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Arriving at the finish with Theuns and Konovalovas, Coquard finished off excellent Europcar teamwork by winning the 3-rider sprint to win the first stage and take the overall lead at the 4 Days of Dunkirk

Photo: Sirotti

4 JOURS DE DUNKERQUE

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BRYAN COQUARD

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NEWS

DIRECT ENERGIE

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NEWS

EDWARD THEUNS

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NEWS

IGNATAS KONOVALOVAS

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06.05.2015 @ 17:23 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Bryan Coquard (Europcar) lived up to his status as the big favourite by taking a very impressive stage win on the first stage of the 4 Days of Dunkirk after a hard, selective day that included both cobbles and lots of wind. The Frenchman benefited from fantastic work from excellent work from teammate Antoine Duchesne to make it into a 3-rider group and easily beat Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Ignatas Konovalovas (Marseille) in the sprint to claim both the victory and the leader’s jersey.

 

In 2013 and 2014, the 4 Days of Dunkirk was dominated by Arnaud Demare (FDJ) who used his combination of solid climbing skills and fast legs to come out on top in the tough 5-day race in Northern France. This year the defending champion has decided to skip the race and instead it is another young French sprinter who has taken over the role as favourite.

 

The in-form Bryan Coquard is perfectly suited to the French race which is usually marked by strong winds, short, steep climbs, cobbles and sprints. The Europcar sprinter may not be the same kind of classics rider as Demare but he is a better climber and equally fast and this put him atop most list of favourites for the event which started today with a very tricky stage from Dunkirk to Orchies.

 

The course included no less than 7 pave sectors in the second half of the course, with the final cobbled stretch ending just 1.8km from the finish, and as a strong wind was blowing, everybody expected the stage to be one of the most important in the race. That turned out to be true as the peloton blew to pieces in what turned out to be a gradual elimination.

 

Coquard doesn’t have an awful lot of experience on the cobbles and he found himself slightly on the back foot when Damien Gaudin (Ag2r), Edward Theuns and Ignatas Konovalovas had escaped on the second pave sector. His Europcar team worked hard to keep them in contention and at the start of the 33.8km finishing circuit which included 4 paves, the peloton was 37 seconds behind the leaders.

 

As soon as they hit the cobbles, Adrien Petit (Cofidis) attacked and he was quickly joined by Björn Thurau (Bora-Argon 18) on the fifth sector which started just a few hundred metres after the previous one. This was the signal for Europcar to play their next card as Antoine Duchesne brought his captain Coquard up ti the two chasers.

 

Yauheni Hutarovich (Bretagne) also made the junction and now Duchesne sacrificed himself completely for his teammate. The Canadian reduced the gap to 15 seconds and his fast pace was too much for Petit who got distanced.

 

With Hutarovich being the notable exception, the chasers started to work together and with 25km to go, they made the junction. Meanwhile, FDJ realized the danger and started to chase hard with William Bonnet and Olivier Le Gac in the peloton which had been whittled down to just 25-30 riders.

 

The two Frenchmen worked hard to keep the gap at around 20-25 seconds for some time while Hutarovich was still not contributing to the pace-setting in the front group. With 20km to go, they even got some assistance from a Caja Rural rider before they blew up. This opened the door for Alo Jakin (Auber 93) and a Bretagne rider to attack but as Le Gac went back to work, those two riders were again caught.

 

Duchesne briefly got a gap in the front group but he was quickly brought. Meanwhile, Le Gac was emptying the tank and managed to bring the gap down to 15 seconds at the start of the penultimate pave with 12km to go.

 

Here his FDJ team leader Laurent Pichon made a big attack with Tim Declercq (Topsport) and Jakin glued to his wheel. The Bretagne trio of Arnaud Gerard, Florian Vachon and Pierrick Fedrigo managed to join them alongside Ralf Matzka (Bora-Argon 18), Alexandre Blain (Marseille) and Steve Chainel (Cofidis).

 

They got to within 7 seconds of the leaders but as Pichon didn’t get any help, the gap again started to grow. As the pace went down, Mads Pedersen (Cult), Frederik Backaert (Wanty) and Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Topsport Vlaanderen) managed to join them.

 

Bretagne wanted to keep Fedrigo in GC contention and so Vachon and Gerard started to chase hard. As they started the final pave with 3km to go, they were 15 seconds behind but it was Pichon who made the big surge to bridge the gap.

 

The FDJ leader failed to get clear and instead Chainel took off. Meanwhile, Gaudin was the first to attack from the front group while Duchesne got dropped after his impressive work for Coquard.

 

Konovalovas countered Gaudin’s move and only Theuns could keep up with him. Those two riders exited the cobbles with a small advantage over Coquard but the Europcar sprinted managed to rejoin them. Gaudin and Thurau had joined forces further back while Hutarovich and Duchesne had been caught by the chaser who had again brought Chainel back.

 

Konovalovas knew that he was up against faster riders so he decided to ride for GC. Hence, he set the pace until 300m remained when Theuns launched the sprint. However, the Belgian was no match to Coquard who easily took the win.

 

With the victory, Coquard now also leads the race with a 4-second advantage over Theuns as he goes into the second stage. Three smaller climbs are on the menu but the course is almost completely flat and unless the wind wreaks havoc on the peloton, a bunch sprint is expected.

 

Seven sectors of pave

The 61st 4 Days of Dunkirk kicked off with a 178.7km stage that brought the riders from Dunkerque to Orhcies. After a moderately hilly first part with two categorized climbs, the riders travelled along flat roads to the difficult second part. After having tackled another climb, the riders faced seven pave sectors. Four of those were located on the 33.8km finishing circuit, with the penultimate and final sectors ending just 10.3 and 1.8km from the finish respectively.

 

It was a sunny, dry and very windy day when the riders gathered in Dunkerque for the start of the 2015 edition of the traditional 5-day race. That made for a very fast and selective start as there were echelons right from the beginning. In the hectic opening phase, Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r) beat Adrien Petit (Cofidis) and Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18) to score important bonus seconds.

 

A trio take off

Despite the fact pace, Arnaud Gerard (Bretagne), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport) and Ivar Slik (Roompot) managed to build a small advantage. They fought hard to get a bigger advantage and it was Van Hecke who led Slik and Gerard over the top of the first climb. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was first from the peloton which had seen a regrouping take place and was 3 minutes behind.

 

The gap continued to grow and reached a maximum of 5.10 when the three escapees crested the summit of the second climb. Then the chase got organized though and the gap had been brought down to 4.00 with 90km to go.

 

The break is caught

The peloton now turned into a cross-tailwind and this made the peloton explode to pieces. The big acceleration brought the escapees back and it was a small front group of around 20 riders which entered the final 60km.

 

As they passed a small town, the group slowed down and this allowed a regrouping to take place. At the same time, the attacking started when an Ag2r rider took off.

 

Lots of attacks

When that group had been brought back, Michael Reihs (Cult), Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural) and Clement Saint-Martin (Marseille) tried and they were joined Benoit Jarrier (Bretagne), Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18), Voeckler, Rudy Molard (Cofidis), Hutarovich, Raymond Kreder (Roompot), Michael van Staeyen (Cofidis) and Sebastien Minard (Ag2r). However, Topsport had missed the move and so they brought the group back.

 

Olivier Le Gac (FDJ) was the next to try and he was briefly joined by a few more riders that included Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar) and Leonard Duque (Colombia). That move was unsuccessful too and instead Topsport took control of the situation.

 

Theuns, Gaudin and Konovalovas take off

The Belgian team fought hard with Marseille as they approached the second pave. The latter team won the battle but as they hit the cobbles, Theuns made a big attack. Only Gaudin and Konovalovas could keep up with him and as Gaudin took over, the gap grew quickly.

 

At the end of the sector, the escapees were already 30 seconds ahead and this prompted Europcar to attack. Engoulvent and Duchesne started to chase and they kept the gap at 30-35 seconds as they approached the third sector.

 

On the cobbles Theuns briefly distanced his companions but the group was back together as they exited the sector. In the peloton, Chainel launched a big attack with Duchesne but as they finished the cobbles, they waited for the peloton. Duchesne and Engoulvent went back to work and moments later they crossd the line to start their lap of the finishing circuit.

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