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Breakthrough victory for Meurisse in Dunkirk queen stage

With a powerful sprint on the uphill finishing straight, Meurisse denied Coquard a fourth consecutive win, taking the biggest victory of his career in the 4 Days of Dunkirk queen stage; Coquard retained the lead

4 JOURS DE DUNKERQUE

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BRYAN COQUARD

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DIRECT ENERGIE

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MARCO FRAPPORTI

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07.05.2016 @ 18:32 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Xandro Meurisse (Crelan) confirmed why he is regarded as huge Belgian talent when he took a surprise victory in the queen stage at the 4 Days of Dunkirk. Battling with the best on the final climb, the Belgian showed impressive strength by beating Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) in the uphill dash to the line, with Marco Frapporti (Androni) crossing the line in third. Coquard extended his overall lead on the eve of the final stage.

 

Having spent the final part of the 2014 season as a stagiaire at Lotto Soudal, Xandro Meurisse proved his talent in 2015. Riding for the small An Post team, he was 10th overall in the Tour of Britain and 8th at the Boucles de la Mayenne, thus proving that he can match it up with the best pro riders.

 

Nonetheless, no pro team offered him a contract for 2016 and so he has to spend the season at the smalle Crelan-Vastgoedservice team. Here he showed himself in the very hard final stage of the 3 Days of West-Flanders but he still flew under the radar for this week’s 4 Days of Dunkirk.

 

However, after today’s queen stage, no one will again ask who the Belgian is as he claimed an impressive victory after race leader Bryan Coquard had looked comfortable and destined to make it four in a row. When the French sprinter passed Marco Frapporti (Androni) a few metres from the line in the uphill sprint at the top of the final climb in Cassel, the outcome seemed no longer to be in doubt but Meurisse did what no one has managed to do yet in the French race: come around the dominant figure of the race.

 

Direct Energie had really proved their class throughout the very aggressive stage that was mostly held on a tough 14.6km circuit in Cassel. It included two climbs, with the final one summiting just one kilometre from the finish and including a few cobbles.

 

At the start if the final lap, Coquard still looked very comfortable in second position behind his teammate Sylvain Chavanel who was his final domestique and led a small group of around 20 riders with a gap of 10 seconds to a front trio of Baptiste Planckaert (Wallonie), Florian Vachon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Laurent Pichon (FDJ) that had spent most of the second lap in the lead. Chavanel was doing an impressive work by single-handedly keeping the group under control as they hit the first climb.

 

Vachon was dropped immediately and instead Frapporti sprinted out of the pack. Only Pichon could latch onto his wheel while Planckaert and Vachon were caught.

 

The pair managed to push the gap out to 20 seconds with 8km to go, and it looked like Direct Energie were under pressure as Chavanel was not getting any help, setting the pace with Coquard and Pierrick Fedrigo (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) on his wheel. The gap was still 20 seconds as they entered the final 5km.

 

However, Coquard and Direct Energie got some welcome assistance when they hit the final climb with 4km to go. Stijn Vandenbergh, Yves Lampaert and Niki Terpstra hit the front for Etixx-QuickStep and they quickly reduced the gap to less than 10 seconds.

 

That allowed Crelan to play their first card when Rob Ruijgh sprinted past the front duo. Vandenbergh just kept riding on the front, bringing Frapporti and Pichon back in the process.

 

Fedrigo was the first of the pre-race favourites to make his move and only Delio Fernandez (Delko) and Coquard could follow the veteran as they sprinted past Ruijgh. Fernandez took over the pace-setting but could not prevent Meurisse from joining the group.

 

At the flamme rouge, Coquard hit the front before Meurisse took over on a small descent where Fernandez lost contact. However, as the game of cat and mouse started, the Spaniard and Frapporti regained contact and it was the Italian who made an immediate counterattack.

 

A moment of hesitation allowed Frapporti to get a big gap and this forced Coquard to react. The Frenchman had to go from afar and only Meurisse could hang onto his wheel.

 

It looked like it would be another Coquard win when he passed Frapporti a few metres from the line but Meurisse still had something left in the tank. The Belgian came around and Coquard immediately sat down, admitting defeat to the strong Belgian. Frapporti, Fedrigo and Dion Smith (ONE) who rejoined the group in the finale, were the only riders to finish in the same time as the two leading riders.

 

Second place was enough for Coquard to retain the lead and he now has an advantage of 24 seconds over Frapporti while Meurisse is one second further back in third. The Frenchman now just needs to get safely through the final stage which is almost completely flat. There’s just an early climb on the menu and the stage ends with the traditional 10 laps of the flat 6.9km circuit in Dunkirk where a fourth bunch sprint is expected.

 

The queen stage

After three flat stages, it was time for the queen stage which brought the riders over 178.2km from Audruicq to Cassel. After a relatively flat start with just a single climb, the stage ended with nine laps of a 14.6km circuit that included two tough climbs. The final of those challenges was located just 1km from the finish and from there it was a false flat to the finish, meaning that it was a great day for puncheurs.

 

It was again great sunshine when the riders gathered for the start but unfortunately one of the favourites was absent. Olivier Pardini (Wallonie) had fallen ill and stayed at the hotel, just like Florent Pereira who crashed yesterday and Julien Antomarchi (Roubaix).

 

A strong 11-rider group

The hilly terrain was an invitation to attacks and so it took a long time for the early break to be established. After 17km of racing, 11 riders managed to escape. Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-La Mondiale), Alexis Bodiot (Armee), Anthony Maldonado (Auber 93), Clément Venturini (Cofidis), Arnaud Gerard (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Yanto Barker, Kristian House (ONE), Berden De Vries (Roompot), Michael Reihs (Stölting) and Stijn Steels(Topsport) were allowed to get an advantage of 2 minutes but as Delko and Androni had missed the move, those two teams quickly started to chase.

 

After 34km of racing, the gap was no more than 2.05 and it was still only 2 minutes when they hit the finishing circuit. As they crossed the finish line for the first time, the escapees had an advantage of 2.30.

 

Bodiot is dropped

The circuit took its toll on Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r) who crashed yesterday, and while he was dropped, the peloton reduced the gap to 1.40 during the first lap, with Androni and Delko still doing the work. Meanwhile, Gert Joeaar (Cofidis) was involved in a crash and Jauregui left the race.

 

The circuit was too hard for Bodiot who was dropped from the break while sprinters like Barry Markus (Roompot) and Boris Vallee (Fortuneo) were unable to keep up with the peloton. They both chose to abandon.

 

The break splits up

Unsurprisingly, Chavanel, Gougeard and Venturini turned out to be the strongest in the breakaway as they dropped their companions with a big acceleration when the gap had dropped to just 40 seconds. However Reihs, House and Maldonado managed to get back and so a sextet had gathered as they crossed the line again.

 

However, things had got aggressive in the peloton and even Coquard found himself in a counterattack just a few seconds further back. Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) was also part of the move that caught the leaders just after the passage of the line.

 

Gougeard surges clear

Ag2r decided to chase hard and managed to bring the break back after their teammate Gougeard had surged clear. 10 seconds behind the Frenchman, a five-rider chase group with Brice Feillu (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Yannick Martinez (Delko), Yoann Offredo (FDJ), Jeremy Maison (FDJ) and Vandenergh was formed and they made contact with 62km to go.

 

In the peloton, things had calmed down again as Perrig Quemeneur took control for Direct Energie, with Chavanel and Coquard sitting on his wheel. He kept the gap at 15 seconds as they crossed the line with 60km to go and Coquard even took a turn on the descent to keep things in check.

 

Vandenbergh and Offredo take off

Adrien Petit rejoined the peloton and started to work for Direct Energie. Petit, Quemeneur, Coquard and Chavanel were lined out on the front as they allowed the race to calm down a bit and while the former set the pace, they let the gap go out to 25 seconds as they went up the climb with 53km to go. As soon as they hit the descent, they went full gas again, bringing the gap down to 10 seconds, with Quemeneur and Petit sharing the pace-setting.

 

That allowed Rudy Barbier (Roubaix) to attack as they hit the next climb where Vandenbergh and Offredo rode away from the front group. Barbier passed both Maison and Martinez and caught Feillu just before the top. At the passage of the line with 44km to go, the two leaders had a small advantage over Gougeard while Barbier and Feillu were next. Quemeneur and Petit led the peloton at 35 seconds and had brought Maison and Martinez back.

 

Solo move by Vandenbergh

Vandenbergh dropped Offredo who was joined by Gougeard with 35km to go. Feillu dropped Barbier who was brought back by the peloton ad slowly started to approach the riders in front of him. He made contact on a climb with 35km to go, meaning that a trio had gathered behind Vandenbergh.

 

Julien Duval (Armee) attacked from the peloton and started to approach the leaders just as Vandenbergh was brought back by his chasers with 34km to go. He made contact just 2km later, having bridged a 25-second gap.

 

Gougeard surrenders

Petit kept setting the pace until just 31km remained when he swung off and left it to Quemeneur to take over. Here they hit the final climb again where the front group split up, with Gougeard being the first to surrender. Duval was also distanced.

 

Gougard was caught by the peloton but this only opened the door for his teammate Francois Bidard to attack. As they started the penultimate lap, Vandenbergh, Feillu and Offredo were in the lead, followed by Duval and later Bidard. Quemeneur led the peloton.

 

A new trio is formed

Duval regained contact while Bidard was brought back by the peloton which was 15 seconds behind as they started to climb with 24km to go. Here Planckaert launched a furious attack with an Ag2r rider but the only effect was that everything came back together with 28km to go.

 

Planckaert went again and this time he had more success as only Pichon and Vachon joined the move. While Chavanel took over the pace-setting for Direct Energie, they opened a 10-second advantage that had gone out to 20 seconds when Quemeneur got back to work with 18km to go.

 

As they hit the final climb for the penultimate climb, Mirko Selvaggi (Androni) and Vandenbergh tried to bridge across but Chavanel responded quickly. The veteran then rode hard on the front to keep the gap at 10 seconds as they started the final lap where Meurisse turned out to be the strongest.

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