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Despite being uncertain about his form after the Vuelta, Gougeard took a splendid victory in the Tour de l’Europemetropole prologue, beating Keizer by 3 seconds and Gougeard by 12 seconds

Photo: Sirotti

ALEXIS GOUGEARD

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CIRCUIT FRANCO-BELGE

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DECATHLON AG2R LA MONDIALE

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MARTIJN KEIZER

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MATTHIAS BRÄNDLE

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30.09.2015 @ 18:07 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

A few weeks after his stage win at the Vuelta a Espana, Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) continued his breakthrough season by powering to victory in the difficult Tour de l’Eurometropole prologue. The Frenchman beat long-time leader Martijn Keizer (LottoNL-Jumbo) by 3 seconds while Matthias Brändle (IAM) was 9 seconds further adrift in third.

 

A few weeks ago, Alexis Gougeard finally became a household name for a wider audience when he took a very classy solo victory in the Vuelta a Espana stage to Avila. Long regarded as one of the biggest French talents, his aggressive riding style finally paid off and it became clear that he is destined for a big future.

 

Since then he has recovered from his first grand tour and so he didn’t know what to expect from this week’s Tour de l’Eurometropole. However, like so many other riders, it seems that he has benefited massively from getting through a 3-week race as he took a very impressive win in today’s Tour de l’Eurometropole prologue.

 

The 7.8km stage required more than just time trialling power as a flat start led to the tough 800m climb of Mont Saint-Aubert. Hence, it was perfectly suited to puncheurs who could also keep a high pace on the flat.

 

Martijn Keizer had specifically asked his LottoNL-Jumbo team to be allowed to focus on this race as he wanted to do well in the prologue. He opted for an early start and was just the 29th rider to hit the course. With a time of 11.26, he was far better than the other early starters and he would spend most of the day in the hot seat.

 

Dries Devenyns (IAM) was the first rider to get close as he slotted into second, 15 seconds off the pace, but it was Gougeard who managed to do what no one else would be able to. Less than two minutes after Deveyns had crossed the line, he powered up the climb to stop the clock in 11.23 and push Keizer out of the hot seat.

 

However, almost half the field and the biggest specialists had not even started their ride so it was expected that Gougeard would be challenged. However, for a long time, no one was even close, with Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM), Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal) and Johan Le Bon (FDJ) only able to make it into fifth.

 

When TT specialist Anton Vorbyev (Katusha) slotted into sixth and Reto Hollenstein (IAM) had to settle for fourth, it became clear that Gougeard was a very realistic winner. Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) had to settle for seventh and so Gougeard only had to wait for the big specialists in the final wave to finish their rides.

 

Pre-race favourites like Victor Campenaerts (Topsport) and Gaetan Bille (Verandas) both had disappointing rides so the attention soon turned to Matthias Brändle. However, the IAM rider was 12 seconds off the pace in third.

 

Specialists like Patrick Gretsch (Ag2r) and Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff) both missed out on the top 10 and when Matthieu Ladagonus (FDJ) could only managed 18th as the final rider, Gougeard could step onto the podium as the winner. Keizer and Brändle completed the podium.

 

Gougeard now takes his 3-seconds advantage into the first road stage. It is a predominantly flat affair with just a few climbs at the midpoint and with good weather expected, a bunch sprint is the likely outcome.

 

A punchy prologue

For the first time in years, the Tour de l’Eurometropole kicked off with a prologue. The 75th edition was opened on a 7.8km course that brought the riders along flat roads from Obigies to the bottom of Mont Saint-Aubert on whose top the finish was located.

 

It was a sunny day when Thomas Wertz (Wallonie) rolled down the ramp as the first rider. He stopped the clock in 12.31 to take the early lead but was immediately beaten by Alphonse Vermote (Vastgoedservice) who was 13 seconds faster.

 

Pardini takes the lead

However, it was Alexander Krieger (Leopard) who really lowered the mark when he stopped the clock in 12.19 before Jean-Marc Bideau (Bretagne) slotted into third. Pieter Jacobs (Topsport) was the first challenger but he was three second off the pace. Simon Pellaud (IAM) made it into third, 10 seconds behind.

 

Twan Castelijns (LottoNL-Jumbo) proved his huge potential when he stopped the clock in 12.02 to take a comfortable lead. However, he barely had time to enter the hot seat as Olivier Pardini (Verandas) soon went 22 seconds faster with 11.40.

 

Keizer crushes the opposition

Arthur Vanoverberghe (Topsport) was the next rider to slot into the top 5 with 12.27 and Stig Broeck (Lotto Soudal) was even better as his time of 12.16 was enough for third. He narrowly managed to hold off the fast-finishing Keizer who crushed the opposition by posting a time of 11.26 to take a very comfortable lead.

 

For a long time, no one was even close to Keizer until Maurits Lammertink (Roompot) could make it into fourth with 12.15. Maxime Cam (Bretagne) cracked the top 10 with an 8th place before Sondre Holst Enger (IAM) slotted into fourth with 12.10.

 

Good ride by Haussler

Thierry Hupond (Giant-Alpecin) made it into the top 10 before Kilian Frankiy (BMC) slotted into fifth with 12.12. Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal) was just four seconds slower but it was Mike Teunissen (LottoNL) who got some attention by slotting into third with 12.01. Nikolay Trusov (Tinkoff-Saxo) also briefly cracked the top 10 with 12.19.

 

Berden De Vries (Roompot) continued his fine time trialling by making it into fifth with 12.04 and Sander Helven (Topsport) also made it into the top 10 with 12.16. Heinrich Haussler (IAM) became the third rider under 12 minutes with a time of 11.56 and Gediminas Bagdonas (Ag2r) slotted into seventh with 12.08.

 

Devenyns slots into second

Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) came up short as his time of 11.59 was only good enough for fourth. Maarten Wynants (LottoNL-Jumbo) became the final rider to make it into the top 10 for a while when he slotted into 10th.

 

The trend finally changed when Katusha stagiaire Nils Politt stopped the clock in 12.04 which was good enough for seventh. However, it was Devenyns who had the attention but despite slotting into second, he was 12 seconds off the pace.

 

Gougeard takes the lead

Gougeard was now approaching the finish and in a nail-biting finish, he beat Keizer by just 3 seconds. Moments later, Tom Van Asbroeck (LottoNL) slotted into fifth with 11.52 and Olivier Chevalier (Wallonie) narrowly missed the top 10 with 12.06.

 

Daniel McLay (Bretagne) was the next sprinter to do well as he slotted into seventh but he was quickly beaten by Saramotins whose time of 11.51 was good enough for fifth. De Bie was three seconds faster to move into that spot but was soon pushed down one spot by Le Bon who posted a time of 11.41.

 

Hollenstein gets close

Dimitri Clayes (Verandas Willems) narrowly missed out on the top 10 before Vorobyev slotted into sixth with 11.44. However, it was Hollenstein who had most of the attention but the Swiss came up short with 11.40 which was only enough for fourth.

 

Roelandts had a fine ride to make it into seventh while pre-race favourite Bille had a disappointing ride to slot into 14th. Young Victor Manakov (Leopard) even did better as he posted the 13th best time.

 

Brändle comes up short

Campenaerts could only managed 20th so the attention quickly turned to Brändle whose time of 11.35 was enough for third. BMC stagiaire Tom Bohl did very well with 11.42 to take 8th.

 

Gretsch had a disastrous ride before Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) slotted into 17th. Boaro could only manage 11th and when Ladagnous stopped the clock in 11.57 to take 18th, Gougeard could step onto the podium as the stage winner and overall leader.

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