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Passing early escapee Claeys just 10m from the line, Coquard took his second stage win on stage 2 of the Etoile de Besseges by holding off Pelucchi; Claeys crossed the line in third while Coquard extended his lead

Photo: Sirotti

BRYAN COQUARD

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DIRECT ENERGIE

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ETOILE DE BESSÈGES

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MATTEO PELUCCHI

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04.02.2016 @ 17:45 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) continued his dream start to the 2016 season when he made it two wins on the second day of racing for him this year. In a dramatic finale, he passed early escapee Dimitri Claeys (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) just 10m from the line and managed to hold off Matteo Pelucchi (IAM) to take the victory while the impressive Claeys rolled across the line in third. Coquard also extended the overall lead.

 

Coquard has been accustomed to winning early as he has won stages in the Etoile de Besseges in the beginning of February every year since he turned pro in 2013. Yesterday he did so again when he was in a class of his own in the bunch sprint of the opening stage on his first racing day of 2016.

 

Today Coquard confirmed that he has lots of speed and that the new Direct Energie lead-out is well-drilled right from the start of the year when he doubled his tally in another sprint on the second day. However, he almost missed on the chance to sprint for the win as a very strong Dimitri Claeys nearly denied the sprinters.

 

Claeys was part of an early 5-rider break that also included Antoine Leleu (Veranclassic), Quentin Pacher (Delko Marseille), Nicolas Baldo (Roth) and Kai Reus (Veranda’s Willems). The former two were distanced as they approached the flat 7.7km finishing circuit that had to be completed five times.

 

Direct Energie had been working on the front all day without any assistance and they were starting to struggle. Pacher and Leleu were brought back as the peloton hit the finishing circuit but they had a hard time bringing the break back. The gap was still 3.40 with 33km to go and at the end of the first lap with 30km to go, it was 3.20.

 

IAM realized the danger and hit the front to set Matteo Pelucchi up for a sprint win but they had only taken back 5 seconds with 27km to go. Meanwhile, Baldo was dropped from the breakaway.

 

More teams came to the fore as IAM, Direct Energie and Lotto Soudal were all working in the peloton but the gap was only coming down slowly as it was 2.30 with three laps and 21km to go.

 

Baldo was brought back and while Carlos Barbero (Caja Rural) abandoned, the peloton was starting to panic. At the start of the penultimate lap with 15km to go, the gap was still 2.02.

 

FDJ hit the front with Sebastien Reichenbach and Daniel Hoelgaard and they managed to bring the gap down a lot faster. With 10km to go, it was 1.32 at a point when Jari Verstraten (Verandas Willims) became the third rider to abandon.

 

At the start of the final lap, the gap was only 56 seconds and it was 36 seconds at the entrance of the final 5km. It was still Arnaud Demare’s FDJ team doing most of the work and they took back another 14 seconds during the next kilometre.

 

The progress stalled though and it was still 18 seconds with 2km to go. Claeys made one last effort to get rid of Reus and entered the final kilometre with an 8-second advantage.

 

In a dramatic finale, a crash split the peloton while the sprinters had to start their sprint early to catch Claeys. Coquard managed to pass the Belgian just 10m from the line while also holding off Pelucchi who had to settle for second, with Claeys crowning his fantastic performance with third place. Bert van Lerberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Demare completed the top 5.

 

With the win, Coquard extended his overall lead and he now has a 13-second advantage over Clayes, with Timothy Dupont (Veranda’s Willems) and Pelucchi being 1 second further adrift.

 

He will try to defend his position in tomorrow’s third stage which is the hardest of the race. The riders will first do three laps of a big circuit with the category 1 Col de Telis and an uncategorized climb but the stage ends with three laps of a flat 6.8km circuit which means that there is time to set up the usual reduced bunch sprint in Besseges.

 

A flat stage

After yesterday’s flat stage, the sprinters were again expected to come to the fore on stage 2 which brought the riders over153.16km from Nimes to Mejannes-Le-Clap. The course was almost completed flat and only included a category 2 climb with 42km to go. The stage ended with 5 laps of a flay 7.7km circuit.

 

The riders couldn’t have asked for much better conditions when they gathered for the start. All riders that finished yesterday were present as they rolled out for their neutral ride.

 

Five riders get clear

Unlike yesterday, it didn’t take long for the early break to be formed as Antoine Leleu (Veranclassic) took off almost as soon as the flag was dropped. He was quickly joined by Quentin Pacher (Delko Marseille), Dimitri Claeys (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Nicolas Baldo (Roth) and Kai Reus (Veranda’s Willems) and the quintet already had a 45-second advantage after 5km of racing.

 

The peloton slowed down and the gap had gone out to 2.26 at the 11km mark where Direct Energie took over the pace-setting. Just four kilometres later, it was already 4.05 and there was no panic in the Direct Energie team which had Antoine Duchesne and Perrig Quemeneur on the front of the peloton

 

Direct Energie in control

The gap went out to 4.45 at the 25km mark and the slow pace meant that the riders only covered 35.3km during the first hour. At this point, the gap started to decrease for the first time and it had been reduced to 4.00 when the riders entered the final 100km.

 

Quemeneur and Duchesne upped the pace even further and took back another 40 seconds during the next 13km. Meanwhile, Jonathan Hivert (Fortuneo Vital Concept) abandoned with a knee injury.

 

The break splits up

The escapees responded to the faster pace and brought the gap up to 3.55 with 80km to go. It stayed there for the next 10km until the peloton again got the upper hand and reduced it to 3.35 with 63km to go.

 

Direct Energie didn’t get any help and so the situation stabilized while Guillaume Levarlet (Auber 93) rejoined the peloton after a crash. Moments later, the action heated up in the break when Reus attacked on a descent and he stayed clear for a few kilometres until Pacher, Claeys and Baldo rejoined him with 53km to go.

 

Entering the final 50km, Leleu was 40 seconds behind the four leaders while the peloton was 3.15. Here they hit the only climb of the day where Claeys launched a short-lived attack. However, the pace was too fast for Pacher who was left behind and he had already lost 1.40 at the top where Leleu was trailing by 3.00 and the peloton by 4.05. Moments later, they hit the finishing circuit where the final drama played out.

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