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In the uphill sprint on the Mur de Laudun, Gallopin beat Laporte and Theuns to take the third Lotto Soudal win in less than a week; Theuns extended his overall lead

Photo: Lotto Soudal

ETOILE DE BESSÈGES

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LOTTO-DSTNY

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TEAM FLANDERS - BALOISE

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TONY GALLOPIN

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07.02.2015 @ 16:47 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tony Gallopin continued the memorable week for Lotto Soudal in France when he won the fourth stage of the Etoile de Besseges. The Frenchman benefited from strong teamwork throughout the entire stage before he beat Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) and Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen) in the uphill sprint, with the latter extending his overall lead due to bonus seconds.

 

Last Sunday Lotto Soudal won the first race of the 2015 season when Pim Ligthart emerged as the strongest in the sprint at the GP La Marseillaise. Since then the team has been almost unstoppable after the same 8 riders have continued to dominate the first stage race in Europe, Etoile de Besseges.

 

Last Wednesday, Kris Boeckmans won a very windy opening stage and after the team had come up short the next two days and lost the leader’s jersey yesterday, they were back on top in today’s final road stage of the race. Tour de France hero Tony Gallopin underlined that he has flair for uphill sprints when he beat Christophe Laporte and Edward Theuns to take the third win in less than a week for the Belgian team.

 

Lotto Soudal was on top of their game all day as they played a very prominent role. After they had left the early work to the Topsport Vlaanderen team of overall leader Theuns, they made a big attack in the crosswinds that saw a first echelon containing all their key riders.

 

When things came back together, they decided to focus on the sprint that was held on the tough Mur du Laudun which could suit a classics specialist like Gallopin. They combined forces with Trek to bring back the remnants of the early break and with 10km to go, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was the final riders to get caught. From there, it was all set for a sprint finish and here Gallopin proved his class by beating Laporte and Theuns.

 

Theuns may have missed out on the win but it ended as a good day for the Belgian as he picked up another four bonus seconds. Hence, he extended his overall lead over Boeckmans to 7 seconds while Marco Coledan (Trek) is third, 13 seconds behind.

 

However, he faces a tough challenge in the decisive final stage which is a 10km time trial in Alés. After a flat first 8km has a tough finale as the final 2km are up the Montee de l’Hermitage, meaning that a mix of time trial specialists and punchy climbers are set to battle it out for the stage win and the overall victory.

 

An uphill sprint

After the hardest road stage of the race, the riders were in for another tricky affair on day four. The 147.2km stage brought them from L’Ardoise to Laudun and was mostly held on flat roads. However, they were set to go up the Mur du Laudun no less than four times and the finish line was located just 300m from the finish. The stage ended with four laps of a 15.4km finishing circuit and was expected to be decided in an uphill sprint.

 

After the brutal conditions earlier in the race, the riders took the start under a blue sky and with a 10-degree temperature. However, there was again a lot of wind. One rider didn’t make it to the start as Evaldas Siskevicius (Marseille) broke his collarbone in the finale of yesterday’s stage.

 

A strong break

Yesterday it took more than 70km for the break to be established but today there was no drama. Right from the beginning, Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar), Arnaud Gérard (Bretagne-Séché Environnement), Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty Group Gobert), Steven Tronet (Auber 93), Rudy Barbier (Roubaix-Lille Métropole) Xandro Meurisse (An Post-ChainReaction) and Thomas Vaubourzeix (Veranclassic-Ekoï) attacked and they had to fight hard to build a gap. Julien Stassen (Wallonie) tried to bridge the gap but he had no success and instead his teammate Gaetan Pons gave it a go.

 

Vaubourzeix tried to escape on his own but after he had been chased down by Voeckler, the group came back together. While the gap reached a minute, Pons fought hard to join them but finally made the junction.

 

Topsport take control

After 15km of racing, the gap was 1.30 and now Topsport Vlaanderen took control. They kept the gap stable between 1.30 and 2.00 for a long time.

 

As they approached the first passage of the Mur de Laudun, however, the peloton slowed down and allowed the gap to reach 3 minutes. Meanwhile, the escapees contested the first sprints, with Barbier beating Meurisse and Pons in the intermediate sprint and Vaubourzeik beating Tronet and Pons in the first KOM sprint at the top of the Mur.

 

More teams start to work

For a while, the gap stayed between 2.30 and 3.00 but as they approached the start of the first lap of the finishing circuit, it came down to 2 minutes. With 58km to go, it was only 1.35 and it was still Topsport Vlaanderen doing all the work.

 

At the end of the first lap, the gap was back up to 1.55 but now Colombia and Lotto Soudal had joined forces with Topsport Vlaanderen. However, they were unable to bring the gap much down.

 

Lotto Soudal attack in the wind

On the second lap, Lotto Soudal attacked in the crosswind and created a first echelon that contained the likes of Kevin Reza, Marc Sarreau, Benoit Vaugrenard (FDJ), Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-La Mondiale), Marco Coledan, Stijn Devolder (Trek), Tony Gallopin, Sean De Bie, Maxime Monfort, Pim Ligthart, Tosh Van Der Sande (Lotto-Soudal), Roy Jan, Björn Leukemans and MarcoMarcato (Wanty Group Gobert). They managed to build an advantage of 15 seconds but with 36km to go, the peloton came back together.

 

Now the gap was down to 35 seconds and Lotto Soudal again tried to attack. As they started the penultimate lap, the gap was only 20 seconds.

 

The front group splits up

On the Mur, the front group split up as Vaubourzeix and Tronet got clear while Meurisse and Pons got distanced. Meanwhile, Reza tried an unsuccessful attack while Meurisse and Pons got caught.

 

The remaining six escapees found back together while the peloton started to splinter, with Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar), Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Laurent Guyot (Armee), Julien Antomarchi (Roubaix), Stephane Rossetto (Ag2r), Mateusz Taciak (CCC) and Romain Pillon (Auber 93) among the riders to get dropped. As the bunch slowed down a bit, the gap went up to 57 seconds while several attack were launched from the peloton.

 

Trek starts to chase

No one managed to get clear and now Trek started to chase. As they started the final lap, the gap was down to only 18 seconds and now it got too much for Gerard who dropped back to the peloton.

 

Voeckler tried to make a late move but there was nothing to be done against the peloton. Lotto Soudal were now sharing the work with Trek and they perfectly delivered Gallopin to the win.

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