Raymond Kreder (Garmin-Sharp) grabbed a rare chance to be the lead sprinter when he won today’s first road stage of the Tour de l’Ain. While Mark Cavendish decided to ride in support of his Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammate Gianni Meersman, the Dutchman beat the FDJ stagiaire Marc Sarreau. A third place was enough for Meersman to defend his overall lead.
In his first professional seasons, Raymond Kreder has mostly been riding in service of Tyler Farrar but occasionally he has been given his own chance. Today was such a rare occurrence as he was selected as the team’s sprinter for the first stage of the Tour de l’Ain.
Like he did when he won the Velothon Berlin earlier his year, Kreder paid back the confidence by taking the win as he held off stagiaire Marc Sarreau in the bunch sprint at the end of a slow, uneventful stage. Race leader Gianni Meersman finished third and so defended his overall lead.
Much was expected from Mark Cavendish in his first sprint stage since his comeback. However, the Brit didn’t feel ready to sprint and decided to work for his teammate Meersman.
After the opening prologue, the race continued with a 150.2km stage from Lac de Chalain to Montrevel-en-Bresse. The first half was slightly undulating and included two smaller climbs but the second half was almost completely flat, meaning that a bunch sprint was expected.
The 96 riders took the start in rainy conditions and as they had a strong headwind, there was no great desire to go on the attack. Straight from the gun, Frederic Brun (BigMat) and Roman Semyonov (Continental Astana) attacked and they started to build an advantage that reached 2.35 after just 8km of racing.
The gap reached a maximum of 4.25 at the 20km mark and then Omega Pharma-Quick Step started to control the race. For most of the day, Carlos Verona rode on the front in the headwind to keep the escapees on a short leash.
On the first climb, Semyonov attacked and dropped Brun to score maximum points while Verona and Cavendish led the peloton across the line 3.20 later. The escapees found back together on the descent while the gap continued to come down.
When Semyonov beat Brun in the sprint on the second climb, Verona and Pieter Serry led the peloton over the summit just 2.05 later. With 57km to go, the gap was only 1.25 and this prompted Christophe Le Mevel (Cofidis) and Romain Guillemois (Europcar ) to try to bridge across.
Even defending champion Romain Bardet (Ag2r) made an attack and the increased pace spelled the end for the breakaway. With 53km to go, everything was back together and OPQS now went back to the front to control the situation.
The peloton did the work for most of the remaining part of the stage and no one showed any interest in attacking before Rudy Kowalski (Roubaix) gave it a go just before the first passage of the finish with 14km to go. The Frenchman managed to build a 10-second advantage but just after the crossing of the line, he was back in the fold.
With 10km to go, Garmin took over from OPQS and from there the American team remained in control for the rest of the stage. In the end, their efforts paid off as Kreder took an important sprint win.
Meersman will wear the leader’s jersey in tomorrow’s second’s stage which is completely flat and has no categorized climbs. All is set for another bunch sprint before the race heads into the mountains for the final two stages.
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