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Two days after missing out on victory in Milan-Sanremo due to a mechanical, Bouhanni got his revenge by winning the reduced bunch sprint on stage 1 of the Volta a Catalunya; Swift was again second while Impey was third

Photo: A.S.O.






21.03.2016 @ 17:32 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Two days after the biggest disappointment of his career when he suffered a chain problem while being in a winning position at Milan-Sanremo, Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) got his revenge by claiming a dominant sprint win on stage 1 of the Volta a Catalunya. After a great lead-out from Geoffrey Soupe, he easily distanced Ben Swift (Sky) and Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) in the reduced bunch kick to take both the stage victory and the overall lead.


The 2016 season has been one of frustration for Nacer Bouhanni. While he has evidently been in great condition, the month of March has been marred by disappointments. It all started in Paris-Nice when he was relegated for irregular sprinting in stage 2 and even though he bounced back with a win in stage 4, he had a hard time hiding his anger.


Things were to get much worse as he had the worst disappointment of his career at Saturday’s Milan-Sanremo. Having made it over the Poggio, he was in the perfect position for the sprint when a chain problem took him out of contention. Having had to settle for fourth, he even considered skipping the Volta a Catalunya as he found it hard to find the motivation.


He changed his mind and after today’s opening stage, he definitely doesn’t regret his choice. Being the star sprinter of the field, he lived up to expectations by claiming a hugely dominant win in the first stage, his first WorldTour victory since the Criterium du Dauphiné in June.


Bouhanni had dug deep to make it into the 100-rider group that survived the many climbs on the day and he was still there when the riders hit the penultimate climb with 42km to go. At this point, the early break had been caught and it was Movistar setting to pace on the wet roads with Jose Herrada.


Herrada set the pace on the ascent as it started to rain and a few riders rejoined the peloton. He didn’t react when Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) attacked and he got an immediate gap. He crested the summit as the lone leader.


Herrada led the peloton down the descent on the wet roads, keeping the gap at 10 seconds. Soler again took over the pace-setting as they hit flat and dry roads. At this point the gap had grown to 20 seconds.


Vervaeke won the final intermediate sprint with 29km to go after which Movistar stopped their effort. As the peloton came to a standstill, the attacking started when Mathias Frank (IAM) took off. He was joined by Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickStep) and later Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and Axel Domont (Ag2r) also bridged across.


Due to the slower pace, Vervaeke pushed his advantage out to 30 seconds before the chase got organized. Meanwhile, the four chasers had built a gap of around 10 seconds.


Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep) and Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin) bridged across to the chasers who worked well together as they hit the final climb with 21km to go. At this point, Vervaeke was just 12 seconds ahead and he quickly decided to wait for them.


There was no cooperation in the break and so Frank decided to attack. He failed to get clear and despite his hard tempo, it was impossible to keep the peloton at bay. Sky were setting a brutal pace with Ian Boswell and with 19km to go it was all back together.


All the GC riders were sprinting to the top to be in a good position for the descent. Vasil Kiryienka took over the pace-setting 500m from the top and crested the summit in second position behind teammate Nicolas Roche who passed him just before the line.


Kiryienka led the peloton down the descent and the group had grown to around 100 riders when they hit the flat section with 8km to go. Here the fight for position really intensified but it did not prevent Bjorn Thurau (Wanty) from attacking with 7km to go.


Domont tried to bridge the gap but as they hit another climb with 5km to go, it was Roche who suddenly came flying. The Irishman sprinted past Thurau and the many riders who tried to join him all failed.


Roche pushed his gap out to 12 seconds while the rest of the attackers were brought back and he maintained his advantage as the chase failed to get organized, with Movistar and Tinkoff riding on the front to keep a good position. However, Orica-GreenEDGE soon came to the fore and started to reel the Irishman in.


With 1.5km to go, Tinkoff took over with Pawel Poljanski leading Alberto Contador and they brought Roche back just before the flamme rouge. As they entered the final kilometre, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) hit the front with his sprinter Alexey Tsatevich on his wheel but they were passed by Kiryienka.


The sprint started when Simon Gerrans did the lead-out for his Orica-GreenEDGE teammate Daryl Impey. Cofidis moved up next to him and it was Gerrans sprinting against Bouhanni’s lead-out man Geoffrey Soupe.


Impey finally launched his sprint but was quickly passed by Swift. However, Bouhanni was clearly the fastest when he launched his effort, easily passing the Brit who had to settle for another second place. Impey narrowly held Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty) off in the battle for fourth.


With the win, Bouhanni takes the overall lead with a four-second advantage over Swift. He will try to defend his position in tomorrow’s second stage which should be one for the sprinters. There’s an early category 3 climb and a category 1 climb at the midpoint. The final 20km are a long, gradual uphill drag to the finish which is not expected to hurt the fast riders enough to prevent a bunch sprint.


A hilly opener

The 96th edition of the Volta a Catalunya kicked off with a well-known 175.8km stage that started and finished in Calella. After a flat start, it included there climbs at the midpoint. The second half was mainly descending but included two small challenges. The steep Alt del Montseny was located with 39.8km to go and the easier Alto de Collsacrey summited 18.2km from the finish. Then it was a fast descent followed by a flat 8km run along the coast.


Despite the French airline strike, all 191 riders on the start list arrived in time to take the start at 12.40 local time as only Diego Rosa (Astana) had to forfeit his participation already yesterday. They enjoyed relatively sunny conditions when they headed out for their neutral ride.


Three riders get clear

Three riders attacked right from the start, but they had no luck. Instead, it set the scene for a fast start with many attacks when three riders built up a gap of 10 seconds after 5 kilometres of racing. Cameron Meyer (Dimension Data), Lluis Mas (Caja Rural) and Boris Dron (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) had to work hard to get a significant gap but when they had a 45-second advantage at the 11km mark, the peloton took a breather.


The gap quickly grew to 3 minutes before Sky ad Cofidis increased the tempo in the peloton. It was a short day for Kris Boeckmans (Lotto Soudal) who left the race after just half an hour, allegedly because he was ill.


Kelderman abandons

After 24km of racing, the gap had gone out 5.18 and it reached six minutes after 33km of racing. The riders started fast, covering 43 km during the first hour.


Cofidis stabilized the gap at six minutes before they slowly started to reduce it. It had dropped to 5.40 after 62km of racing where Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) was the next rider to abandon due to illness.


KOM points for Meyer

Mas won the day's first intermediate sprint ahead of Dron and Meyer with 94 km to go where the lead had dropped to 4.50. Here the climbing challenges started and this was the signal for the peloton to increase the speed. At the top of the climb, Meyer won the KOM sprint ahead of Dron and Mas where the gap had been reduced to 4.00.


The break increased the gap by 45 seconds on the descent before they tackled the second climb where Meyer again won the KOM sprint. However, they were now losing ground quickly as the gap was down to 2.50 at the top.


Movistar accelerate

A crash involved a Lampre-Merida rider and Benoit Vaugrenard (FDJ) but they were quickly back on his bikes. Moments later, they hit the third climb where the gap had been reduced to 2.15.


Movistar accelerated hard with Marc Soler who had reduced the gap to just 50 seconds at the top. Here Dron launched a long sprint and managed to hold Meyer off in the battle for the KOM points.


The break is caught

Dron continued on his own until Meyer managed to regain contact. Sky took control on the descent and brought Mas back. Moments later, Jose Herrada took over for Movistar and with 51km to go, he brought everything back together.


Herrada guided Nairo Quintana down the descent and as they reached the bottom, the group had split. Only 30-40 riders were left as they hit the penultimate climb with 42 km to go where more attacks were launched but in the end it was a 100-rider sprint that decided the race.



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