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After another perfect lead-out from Soupe, Bouhanni easily held off Meersman in the bunch sprint on stage 2 of the Volta a Catalunya; Gilbert completed the podium and Bouhanni extended the overall lead

Photo: A.S.O.








22.03.2016 @ 17:42 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) confirmed his status as the fastest rider in the Volta a Catalunya by claiming another dominant sprint win of stage 2 of the Spanish race. After another great lead-out by Geoffrey Soupe, he easily held off Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) in the final dash to the line, with Philippe Gilbert (BMC) crossing the line as a distant third. With the win, Bouhanni extended his overall lead.


Three days ago Nacer Bouhanni had the biggest disappointment of his career when a chain problem cost him the chance to sprint for victory at Milan-Sanremo. The Frenchman is adamant that the Volta a Catalunya won’t make up for his frustrations but there is no doubt that the Spanish race is a welcome opportunity to at least slightly erase his bad memories.


Yesterday Bouhanni confirmed that he is the unrivaled top sprinter in the race by claiming a hugely dominant sprint win in the opening stage and today he again proved that he would certainly have had the speed to challenge Arnaud Demare on the Via Roma in Sanremo. The Frenchman was again the fastest when he finished off perfect Cofidis team work by making it two in a row in Catalonia.


Cofidis hadn’t got much help to control the early four-rider breakaway but they did enough to swallow the lone survivor Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) with 15km to go. Nicolas Edet and Stephane Rossetto had been working on the front all day and were still setting the pace when the junction was made on the long gradual uphill drag that led to the final 6 flat kilometres.


Rossetto and Edet swung off with 12km to go when Rudy Molard took over the pace-setting while all the big teams gathered their troops next to him. He stayed there until 8km remained when he swung off and left it to Tinkoff, Lampre-Merida, Sky and Movistar to set the pace, with Yoru Trofimov, Jan Polanc, Vasol Kiryienka and Winner Anacona riding in the front row.


The very wide road meant that things were less stressful as all teams had plenty of room to be near the front and it made it a strange approach to the sprint with a long waiting game as they ended their climbing with 6km to go. Here Jose Herrada and Imanol Erviti (Movistar) and Kiryienka set the pace while Cofidis slowly started to move up.


Erviti hit the front with 5km to go but was quickly passed by Nicolas Roche (Sky) as things were getting more hectic. That cost Julian Arredondo (Trek) the chance to go for the overall as he crashed into a pole just outside the 3km to go mark.


Anacona was back on the front for Movistar with Erviti and Nairo Quintana on his wheel as they entered the final 3km, with the Orica-GreenEDGE train moving up next to them. The finale was dominated by GC teams until FDJ took over with 2km to go when two riders tried to do the lead-out for Kevin Reza.


Roche sprinted fast the FDJ riders with Chris Froome on his wheel and led the peloton under the flamme rouge. This is where Cofidis showed their strength as Borut Bozic and Geoffrey Soupe hit the front with Bouhanni in theird positioner.


It was too early so when Bozic started to fade, they allowed Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) to surge ahead in his lead-out for Gianni Meersman. That gave Soupe a moment to recover until he did a splendid lead-out for Bouhanni who could start his sprint from the perfect position. Meersman was just behind the Frenchman but was unable to come around while Philippe Gilbert bounced back from illness by taking third.


With the win, Bouhanni extended his lead over Ben Swift (Sky) and De Gendt to 14 seconds. However, he won’t be a contender in tomorrow’s stage which will see the riders head into the Pyrenees for the first of two big mountain stages. After a flat start, the riders face two category 1 climbs before they get to the final circuit which they will cover twice. It includes the category 1 climb of La Molina which averages 4.5% over 11.1km and as the finish line comes at the top, the first big battle between the climbers is expected.


A lumpy stage

After yesterday’s hilly opener, it was another lump stage on the second day when the riders tackled 178.7km from Mataro to Olot. There was an early category 3 climb and a category 1 climb at the midpoint but otherwise the terrain was mainly flat. However, the final 20km consisted of a long, gradual uphill drag that led to the final flat 6km where the sprinters were expected to battle it out.


It was a beautiful sunny day when the 189 riders who reached the finish yesterday, started the day by with a minute of silence in memory of the victims of the terrorist attack in Belgium before embarking on today's stage. However, there was not much silence about the rapid start, with the riders launching lots of attacks right from the start.


Four riders get clear

When elastic finally napped, it was Maxime Bouet (Team Quick Step), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Kamil Gradek (Verva ActiveJet) and Boris Dron (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) who had escaped, and they had a gap of 20 seconds after 13km of racing. However, they had to fight hard get a bigger advantage and for some time the gap stayed around 30 seconds. Finally, the peloton slowed down and while Cofidis set a moderate pace, the gap went out to 1.50 after 20 kilometres of racing.


Dron beat Gradek in the first KOM sprint and took over the virtual lead in the mountains competition. The peloton reached the top three minutes later, and when Movistar started to help Cofidis on the front, they managed to stabilize the gap.


Stomach problems for Bouhanni

The riders covered 42.6 kilometers during the first hour after which Bouhanni had to visit the medical car, allegedly because of stomach problems. However, he did not ask his teammates to slow down and they reduced the gap to just 1.30 after 53km of racing. It even dropped to 1.10 before they again slowed down. Sky took over and allowed the gap to grow to 2.10 at the 66km mark where they stabilized the situation.


The headwind meant that the average speed dropped to 384km/h for the second hour before De Gendt beat Bouet and Dron in the day's first intermediate sprint. The peloton arrived two minutes later and the gap was 2.17 when they reached the feed zone with 95km to go. It briefly went out to three minutes but at the bottom of the category 1 climb, it had dropped to 2.44.


More KOM points for Dron

Tinkoff, Katusha and Sky set the pace on the climb and had reduced the gap to 2 minutes when they reached the top. Here Dron beat Bouet in the KOM sprint at the end of the third hour where the average speed had dropped to 37.6km/h.


The peloton rode fast on the descent and had reduced the gap to 1.18 with 60km to go. Here things calmed down again and the gap went out to 1.45 ten kilometres later.


Dron waits for the peloton

In the peloton, it was again Cofidis doing the work with Stephane Rossetto and Nicolas Edet but there was plenty of nervousness as Sky, Movistar and Tinkoff lined out their troops just behind. However, things soon calmed down again and there was a relaxed atmosphere while Cofidis kept the gap around the 1.30 mark.


As they approached the final intermediate sprint, the escapees started to play games and it was De Gendt who launched a long sprint, easily holding off Bouet. Gradek rolled across the line in third while Dron decided to drop back to the peloton.


De Gendt takes off

Edet and Rossetto had reduced the gap to 1.12 as they entered the final 35km where more teams started to position themselves near the front. Meanwhile, the front trio was digging deeper but as Edet and Rossetto emptied themselves, the gap had dropped to 48 seconds with 30km to go.


On a small climb with 27km to go, De Gendt attacked and immediately dropped Bouet and Gradek who waited for the peloton. The Belgian managed to push his advantage out to 1.05 but as the fight for position for the final rise intensified, he started to lose ground.


Rossetto and Edet were still leading the peloton when De Gendt entered the final 20km with an advantage of 35 seconds. He maintained a 25-second gap for a while but then decided to wait for the bunch which caught him with 15km to go. From here everything was set for a sprint finish where Bouhanni proved to be unbeatable.



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