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After a perfect lead-out from Petit, Coquard easily won the bunch sprint on the 4 Days of Dunkirk by holding off Kreder and Bouhanni; the Frenchman is the first leader of the race

Photo: Sirotti








04.05.2016 @ 17:26 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) repeated last year’s performance by winning the first stage of the 4 Days of Dunkirk in dominant fashion. After Cofidis had mistimed their lead-out, Adrien Petit positioned Coquard perfectly and he easily held off Raymond Kreder (Roompot) and big rival Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) to take both the stage victory and the leader’s jersey.


One year ago Bryan Coquard got the 4 Days of Dunkirk off to the best possible start by winning the first stage on a day that set him perfectly up for a solid GC campaign. He would eventually have to settle for second overall and so he is aiming for revenge in this year’s race.


Coquard recently showed excellent form by finishing fourth in both Amstel Gold Race and Brabantse Pijl and this makes him the obvious favourite for overall victory in Dunkirk. However, he faces stiff opposition in the sprints as he is up against Nacer Bouhanni and many have been looking forward to the first big 2016 battle between the two sprinters.


Today Coquard made it 1-0 by coming out on top on the opening stage for the second year in a row. With a perfect lead-out from Adrien Petit, he benefited from a mistimed effort from the strong Cofidis train and seemed to be at ease when he rode to victory on a sunny day in Gravelines.


The good weather had made it a relatively calm affair and it was Coquard’s Direct Energie teammates who had controlled most of the stage and brought the break back relatively early. As opposed to this, Cofidis had been playing a waiting game and it was still Direct Energie on the front with Yohanne Gene and Sylvain Chavanel with 6km to go.


That’s when Cofidis finally showed themselves and it was Florian Senechal who took a massive turn on the front. Gert Joeaar gave him a small chance to recover but the Frenchman was back on the front as they entered the final 3km.


Senechal swung off with 2.5km to go when Michael van Staeyen took over, followed by Clement Venturini, Borut Bozic, Geoffrey  Soupe and Bouhanni and the French team seemed to have everything under control. Venturini took over and the team even got some welcome help when Nikolas Maes surged forward for Etixx-QuickStep.


Venturini was back on the front with 1.5km to go and it was Bozic who led Soupe, Bouhanni, Petit and Coquard under the flamme rouge. However, when the Slovenian swung off with 800m to go, Soupe realized that it was too early to do the lead-out and so he had to slow down, meaning that the Cofidis riders got swamped.


Delko hit the front with two riders but Petit and Coquard were attentive to follow their move and that allowed Petit to lead Coquard out from the perfect position. Soupe desperately moved back to the front but he had lost Bouhanni in the process and so it was Coquard who launched the sprint from third position. Raymond Kreder could do nothing more than holding his wheel while a fast-finishing Bouhanni had to start from too far back and could only get third place.


With the win, Coquard is the first leader of the race with a two-second advantage over Marco Frapporti (Androni) who picked up 8 bonus seconds in the intermediate sprints. He will try to make it two in a row in stage 2 which includes three early pave sectors and two climbs during the first 70km but as it ends with three laps of a mostly flat 15km circuit, it is expected to be another bunch sprint on the uphill finishing straight.


A flat opener

The 62nd edition of the 4 Days of Dunkirk kicked off with a 191.4km stage that brought the riders from Dunkirk to the nearby city of Gravelines. After a flat start, the riders tackled an early categorized climb and then returned to the coast where they climbed the small Cap Blanc Nez climb three times. From there it was a flat run along the coast to Gravelines where the riders did one lap of a flat 21.8km circuit that ended with a relatively straightforward and completely flat finale.


As expected it was fantastic sunny weather when the riders rolled out from Dunkirk and it was the usual aggressive start. There were lots of attacks during the rapid opening phase, but it was only after 25km of racing, that three riders managed to escape. Kai Reus (Rompoot), Marco Frapporti (Androni Giocatoli) and Stéphane Poulhies (Armee) tried their luck, and just five kilometers later they were already three minutes ahead of the peloton.


Direct Energie in control

Direct Energie immediately took responsibility for the chase and the gap grow to 5.30. They kept the it at around 5 minutes for a long time, but slowly started to accelerate as they approached the Blanc Nez circuit. At first passage of the climb, the escapees were 4.15 ahead of the peloton while it was 3.50 when they hit climb for the second time. Here Poulhies the first rider at the top, leading Reus and Frapporti over the line, but they did not sprint for the points. The peloton shaved 35 seconds off the gap on the ascent and so crested the summit 3.15 later.


Guillaume Thevenot did the early work for Direct Energie and he got some assistance from Anthony Perez (Cofidis) as they entered the final 65km. At this point, the gap was already down to 2.40 and it was only 2.05 when Poulhies led Frapporti and Reus over the top of the climb for the third and final time.


FDJ attack

Perrig Quemeneur set the pace for Direct Energie on the ascent and he reacted quickly when an FDJ rider attack. Mirko Selvaggi (Androni) was among the riders to join the move and it was Frederik Backaert (Wanty) who led the bunch over the top. Selvaggi, Backaert and Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r) were all part of a small group on the descent but Direct Energie neutralized the move immediately.


Thevenot went back to work and soon Perez also came back to the fore and while the pair traded pulls the gap went out from1.50 to 2.10 as they entered the final 50km. However, they soon upped the pace and the gap was down to just 1.00 ten kilometres later.


Ag2r accelerate in the crosswind

The fight for position intensified and so Perez and Thevenot swung off, leaving it to Quemeneur to set the pace. The intense pace meant that the gap was down to just 20 seconds with 36km to go.


That’s when Ag2r tried to split the peloton in the crosswind as Sebastien Minard, Alexis Gougerad and Damien Gaudin took some huge turns and when they ended their effort, Crelan took over with Rob Ruijgh and David Boucher. Fortuneo-Vital Concept also came to the fore but while the peloton stayed together, the only effect was that the early break was caught.


Lots of attacks

When the acceleration stopped, the scene was set for attacks and it became a festival of aggression. Gougeard was particularly active and Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r), Dennis Coenen, Rob Ruijgh, David Boucher (Crelan), Yves Lampaert (Etixx-QuickStep), Jonathan Dufrasne (Wallonie) were all part of small groups but Direct Energie controlled things firmly and things were back together with 30km to go.


An Ag2r rider, Boucher and one from Delko got clear but Direct Energie neutralized the move before Gougeard went again with 28km to go. While Coenen bridged the gap, Thierry Hupond (Delko) and Thomas Koep (Stölting) hit the deck in the very hectic phase.


Gougeard and Boucher get clear

Gougeard rode Coenen off his wheel and instead Boucher bridged the gap. While Quemenur and Fabien Grellier chased hard for Direct Energie, they dangled a few metres ahead of the peloton for a few kilometres but with 23km to go, it was all back together.


Grellier and Quemeneur led five of their teammates across the line to start the lap of the finishing circuit and the pair set the pace for the first five kilometres until Roompot and Topsport Vlaanderen took over with 16km to go. Direct Energi came back to the fore and line up their troops alongside those two teams before Etixx-QuickStep and Wallonie made it five trains on the front with 10km to go.


With 10km to go, Fortuneo-Vital’s Arnaud Gerard led the peloton onto a narrower road but as it again widened, Etixx took over with Iljo Keisse. Roompot and Direct Energie passed them and with 6km to go, it was the French team in control with Yoann Gene and Sylvain Chavanel. Cofidis took over but in the end, it was Coquard taking the win.



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