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The young Belgian makes it into a 6-rider breakaway that manages to hold off the teams of the sprinters and finally beats former teammate Laurens De Vreese in the sprint

Photo: A.S.O. / Pascal Perreve

ETOILE DE BESSÈGES

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LAURENS DE VREESE

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TEAM FLANDERS - BALOISE

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05.02.2014 @ 16:36 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Three days after Kenneth Vanbilsen's win in the GP La Marseillaise, Sander Helven continued Topsport Vlaanderen's dream start to the season when he won the first stage of the Etoile de Besseges. The young Belgian made it into a 6-rider breakaway that surprisingly held off the peloton and he finally managed to beat his former teammate Laurens De Vreese (Wanty) and Benoit Jarrier (Bretagne) in the final sprint.

 

Topsport Vlaanderen is one of the pro continental teams that participates in most races at the highest level but they are rarely rewarded for their aggressive racing. In 2014 things seem to be different as the team today took its second win on their second day of racing.

 

The winner was a surprise one as few had expected young Sander Helven to  come out on top on the first stage of the first European stage race, the Etoile de Besseges. With a mostly flat course and sprinters like John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) and Bryan Coquard (Europcar) in attendance, all eyes were on the fast men.

 

However, Helven decided to give it  a shot when he joined the early 6-rider breakaway and this proved to be a wise decision. On a rainy day in Southern France, the peloton was unable to organize a chase in time to catch the breakaway.

 

Suddenly, the attention turned towards the 6 escapees who had to decide the first wearer of the leader's jersey and it was Helven who emerged as the strongest in the final sprint. He beat his former teammate Laurens De Vreese and Benoit Jarrier while John Degenkolb led the peloton across the line 22 seconds too late.

 

Helven now faces his first jersey defence in tomorrow's second stage. At 149.3km, the stage only contains two climb at the midpoint and is again expected to suit the sprinters.

 

A flat stage

The 44th Etoile de Besseges kicked off with a 154.5km stage from Bellegard to Beaucaire. The stage was mostly flat but took in two laps on a circuit that contained the category 2 Cote de la Tour before finishing with 4 laps on a flat 6.6km circuit. The stage was expected to allow a sprinter to take the first leader's jersey in the race.

 

The stage was off to an very fast start as several riders tried to escape in the first few kilometres. 5 riders were the first to get a significant gap but after 8km, things were back together.

 

The break is formed

Benoit Jarrier (Bretagne) now tried his hand and he was later joined by Sander Helven (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Michael Goolaerts (Verands Willems). Later Boris Dron (Wallonie) and Lauren De Vreese (Wanty) also made the junction while the final rider to bridge across was Marcus Christie (An Post).

 

While the front sextet started to open up a big gap over the peloton, one rider spent a long time in lone pursuit of the breakaway until he finally had to give up and fell back to the peloton. The rain was now falling heavily and this probably took away some of the motivation from the pack which allowed the gap to grow to a massive 8.45.

 

De Vreese scores KOM points

After 39.2km, the breakaway contested the first KOM sprint, with De Vreese beating Jarrier and Helven. A few moments later, Christie was unfortunate to suffer a puncture but managed to close a 35 second gap and returned to the front.

 

After 60km of racing, FDJ.fr and La Pomme Marseille started to chase, the two teams being keen to set up sprinters Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), Justin Jules (La Pomme Marseille), Benjamin Giraud (La Pomme Marseille) and Evaldas Siskevicius (La Pomme Marseille) for the win. They brought the gap down to 6.40 but when rain again started to fall, the main group again slowed down and at the halfway point, the advantage was back up to 7.47.

 

The peloton starts to chase

The peloton started to slowly reel in the break but when De Vreese beat Helven and Dron on the second climb to become the first leader in the mountains classification, the gap was still 5.46. At that point, only 54.7km remained, meaning that a surprise win could be in store.

 

The peloton had to ride harder and this forced the group to split in two, with a 30 riders making up the 2nd group. Cyril Gautier (Europcar) who had had a puncture, and Giraud were both caught out and despite a hard chase, the second group never returned to the first one.

 

The riders enter the final circuit

When the riders started the first lap on the finishing circuit with 26.4km to go, the gap was still 3.45. After the first lap, it had come down to 2.15 but the hard chase by FDJ appeared to not be enough to bring back the escape.

 

After the second lap, the gap was 2.05 and now Lotto-Belisol and Europcar who had sprinters Tosh Van Der Sande and Bryan Coquard respectively decided to lend a hand to the chase. They brought the gap down to 1.45 but on the tricky circuit, the escapees managed to rebuild their advantage to 1.45.

 

Dumoulin chases hard

With 5km to go, the front sextet was still 1.10 ahead as Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) took a huge turn on the front. With 2km to, the advantage was one minute and it was now clear that the winner would be one of the escapees.

 

No one dared to make any attack in the final kilometres and so the win would be contested in a final sprint. Helven proved to be the fastest while John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) beat Tom Van Asbroeck (Topsport Vlaanderen) in the sprint for 7th, 22 seconds too late.

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