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After Direct Energie had controlled most of the stage, Coquard sprinted to his sixth stage win at the Etoile de Besseges on the first day of the 2016 race; Dupont was second, Demoitie third and Coquard the first race leader

Photo: Sirotti

BRYAN COQUARD

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DIRECT ENERGIE

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ETOILE DE BESSÈGES

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03.02.2016 @ 17:03 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) continued his love affair with the Etoile de Besseges when he took the sixth stage win of his career by coming out on top in the opening bunch sprint on the first day of the 2016 edition. The Frenchman finished off excellent work by his team on a windy day in France and easily held off Timothy Dupont (Verandas Willems) and Antoine Demoitie (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) to take victory and become the first leader of the race.

 

Ever since he turned professional in 2016, Bryan Coquard has found his winning legs early and it has been the Etoile de Besseges, traditionally the first stage race in Europe, that has been his happy hunting ground. He took two stage wins as a neo-pro in 2013 and after adding another two wins in 2014, he won his fifth stage last year.

 

This year Coquard has bolstered his lead-out with the addition of Adrien Petit and so some were a bit uncertain whether those two riders would be able to deliver Coquard to victory already in their first race together. Furthermore, he faced harder competition from Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Matteo Pelucchi (IAM) in the 2016 edition of the French race.

 

However, Coquard has confirmed his good feelings for the race as he came out on top already on the first day. After a dominant showing by Direct Energie, he was clearly the fastest in the bunch sprint.

 

It was a very windy day in France and this made for some nervous racing and so the early break was already brought back before the final climb with 50km to go. Direct Energie were always on top of things and when the peloton split in two just after the climb, they had numbers in the first group.

 

With 48km to go, the two groups were separated by 28 seconds and it was Lotto Soudal and Ag2r working hard in the first 50-rider group. They slowly made the gap grow to 50 seconds while Direct Energie stayed well-organized near the front.

 

The gap had gone out to 57 seconds when U23 world champion Kevin Ledanois (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) crashed and hit his left arm. That was the maximum though as the second group regained momentum and had brought the gap down to 24 seconds with 30km to go.

 

FDJ, Lotto Soudal, Ag2r and Direct Energi were the most active teams in the first group but as they turned into a headwind, their commitment disappeared. With 27km to go, it was all back together for the first passage of the finish line and the start of the first of four laps of the 6.6km circuit, with Tony Gallopin, Tosh van der Sande and Sean De Bie leading Lotto Soudal across the line.

 

The circuit included some crosswind so things got very nervous and that made it hard for Mikel Aristi (Delko Marseille) to get back after a puncture. Meanwhile, Direct Energie took control of the pleootn.

 

Martin Laas (Delko Marseille) tried to make a solo move but was quickly brought back as FDJ also came to the fore, riding just behind the Direct Energie riders. Five of Coquard’s teammates made sure that no one could escape.

 

Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal) suffered a puncture at the start of the penultimate lap while Direct Energi set the pace. FDJ took over before the start of the final lap where Cofidis moved into second positon.

 

Sylvain Chavanel came to the fore for Direct Energie that had five riders on the front with 5km to go. From there they remained in control until they delivered Coquard to victory ahead of Timothy Dupont (Veranda’s Willems) and Antoine Demoitie (Wanty-Groupe Gobert). Arnaud Demare (FDJ) had to settle for 10th in the bunch kick that was marred by a crash.

 

Coquard will try to defend his position in tomorrow’s second stage which should be another one for the sprinters. There’s just a single category 2 climb on the menu and with five laps of a flat 7.7km finishing circuit, only the wind can possibly predict another bunch sprint.

 

A flat stage

The 46th edition of Etoile de Besseges kicked off with a 152.8km stage that brought the riders from Bellegarde to Beaucaire. The mostly flat course included two passages of the category 2 climb of Cote Panneau Escaladou but as it finished with 4 laps of a flat 6.6km circuit, it was expected to be a day for the sprinters.

 

It was a sunny but very windy day when the riders gathered for the start of their first day in the saddle. Pirmin Lang (IAM) who had fallen ill was the only absent rider when the peloton rolled out for 1.2km of neutral riding under a blue sky.

 

Lots of attacks

A strong tailwind meant a fast start to the race and it was the Direct Energie that controlled things right from the beginning. The first serious attack was launched by Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal), Jerome Cousin (Cofidis) and Yannick Mayer (Veranclassic) but they were quickly brought back.

 

The peloton entered a crosswind section which meant that riders were getting dropped while Kai Reus (Verandas Willems) launched a failed attack. Cousin was the next to try after 20km of racing but he had no luck either.

 

Four riders get clear

Mayer also gave it another go but he was brought back too as the peloton continued to ride fast in a nervous atmosphere. It was Direct Energie on the front when they turned into a headwind after 26km of racing.

 

That was the signal for the peloton to slow down and they allowed Miguel Angel Benito (Caja Rural), Cousin, Roland Thalmann (Roth) and Jimmy Duquennoy (Wallonie) to escape when that quartet took off. They quickly got an advantage of 40 seconds at the bottom of the first climb where Thalmann attacked to take maximum points, followed by Duquennoy and Cousin. The peloton crested the summit 52 seconds later.

 

FDJ and Direct Energie take control

Thalmann crashed on the descent but was able to rejoin the break which was not allowed more than a 45-second advantage at this point. However, the peloton finally slowed down a bit and when Tristan Marguet (Roth) left the race with 1066km to go, the gap had reached two minutes.

 

The gap stayed between 2.00 and 2.30 as FDJ and Direct Energie combined forces in the chase. As they again hit a headwind section, the gap even went out to 3 minutes with 78km to go.

 

The break is caught

That was as much as they would get though and as they reached the halfway point, Direct Energi and FDJ upped the pace. With 72km to go, they had already reduced the gap to 2.10 and as they turned into a cross-tailwind, the nervousness made a much faster pace.

 

The riders covered the first two hours at an average of 41.3km/h before Lotto Soudal and Delko Marseille hit the front with 63km to go when the gap was only 1.10. The fast pace meant that the gap was down to just 30 seconds as they returned to the start in Bellegarde and it was only 8 seconds at the bottom of the final climb.

 

The break was caught on the lower slopes where the peloton briefly split but it was back together for Thalmann to beat Cousin and Romain Feillu (Auber 93) in the KOM sprint. Moments later, things got hectic when echelons were formed and the peloton split in two parts but it all came back together for the expected bunch sprint in the end.

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