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Bakelants and Westra emerge as the strongest from a 16-rider breakaway in the sixth stage of the race and after dropping their companions, Bakelants narrowly beats Westra in the sprint; Froome defends lead despite late crash

Photo: OPQS / Tim De Waele

CHRIS FROOME

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CRITERIUM DU DAUPHINE

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JAN BAKELANTS

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LIEUWE WESTRA

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SOUDAL - QUICK STEP

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TEAM SKY

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ZDENEK STYBAR

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13.06.2014 @ 15:21 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) finally got the reward for three days of aggressive racing when he won today’s sixth stage of the Criterium du Dauphiné. The Belgian beat Lieuwe Westra (Astana) in a close sprint after the pair had emerged as the strongest from a 16-rider breakaway while Chris Froome (Sky) came back from a late crash 7km from the finish to defend his lead on the eve of the queen stage.

 

A few days ago, Jan Bakelants told Belgian media that he hoped for a selection for the Tour de France but admitted that it would be difficult in a team that was set to be built around Mark Cavendish and Michal Kwiatkowski. However, he has done everything possible in the Criterium du Dauphiné to convince his managers that he deserves his spot in the world’s biggest race.

 

In stages 4 and 5 he was part of the breakaway that decided the stage but on those days he came up against stronger climbers, with a 7th place being his best result. However, he refused to give up and today he finally got his just reward for his offensive attitude.

 

For the third day in a row, he made it into the breakaway in today’s sixth stage of the race and for the third and for the third day in a row the winner came out of that group. Bakelants and Lieuwe Westra instigated the move when they attacked after a very fast start and when the dust had settled 16 riders had taken off.

 

With a very lumpy finale that made the sprinters uncertain about their chances, no team showed any real interest in reeling in the group and only FDJ and Katusha made short-lived attempts to get back in contention. As they hit the hilly finale, however, it was clear that the winner would be one of the escapees.

 

Pim Ligthart (Lotto Belisol) was the first to attack on the first of three climbs in the finale and initially only Westra joined him. However, Bakelants made it across before the top and on the second climb, the pair got rid of Ligthart.

 

Bakelants and Westra seemed to be equally strong and Westra’s repeated attempts of dropping his companion all failed. Hence, it came down to a sprint between the pair and here Bakelants emerged as the fastest.

 

Westra tried to launch a long sprint but Bakelants had everything under control and passed him on the right-hand side. He briefly had to stop he sprint to avoid hitting the barrier but that didn’t prevent him from taking his first win in Omega Pharma-Quick Step colours.

 

Behind, the peloton seemed to be content to just roll steadily to the line but a surprising drama unfolded when race leader Chris Froome hit the deck on the descent. Pretty bruised, he got back on his bike and his teammates Geraint Thomas and Mikel Nieve helped him rejoin the field which showed great sportsmanship by waiting for him.

 

Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol) tried to split things on the final steep ramp with 2km to go but all the GC contenders arrived at the finish together, meaning that Froome defended his 12-second lead over Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Wilco Kelderman (Belkin). However, the crash couldn’t have come at a worse time as tomorrow is the day of the queen stage. The riders will tackle three climbs in the first part before going up two HC mountains in the finale, the final one leading to the finish in Finahut-Emoisson. It is 10.2km long, has an average gradient of 8% and has a brutally steep finals section with ramps of up to 28%.

 

A rolling stage

After two days in a row with some big climbs, it was back into flatter terrain for the sixth stage of the race which brought the riders over 178.5km from Grenoble to Poisy. After a mostly flat start with only one category 4 climb at the midpoint of the stage, things got significantly more complicated in the finale. Inside the finale 30km, the riders went up two category 4 climbs and there was a short 1km hill with a maximum gradient of 15% just 2km from the line, meaning that it would be hard for the sprinters to prevail in Poisy.

 

As it has been the case all week, the riders started the stage under beautiful sunny conditions and all 153 riders who finished yesterday’s stage made it to the start. With the terrain being very lumpy and the stage being the final opportunity for non-climbers, the start was expected to be a fast one and that prediction proved to be correct.

 

Westra and Bakelants instigate attack

The first significant move was launched after 8km of racing when 5 riders – including two from Ag2r – got a small gap but at the 10km mark, things were back together. While Stefan Denifl (IAM) abandoned the race with a knee injury, the attacking continued as the peloton continued to speed along at a very rapid pace.

 

At the 29km mark, a Lieuwe Westra (Astana) and Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) initiated the break that ended up being the right one. The pair were joined by another rider to make it a trio and at the 34km mark, the group had swelled to 10 with a slim 13-second advantage. At this point Luca Wackermann (Lampre-Merida) became the next rider to leave the race.

 

A big group

Westra and Bakelants had been joined by Sergio Paulinho (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jean-Christophe Péraud (AG2R-La Mondiale), Pim Ligthart (Lotto), Aleksej Saramotins (IAM), Maciej Bodnar (Cannondale), Jens Voigt (Trek), Zdenek Stybar (OPQS), Thomas Damuseau (Giant), Valerio Conti (Lampre), Bram Tankink (Belkin) and Cesare Benedetti (NetApp) and a little late Imano Erviti (Movistar), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Julien Simon (Cofidis) also bridged the gap. As most teams had a rider in the group, the peloton slowed down and after 39km of racing, the gap was 3.40.

 

Sky assumed their position on the front of the peloton and allowed the gap to gradually reach six minutes. With Bakelants sitting just 6.03 behind Froome in the overall standings, however, that was as much as they would get and for most of the remaining part of the stage the British team have kept the gap stable between the 5- and 6-minute marks, with Danny Pate, Xabier Zandio and Vasil Kiryienka doing the work.

 

FDJ take control

Last year’s winner of the mountains jersey Damuseau who is also in contention for the win in this year’s competition, took maximum points on the day’s first climb, crossing the line ahead of Bakelants and Conti. A little later, Bakelants led Stybar and Damuseau across the line in the intermediate sprint.

 

With 35km to go, FDJ decided that they wanted to try to get back in the mix and so they put Yoann Offredo and Mickael Delage on the front. While the battle for position intensified behind them, the pair gradually brought the gap down from 5.30 and it was only 4.00 when they hit the first of the late climbs 25km from the finish.

 

Katusha up the pace

On the lower slopes, Katusha took over the pace-setting as they had also hit the move. Dmitry Kozontchuk and Yury Trofimov briefly set the pace but they quickly realized that it was all in vain and so left it to the Sky pair of Pate and Kiryienka to set a steady pace that kept the situation under control. At this point, however, the gap had come down to just 3 minutes.

 

With 21km to go, Ligthart launched the first attack from the break and he was quickly joined by Westra. While Voigt led the chase, they opened a pretty big gap, forcing Bakelants and Paulinho to take off in pursuit. A little further back, Tankink and Simon formed the next duo.

 

A trio is formed

Bakelants dropped Paulinho and just as he was about to catch the front duo, Westra attacked again. However, the strong Belgian made the junction while Paulinho had fallen back to Simon and Tankink.

 

Ligthart led Westra and Bakelants over the top and the trio worked excellently together. Meanwhile, the chase group was back together but they were 20 seconds behind with 17km to go.

 

Ligthart is dropped

The gap was pretty stable for some time but as the chasers stopped their cooperation and started to attack, the advantage increased. Erviti and Keukeleire tried to set off in pursuit but when Stybar joined them in protection of Bakelants, it came back together.

 

The front trio hit the final categorized climb with a 38-second advantage and Westra made an immediate attack. Bakelants was glued to his wheel but Ligthart soon dropped off. Behind, Conti launched an attack and stayed clear for a little while before being brought back.

 

Froome crashes

In the peloton, drama unfolded when Froome and Alessandro Vanotti (Astana) hit the deck. The race leader was quickly back on his bike and while the bunch slowed down to wait for him, Thomas and Nieve brought him back.

 

Bakelants led Westra over the top of the climb and they were now far ahead of Ligthart. Meanwhile, the peloton had lost ground and was 4.30 behind.

 

Westra attacks

As they hit the steep climb in the finale, the game of cat and mouse had started. Westra launched the first attack and briefly seemed to have Bakelants under pressure but the pair made it to the top together.

 

Behind, Conti, Stybar, and Peraud had attacked and they were briefly joined by Keukeleire who fell off the pace soon after. They caught Ligthart but when Stybar tried to attack and the cooperation stopped, the chase group found back together.

 

Bakelants takes the win

Meanwhile, Westra and Bakelants came to a virtual standstill but Westra lost the mind game and hit the front as they passed the flamme rouge. Bakelants took over but it was Westra who launched a long sprint going into the final roundabout. However, there was nothing to be done and Bakelants had everything under control before powering to a sprint win.

 

24 seconds later Stybar narrowly edged out Ligthart in the sprint for third to make it two OPQS riders on the podium.

 

In the peloton, Tinkoff-Saxo had upped the pace with Nicki Sørensen but it was Van Den Broeck who attacked on the climb. As he failed to get clear, Thomas took control and led the peloton all the way to the finishing straight where Richie Porte took over to escort his bruised team captain across the line. 

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