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After a thrilling finale that saw his teammate Rolland being caught inside the final kilometre, Coquard beat Nizzolo and Theuns in a bunch sprint; bonus seconds were enough for Theuns to take the lead

Photo: Sirotti

BRYAN COQUARD

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06.02.2015 @ 16:52 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Bryan Coquard (Europcar) continued his love story with Etoile de Besseges when he won today’s third stage of the French stage race. After a dramatic finale that saw a 6-rider break being caught with less than 1km to go, the Frenchman held off Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) and Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen), with the latter taking the overall lead by virtue of bonus seconds

 

Two years ago Bryan Coquard proved that he is more than a talented track rider when he won two stages at the Etoile de Besseges just weeks after he had turned professional. Last year he returned to the early-season race with success and added another two stages to his palmares.

 

This year Coquard aims to make it three in a row as he plans to use the French stage race as an important build-up for the World Championships on the track and after he had tested his legs in the recent Challenge Mallorca, he proved his excellent form when he won today’s third stage of the race in a bunch sprint.

 

The stage was the hilliest in the five-day race and included three passages of the category 1 Col des Treslys in the first part of the race. In the past, the stage has been won both by strong sprinters who can climb, and escapees and impressively Europcar started the stage with three consecutive wins on their palmares as Pierre Rolland, Jerome Cousin and Coquard had won the three latest editions.

 

As always Europcar decided to play both the sprint and the attacking card and they were part of the action when lots of riders rode aggressively in the first part of the race. When a 6-rider break finally got clear, it was again Rolland who had made it into the move which allowed Europcar to take it easy in the peloton.

 

Instead it was left to the Lotto Soudal team of race leader Kris Boeckmans and the Trek team of sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo to do the chase and they had a hard time bringing the group back. In a thrilling finale, the break managed to stay away until the catch was finally made with less than a kilometre to go. However, there was no reward for Lotto Soudal and Trek as Boeckmans was never in contention for the sprint while Nizzolo had to settle for second, thus indicating a return to form after a slow start.

 

Edward Theuns who had already finished second in the first stage finished third and as he had already taken three bonus seconds by winning the first intermediate sprint, he scored a total of 7 seconds. As he had started the day just 4 seconds behind Boeckmans, the Belgian is the new leader of the race.

 

He now takes that lead into tomorrow’s final road stage of the 5-day race. The first part of the stage includes the passage of a small climb which features again four times in the finale when the riders do four laps of a 15.4km finishing circuit. However, it should not cause too much trouble for the sprinters who are expected to get their final chance ahead of Sunday’s decisive time trial.

 

 

The hardest stage

After the controversial second stage, the Etoile de Besseges continued with the hardest of its four road stages. Stage 3 was held on the traditional 152.6km course around the city of Besseges. The first part of the stage consisted of three laps of a very tough 44.4km finishing circuit that sent the riders up the Col de Treslys right from the beginning. After the final passage 57.1km still remained as the race ended with three laps of a flat 6.8km finishing circuit in Besseges, with history showing that the stage can both be won from a breakaway or from a reduced bunch sprint.

 

After the dramatic conditions for stage 2, the riders were pleased to take the start on a warmer and less windy day. With the tough start up the Col de Treslys, many riders had been doing a warm-up to be ready for the battle and they would need it as the race got off to a fast start wth lots of attacks.

 

KOM points for Quintero

The first riders to get a significant gap on the climb were Boris Dron (Wanty), Johnny Hoogerland (Roompot) and Walter Pedraza (Colombia) but they were quickly brought back. Instead, Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal), Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis), Serge Dewortelaer (Veranclassic), Frederik Backaert (Wanty Group Gobert), Walter Pedraza (Team Columbia) and a Europcar rider got an advantage but they were caught 1km from the top.

 

Carlos Quintero (Colombia) won the KOM sprint ahead of KOM leader Julien Loubet (Marseille), Hubert Dupont (Ag2r), Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r) and as they headed down the descent, splits started to occur. As they went up the uncategorized Col des Brousses, Vuillermoz got clear and when he had a 25-second advantage on the descent, Evaldas Siskevicius (Marseille) took off in pursuit.

 

Bonus seconds for Theuns

The two riders joined forces while Dron and Marek Rutkiewicz (CCC) formed a chase duo. Both groups fought hard to maintain their small advantage over the peloton and with 131km, they merged. It didn’t pay off though as they were caught 1km further up the road.

 

The attacking continued and several riders got dropped due to the hard pace. At the end of the first lap, no one had managed to get clear and it was Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen) who picked up important bonus seconds by beating fellow GC contenders Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) in the first intermediate sprint.

 

Planckaert attacks

Going up the Col des Treslys for the second time, Jimmy Engoulvent (Team Europcar), Jorge Camilo Castiblanco (Team Columbia), Wesley Kreder (Team Roompot), Baptiste Planckaert (Roubaix-Lille Métropole), Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty Group Gobert) and Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) escaped and they quickly got an advantage of 28 seconds. While Engoulvent, Castiblanco and Kreder got dropped, Vuillermoz and Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal) took off in pursuit but they never made the junction.

 

At the top, the group was almost caught but Feillu managed to hold off Loubet in the battle for maximum points, with Planckaert, Veuchelen and Davide Rebellin (CCC) being the next riders across the line. On the descent, Planckaert attacked again and while the rest of the attackers were caught, he built a gap that reached 18 seconds at the bottom of the Col des Brousses.

 

A break is formed

Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar), Marek Rutkiewicz (CCC Polkowice Sprandi), Sean De Bie (Lotto-Soudal) Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R La Mondiale), Frederik Backaert (Wanty Gobert Group) and Floris De Tier (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) briefly formed a small chase group but while Planckaert fought hard to maintain his 20-second advantage, they were brought back. Rolland went again and he was later joined by Backaert and Yoann Paillot (Team Marseille 13-KTM).

 

These three riders caught Planckaert and later Fabricio Ferrari (Caja Rural) also made it across. Flavien Dassonville (Auber 93) was the next to make the junction and now the peloton finally decided to slow down, allowing the six escapees to build a gap that quickly reached 2.30 with 76km to go.

 

Lotto Soudal and Trek take control

The gap reached 2.50 but now the peloton had upped the pace, with Lotto Soudal and Trek doing the work. As they started the Col de Treslys for the final time, the gap had come down to 2.35.

 

Paillot was unfortunate to suffer a puncture but he managed to rejoin the breakaway. Meanwhile, Dewortelear decided to take off in pursuit and at the top of the climb he had reduced his deficit to 1.55 while the peloton was at 2.55. Dassonbille led Paillot, Backaert, Ferrari and Rolland over the top.

 

The peloton ups the pace

On the descent, the peloton accelerated and brought Dewortelaer back. With 38km to go, Trek and Lotto Soudal had brought the gap down to 2.00 but the peloton was having the upper hand and with 28km to go, it was only 1.30.

 

At the start of the three laps of the 6.6km finishing circuit, the advantage was still 1.25 and this prompted Bretagne to contribute to the chase, with Brice Feillu trading pulls with the Lotto Soudal and Trek riders on the front. At the end of the first lap, the escapees were still a little more than a minute ahead.

 

A thrilling finale

With 10km to go, it was only 55 seconds and now the gap was coming down rapidly. At the 7km to go mark, it was 35 seconds and with 5km to go, they still had 22 seconds in hand.

 

Trek were now doing most of the work and with 1200m to go, they were just a few metres behind the escapees. Inside the final kilometre, they made the catch but it was Coquard who benefited from the work to win the stage.

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