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Lobato emerged as the fastest in the bunch sprint on the final stage of Circuit Cycliste Sarthe, holding off Benfatto and Pelucchi; Fournier took the overall win, with Coppel in 2nd and Lobato in 3rd

Photo: ANSA-PERI / Dal Zennaro












08.04.2016 @ 15:30 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After a few frustrating months, Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) proved that he is back on track by taking his second win of the year in the final stage of the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe. The Spaniard beat the Italian duo of Marco Benfatto (Androni) and Matteo Pelucchi (IAM) in a bunch sprint while Marc Fournier (FDJ) finished safely in the bunch to become a surprise winner of the race. Jerome Coppel (IAM) was second while Lobato scored enough bonus seconds to move into third.


When Juan Jose Lobato took a dominant win in the queen stage of the Dubai Tour in the beginning of February, it seemed that the Spaniard was on track for a great season. He was aiming high at the classics, most notably Milan-Sanremo where he had been close to the podium in the past.


However, Lobato sustained a knee injury that forced him out of Paris-Nice and he never hit his best form for the big one-day races.  Gradually, he has improved though and this week he has been riding very well at the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe.


Lobato first showed his form by doing a good sprint in the battle for second place behind surprise winner Marc Fournier on the first stage and then did an unusually good time trial to finish in the top 20. Yesterday he dug deep to finish fifth in the queen stage, underlining that his form is excellent.


Today he finally got the just reward for one week of strong riding when he took his second win of the year by coming out on top in the bunch sprint on the flat final stage. On a day when the peloton was very attentive not to make a repeat of the mistake from the first stage, he emerged as the fastest by holding off Marco Benfatto and Matteo Pelucchi.


After yesterday’s queen stage, the sprinters were expected to get a final chance to shine in stage 4 which brought the riders over 172.4km from Abbaye de l’Epau to Arnage. The first 115km had the riders travel from the start to the finish, with three climbs coming in the early part of the race. However, the race ended with 7 laps of a completely flat 8.2km circuit in Arnage.


It was bright sunshine when the riders gathered for the start, with Nicolas Baldo (Roth) and Nick van der Lijke (Roompot) being the only non-starters. Like in the other road stages, the break was established very early and it just took a few attacks for the unstoppable Anton Vorobyev (Katusha) to make it into the move alongside Francois Bidard (Ag2r), Chris Anker Sørensen (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Delio Fernandez (Delko), Daniele Ratto (Androni) and Eliot Lietaer (Topsport Vlaanderen).


The group quickly got an advantage of a minute but the peloton had no intention of letting the situation get out of control. FDJ hit the front immediately and kept the gap around a minute for a long time in the early part of the race.


Direct Energie quickly lent them a hand and after one of the FDJ riders had rejoined the peloton after a puncture, the gap was still only 1.05 at the 21km mark. As they hit the first climb, the escapees had their biggest advantage yet as it had crept out to 1.30 before Vorobyev beat Sørensen and Ratto in the KOM sprint.


After a first hour at an average speed of 43.1km/h, it was FDJ doing the majority of the work, keeping the gap at 1.30 when Vorobyev beat Sørensen and Lietaer in the second KOM sprint. At this point, the calm atmosphere was broken when a big crash involved four riders from Wanty, Arnaud Gerard (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and one rider from both Cofidis. Julien El Fares and Daniel Diaz went down for Delko and were forced to abandon.


The crash split the field and it took some time for everybody to rejoin the peloton. Hence, the gap was allowed to go out to two minutes at the 54km mark.


The chase got organized again as two FDJ riders and one rider from Movistar and FDJ hit the front, keeping the gap at 2 minutes. Meanwhile, Lietaer beat Vorobyev and Sørensen in the first intermediate sprint.


As they approached the third climb, the gap had been brought down to 1.20 before Vorobyev beat Sørensen, Fernandez and Bidard in the KOM sprint. Moments later, Dayer Quintana (Movistar) and Christian Mager (Stölting) left the race in the feed zone.


The gap was down to 1.20 but the escapees responded by pushing it out to 1.45. This prompted Drapac to up the pace significantly and as they passed the 102km mark, the gap was suddenly only 35 seconds.


Drapac stopped their effort and so the gap went out to 1.15 before the escapees hit the finishing circuit with a 50-second advantage. At the first passage of the line, it was already down to 35 seconds but as it was too early to catch the break, the peloton allowed it to go out to 1 minute at the end of the first lap.


It was a big alliance between FDJ, Direct Energie, Movistar and Drapac that slowly started to reel the break in and when Vorobyev led Bidard and Sørensen across the line to win the second intermediate sprint, the peloton followed just 30 seconds later. It was unchanged at the next passage of the line and when Lietaer won the final intermediate sprint ahead of Vorobyev and Sørensen with 24km to go, it was still half a minute.


Lietaer was the first rider to sit up and with 20km to go, it was all back together. Direct Energie and FDJ set a fast pace to make sure that no one escapes, leading the peloton across the line to start the penultimate lap.


As they started the final lap, Direct Energie took control, trying to set Bryan Coquard up for victory. Drapac also mixed it up in the final kilometres but all their efforts were in vain. In the end, Lobato emerged as the fastest and took the win in a close sprint, with Marco Benfatto and Matteo Pelucchi completing the podium. Pre-race favourite Coquard had to settle for fifth.


Marc Fournier finished safely in the bunch and so became a hugely surprising winner of the race with an advantage of 1.57 over Jerome Coppel (IAM). The bonus seconds from today’s win allowed Lobato to take the final step of the podium.


The aggressive Anton Vorobyev won both the points and the mountains classification. Fournier was of course the best young rider and Cofidis was the best team.


With Circuit Cycliste Sarthe done and dusted, the attention in France turns to the biggest one-day race of the year, Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. The next major stage race in the country is the Four Days of Dunkirk in the beginning of May.



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