryan Coquard (Europcar), and unsurprisingly their teams combined forces to make sure that it would all be decided in a sprint finish. In the end, however, Coquard was no match to Bouhanni and winner of last Friday's Route Adelie Vitre had to settle for fourth.


Instead, Bouhanni's closest rival was Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) who did his first sprint since coming back from a broken collarbone and the Italian did well to finish 2nd. Juan Jose Lobato continued his great start to his Movistar career by completing the podium.


With the win, Bouhanni is of course also the overall leader of the race as he takes a four-second lead over Nizzolo into tomorrow's two half-stages. In the morning, the riders will do another flat stage that could again suit Bouhanni while the first GC battle will take place in the afternoon when the riders contest the short 6.8km time trial in Angers.


One for the sprinters

The four-day Circuit Cycliste Sarthe follows its traditional format and so it kicked off with a mostly flat opening stage. The route brought the riders over 197.2km from Saint-Jean-de-Monts to Saint-Gereon and despite the presence of three smaller climbs in the second part of the course, the mostly flat roads were expected to suit the sprinters. The stage ended with 6 laps of a 5.3km finishing circuit.


With everybody expecting a big bunch sprint, there was no real desire to spend almost 200km in a futile breakaway and so the race was off to a very calm start. Already at the 2km mark, Marco Minnaard (Wanty), Thomas Sprengers (Topsport), and Duber Quintero (Colombia) took off and they were quickly allowed to open a gap.


The chase starts

After 5km of racing, they were 35 seconds ahead but as the peloton slowed down, waiting for Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) to return after a puncture, it reached 3.30 10km further up the road. The advantage stabilized for a few kilometres until it suddenly ballooned to 7.30 after 27km of racing.


Europcar and FDJ had the two big favourites for the stage with Bryan Coquad and Nacer Bouhanni and so they started to control the situation. They put a few riders on the front to keep the gap stable at around 7 minutes for some time.


Mechanical for Quintero

The peloton gradually upped the pace and had the gap down to 5.45 after 58km of racing. At this point, Quintero had a mechanical that forced him to stop and his companions decided to wait for him.


The small incident didn't have much of an effect on the gap which was still 5.30 by the time Quintero was back in the break. A little later, Minnaard beat Quintero and Sprengers in the first intermediate sprint while FDJ briefly stopped their chase effort, leaving the work to Europcar.


Sprengers scores points

The gap was now stable at around 4.45 but as FDJ went back to work, the peloton started to accelerate. As Sprengers beat Quintero and Minnaard at the top of the day's first climb, the gap had come down to 3.30 but when Europcar took a small breather in went back up to 4.40 minutes.


Sprengers again beat Quintero and Minnaard on the second climb as the peloton had again got back up to speed, with Giovanni Bernaudeau leading the bunch over the top for Europcar. As they reached the final climb of the day, the gap was already down to 2.15, with Sprengers again beating Quintero and Minnaard while it was now Anthony Geslin (FDJ) who was chasing in the peloton.


Voeckler works hard

The peloton slowed down to keep the gap stable at 2.35 for a long time while Sprengers beat Minnaard and Quintero in the second intermediate sprint. As they entered the finishing circuit, the peloton had again upped the pace and at the first passage of the line, the gap was less than a minute.


Thomas Voeckler did a huge work for Europcar while Minnaard beat Sprengers and Quintero in the final sprint. On the second lap, the gap was down to 20 seconds as the break split up, with one of the riders falling back to the peloton.


Back together

At the end of the second lap, it was all back together and Eurocpar was now in complete control. A few riders tried to attack but the green-clad riders easily shut it down.


Europcar got brief assistance from FDJ, Ag2r and Cofidis, with Francis Mourey (FDJ) being one of the riders to lend a hand, but it was mostly Coquard's team who kept the peloton in single file to avoid any attacks. They accomplished the first part of their mission as they ensured a sprint finish but when the fast men battled it out, it was Bouhanni who took the win.



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