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After a strong 8-rider group was caught in the finale, Ligthart won the bunch sprint at the GP La Marseillaise, holding off last year’s winner Vanbilsen and Demoitie

Photo: Lotto Soudal

GRAND PRIX CYCLISTE LA MARSEILLAISE

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KENNETH VANBILSEN

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LOTTO SOUDAL

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PIM LIGTHART

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01.02.2015 @ 16:56 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal) got his second year at Lotto Soudal off to the best possible start when he won his first race of the year, the GP La Marseillaise which is the first round in the Coupe de France. The Dutchman emerged as the fastest in a sprint from a reduced peloton and held off last year’s winner Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis) and Antoine Demoitie (Wallonie) in the final dash to the line.

 

Despite an aggressive performance, Pim Ligthart failed to win a single race in his first year with Lotto Soudal but today he finally opened his account, taking his first victory since the final stage of the 2013 Ster ZLM Toer. The Dutchman used his fast legs to beat defending champion Kenneth Vanbilsen and Antoine Demoitie in the bunch sprint at the end of the first race on French soil, the GP La Marseillaise.

 

Going into the race, Kris Boeckmans was the designated sprinter on the Lotto Soudal team but as the Belgian was dropped in the hectic and fast finale, Ligthart got a rare chance to test himself in a bunch sprint. The decision paid off as he managed to deny Vanbilsen another win in the opening racing on the French calendar.

 

The finale turned out in its usual fashion as it was a fascinating duel between a strong group that had taken off on the final climb of Col de la Gineste and the peloton which had been whittled down over the four climbs on the hilly course. Carlos Julian Quintero (Colombia) led the line with a solo attack on the climb and he was later joined by Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal), Davide Rebellin (CCC) and Clement Saint-Martin (Marseille) to form a strong quartet.

 

Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty), Remy Di Gregorio (Marseille) and Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) also managed to reach the front but there was no great cooperation between the 8 leaders. Instead, it all came back together with 2km to go.

 

With De Bie in the front group, Ligthart and Lotto Soudal could save themselves for the sprint and when it all came down to a battle between the fast men, he managed to deny Vanbilsen a dream debut for the Cofidis team. However, the Belgian had the consolation of becoming the first leader of the Coupe de France which is only open for riders riding for French teams.

 

Many of the riders will be back in action on Wednesday when the Etoile de Besseges will open the European stage racing season. The next Coupe de France race takes place on March 21 where the Classic Loire Atlantique will kick off a busy weekend of racing in France.

 

A hilly course

The 36th edition of the Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise was held on its traditional 139.7km course in the hilly area around the big city of Marseille. After the start in the city, the riders headed into the hills where they went up the four categorized climbs in the second half of the race. The riders first tackled the Petit Galibier and the Col de l’Espigoulier which took them up to more than 700m of altitude. In the finale, the Les Bastides and Col de la Gineste were the final challenges, with the latter summiting 9.9km from the finish. From there it was mostly a descent to the finish in front of the famous Stade Velodrome.

 

The riders took the start on a beautiful day in Marseille, with lots of sunshine, little wind and temperatures of around 10 degrees and they got off to a fast opening part. The local Marseille team took control from the beginning before sending Clement Saint-Martin off in the first attack with Pierre-Roger Latour (Ag2r).

 

Lots of attacks

At the 4km mark, those two were brought back and this opened the door for new attacks. Thomas Vaubourzeix (Veranclassic), Julien Guay (Auber) and Yoann Barbas (Auber) all tried to escape and they joined forces to form a strong trio. At the 11km mark, however, they were caught.

 

Alex Gougeard (Ag2r) was the next rider to attack but he had no luck either and now the peloton was starting to split due to the fast pace. Antoine Duchesne (Europcar) was among the riders to lose contact.

 

Reza crashes

One of the pre-race favourites Kevin Reza (FDJ) was caught in a crash and had to seek assistance from the race doctor. Meanwhile, Julien Duval (Armee de Terre) and Frederik Veuchelen (Wanty) managed to escape and this initiated the day’s breakaway.

 

Conor Dunne (An Post) was the first rider to join the duo and later Steven Tronet (Auber) and Vaubourzeix also made it across. The peloton now slowed down and allowed the gao to grow while Eoin McCarthy (An Post) tried to bridge the gap.

 

The peloton reacts

McCarthy quickly started to lose ground and when the peloton was 4 minutes behind, he still had 1.53 to make up. The peloton took it very easy and at the 42km mark, they had already lost 8.44 and at the bottom of the first climb, they were 10.20 behind.

 

That was as much of an advantage as they would get as Bretagne now started to chase. When Tronet led Veuchelen and Vaubourzeix over the top, the peloton was just 5.55 behind and they had now picked up McCarthy.

 

A dangerous chase group

As they approached the Espigoulier climb, the main challenge of the day, Ag2r joined Bretagne on the front. At the bottom the gap was down to 5.15 and now the scene was set for an aggressive race.

 

Michael Van Staeyen (Cofidis), Alo Jakin (Auber), St. Martin, Florian Vachon (Bretagne), Latour, Hugo Houle (Ag2r), Barbas, Miguel Angel Benito (Caja Rural), Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal), Carlos Julian Quintero (Colombia), Nikolay Mihaylov (CCC) and Antoine Warnier (Wallonie) went on the attack but they were caught halfway up the climb. However, the fast pace was costly for the break and when Tronet led Veuchelen and Vaubourzeix over the top the gap was only 1.36.

 

The break splits up

With the peloton now in full chase mode, the escapees upped the pace and this was too much for Duval who got dropped. He was joined from behind by Yoann Paillot (Marseille) who had attacked from the peloton but the pair only managed to build an advantage of 20 seconds before they were caught.

 

When Tronet led Veuchelen and Vauborzeix over the top of the Bastides climb, the gap was exactly a minute but now they were losing ground. When it was down to just 35 seconds, Vaubourzeix tried to get clear but he was quickly brought back.

 

Quintero takes off

The riders hit the Col de la Gineste with an advantage of 50 seconds and now the front group was splitting up. Tronet and Veuchelen distanced their companions but as they neared the summit, they were all brought back.

 

Instead, Quintero made another attack and he quickly built an advantage of 25 seconds. Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal), Saint-Martin and Davide Rebellin (CCC) took off in pursuit and after a hard chase, they managed to catch the Colombian.

 

Gautier makes his move

At the top of the Gineste, the four leaders were 35 seconds ahead and the peloton had exploded. This opened the door for new attacks, with Cyril Gautier (Europcar) being the first rider to take off before he was joined by Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural), Remy Di Gregorio (Marseille) and Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty).

 

The four chasers made it across to the leaders but at this point the gap was only 12 seconds. As there was no cooperation among the leaders, they were caught with 2km to go, setting the scene for the bunch sprint from which Ligthart emerged as the winner.

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