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Reacting quickly to a long sprint from the Irishman, Bouhanni came around Bennett to win bunch sprint on the first stage of the Criterium du Dauphiné; Debusschere was second and Bennett third while Contador retained the lead

Photo: A.S.O.










06.06.2016 @ 17:45 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) continued his love affair with the Criterium du Dauphiné when he won the Monday stage of the race for the second year in a row in a bunch sprint. Reacting quickly when Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) launched a long sprint, he easily came around the Irishman and held off the late surge from Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) to claim his third stage victory in the race in just two years. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) finished safely in the bunch and so retained the yellow jersey.


One year ago Nacer Bouhanni seemed to be on track for a great Tour de France when he won the two sprint stages at the Criterium du Dauphiné. However, the rest of the summer ended as a real disaster as he crashed out of the French Championships, the Tour and the Vuelta a Espana.


This year Bouhanni is determined to make up for last year’s disappointments and with a solid showing in the recent Tour de Picardie where he won two stages and the overall, he is again present at the Dauphiné to fine-tune his form. The race offers three potential sprint stages which have been billed as a duel between the French star and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and today he got the race off to the best possible start as he came out on top in the first battle between the fast riders.


Cofidis had shown their intentions all day as they had shared the workload with Katusha to bring back the two-rider break of Frederik Backaert (Wanty) and Mitch Docker (Orica-GreenEDGE). Backaert was the last one to surrender and with 13km to go, it was all back together for the expected sprint.


The GC teams were fighting hard for position and it was Sergio Paulinho who hit the front on the wide road where there was room for all the big teams to gather near the front. Then Jesper Hansen took over and Ian Stannard brought the Sky riders up next to them while Marcus Burghardt and Rohan Dennis led the BMC train.


IAM hit the front with Jerome Coppel to bring Jonas Van Genechten into position for the sprintbefore Michael Gogl (Tinkoff) and Stannard again took over. Cofidis moved up next to them, with Kenneth Vanbilsen leading Bouhanni’s train.


The wide road allowed Trek, Giant-Alpecin, Astana, Sky and Tinkoff to line out on the front as the peloton entered the final 5km and it was the American team that took control with Markel Irizar. The Basque took a massive turns with Fumy Beppu, Niccolo Bonifazio and protected sprinter Edward Theuns on his wheel but when he lost his teammates, he had to drop back, allowing Tinkoff to take over with Michael Valgren.


Valgren rode impressively on the front with Roman Kreuziger on his wheel but he had lost team captain Alberto Contador who was on Chris Froome’s wheel further back. However, the Dane didn’t look back and kept riding on the front until less than 3km remained.


With 2.5km to go, Sky took over with Luke Rowe, Michal Kwiatkowski and Froome riding on the front while the sprint teams continued their waiting game. The Katusha train of Marco Haller, Michael Mørkøv, Jacopo Guarnieri and Kristoff gathered behind them while Bouhanni was with his Cofidis teammates further back.


Just before the flamme rouge, Kwiatkowski took over but he was quickly passed by Geoffrey Soupe who was launching the Cofidis train. However, he had lost his teammates and it was Mørkøv, Guarnieri and Kristoff who gathered on his wheel.


Bouhanni and teammate Christophe Laporte moved up and tried to push the Cofidis riders off Soupe’s wheel. They lost the battle and so Bouhanni had to take Kristoff’s wheel when Mørkøv launched the Katusha lead-out.


Guarnieri was next in line and delivered Kristoff in the perfect position but just as he was ready to start his sprint, Sam Bennett went from afar. The Irishman gave Kristoff a swerve and so he had to stop his sprint which cost him the speed and from there he only drifted backwards to finish outside the top 10.


Instead, Bennett powered towards the finish but Bouhanni had reacted quickly to grab his wheel. When he launched his effort, he easily came around the fading Irishman and rode to a comfortable victory. Jens Debusschere finished fast to also pass Bennett who had to settle for third.


Contador finished safely in the bunch and so retained his 6-second lead over Richie Porte (BMC). He will get a harder challenge tomorrow when the riders face their first uphill finish. After two early climbs, the terrain is relatively flat until the peloton reaches the final 21.5km. They are all uphill and is split into two climbs. First it’s a category 2 climb that averages 5.6% over 7.5km and then a flatter section leads to the final category 3 climb that’s uphill at 3.8% over 6.8km, meaning that it’s a stage more for puncheurs than climbers.


A flat stage

After yesterday’s prologue, the sprinters were expected to get their chance on stage 1 which brought the riders over 186km from Cluses to Saint-Vulbas. The stage was split in two parts. The first part was lumpy with three small category 4 climbs while the second part was almost completely flat, with just a single category 4 climb with 52km to go. In the flat finale, there were two late turns leading onto the 1600m finishing straight where the fastest riders were expected to battle it out.


The riders were greeted by bright sunshine and a temperature of 18 degrees when they gathered for the start. The 176 riders who started the race yesterday, were all prenset when they headed out for the relatively flat stage and Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) attacked almost immediately. No one reacted before Mitchell Docker (Orica-GreenEdge) took off in pursuit and after 3km of racing, he was 35 seconds behind the lone Belgian. The peloton had already lost 1.15.


A big gap

Wisely, Backaert decided to wait for Docker and so a duo was formed. They already had a lead of 3.45 after just six kilometers of racing and it had grown to 4.20 at the 16km mark where Tinkoff had positioned two riders on the front. They allowed the gap to reach a maximum of 5.20 after 25km of racing shortly before Backaert won the first KOM sprint.


With an average speed of only 36.8km/h, it was a slow first hour as Tinkoff set a controlling pace which meant that the gap was still 5.20 after 50km of racing. Slowly the speed increased and the gap was down to 4.15 at the 62km mark. Moments later, Backaert won the next two KOM sprints.


Katusha and Cofidis take control

The faster pace was evident on the average speed which was  41.4km/h in the second hour but the gap did not change. It was stable at 4.30 until the sprint teams took responsibility. Rudy Molard (Cofidis) and Angel Vicioso (Katusha) took over from the Tinkoff riders, but surprisingly the only effect was that the gap went out to five minutes.


Finally, the work started to pay off. At the 107.5km mark, the gap was down to 3.45, and when they had covered 121km, there was only 2.40 left of the advantage. At the same time, the pace had been increased considerably as the riders back covered 44 km during the third hour.


Giant-Alpecin come to the fore

John Degenkolb was feeling good and so he asked his Giant-Alpecin teammate Carter Jones to join forces with Molard and Vicioso on the front of the peloton. However, the gap was no longer coming down and it had even gone out to 3 minutes when Backaert led Docker over the top of the final climb with 52km to go.


After the climb, the gap was coming down quickly and so it had dropped to just 2.15 with 42km to go. From there, the situation stabilized while the peloton enjoyed a relaxed and calm day in the sun.


Docker sits up

Entering the final 30km, Jones, Vicioso and Molard again upped the pace and again it had a big effect. In just five kilometres, the gap dropped to just 1.20.


The race is Docker’s comeback race after his bad crash at Paris-Roubaix and his lack of racing became evident in the finale. With 23km to go, the Australian sat up and decided to wait for the peloton.


Backaert is caught

Backaert pressed on alone and entered the final 20km with an advantage of 1.05. Meanwhile, the fight for position had really started in the peloton as all the big GC teams had gathered behind Jones, Molard and Vicioso.


With 16km to go, Tinkoff again took control with Sergio Paulinho to keep Contador out of trouble. Even though the Portuguese was not working to bring Backaert back, the gap was melting away and it was down to just 10 seconds with 15km to go.


Vicioso got back on the front and did the final bit of the work to bring Backaert back. With 13km to go, the Belgian was back in the fold but that didn’t stop Vicioso from maintaining his pace. Moments later, Paulinho again took over and from there it was a fight between the GC teams until Bouhanni launched his winning sprint.



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