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Having been part of an 8-rider group late in the race, Vakoc emerged as the fastest in a 20-rider sprint to take his first 2016 victory in Classic Sud-Ardeche; Simon was second and Pardini completed the podium

Photo: Etixx-QuickStep / Tim De Waele










27.02.2016 @ 18:43 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep) finally ended his string of near-misses by taking an impressive victory in the hilly Classic Sud-Ardeche. After having been on the attack in the finale, he came out on top when 20 riders sprinted for the win, holding off Julien Simon (Cofidis) and Olivier Pardini (Wallonie-Bruxelles).


When he won a stage of the Tour de Pologne two years ago, Petr Vakoc gave the first indications that he is a huge talent. However, his name has flown a bit under the radar but after his start to the 2016 season it is now apparent that he is destined for a big future.


Last year he rode to an impressive solo victory in a very hard stage of the Tour of Britain, only to crash out of the race while leading the event one day later. This year he has continued his progress but the elusive victory has so far eluded him.


Vakoc was already strong in the Tour du Haut Var where he was the best young rider and finished fourth overall. Earlier this week he was very close to winning Tour La Provence as he finished second behind Thomas Voeckler.


Today he finally turned his good form into victory when he came out on top in the hilly Classic Sud-Ardeche. Despite spending some energy in late attacks, he had enough left in the tank to win the 20-rider sprint that decided the race.


His Etixx-QuickStep team had been working hard all day and reduced the peloton to just 25-30 riders as they caught the final escapee Odd Christian Eiking (FDJ) with 22km to go. Carlos Verona and David De La Cruz had done a massive work for the team and maintained a fast pace as they headed down a long descent.


As they hit the third last climb with 11km to go, De La Cruz emptied himself before Ag2r took complete control. Mikael Cherel took short turn and then Hubert Dupont took over, setting the scene for a big attack from one of his captains Jan Bakelants.


Julien Simon (Cofidis), Pieter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep) and Jerome Coppel (IAM) quickly joined the move and as the pace briefly went down, they quickly put 10 seconds into the peloton. However, Orica-GreenEDGE quickly realized the danger and positioned Esteban Chaves on the front.


The Colombian didn’t get any help and when he swung off at the bottom of the penultimate climb with 9km to go, the gap was still 7 seconds. Dupont and Arnold Jeannesson (Cofidis) blocked the front and the gap started to grow.


In the front group, Coppel attacked hard but Serry and Bakelants both managed to keep up with him. However, Simon lost contact and as Bakelants took over, he lost more ground.


Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) attacked hard from the peloton and quickly caught Simon. As no one was taking initiative in the peloton, Frank Schleck (Trek) was the next rider to move and he was joined by Vakoc and Darwin Atapuma (BMC).


The trio never got much of an advantage and as they were brought back, the pace again went down. Amael Moinard (BMC) launched the next attack but Vakoc did an excellent job by covering the moves for his teammate Serry who was still in the lead.


As they hit the descent, Thomas Voeckler started to chase for Direct Energie but the 20-rider group now found themselves 15 seconds behind the leaders. At the same time, Yates and Simon joined the leader to make it a front quintet that entered the final 7km as the leaders.


There was no great cooperation in the front group and  as Voeckler rode hard on the front, the gap walmost close when they hit the final climb. Serry put in a big attack but failed to get clear.


Instead, it was Romain Bardet (Ag2r) who came to the fore. The Frenchman attacked hard from the peloton and quickly closed the gap. He tried to go straight past but failed. Instead, Bakelants went hard and only Serry and Coppel could match his speed. Meanwhile, Jeannesson and Vakoc joined Bardet, Yates and Simon.


Everybody was on their limit at the top of the climb and so the five chasers caught the leaders. The 8 riders started the descent with 4km to go with a small 5-second gap over the peloton which had been whittled down to just 12 riders.


Jeannesson realized that his teammate Simon was one of the fastest riders in the group so he immediately hit the front to try to keep the chasers at bay. Vakoc lend him a hand while Olivier Pardini was chasing hard for Wallonie-


Pardini did a great descent and managed to bridge the gap on his own just before the peloton hit a small climb with 3km to go. The young Belgian fell off again as Bardet and Vakoc accelerated hard on the front.


The 8 leaders still had a very small advantage as they crested the summit but despite Vakoc fast pace-setting on the descent, they were unable to prevent the BMC pair of Samuel Sanchez and Moinard and Pardini to rejoin the group. Baoc and Bardet briefly got a small gap but it came back together as they hit flat roads.


Sanchez tried to launch a surprise attack but as Serry shut it down, the pace went down and 20 riders gathered in the front. It was Jeannesson who went to the front to do the lead-out for Simon and he led the group onto the finishing straight.


Pardini started the sprint from the second position but he was no match to Vakoc who launched his effort from third position. Simon was on his wheel and tried to come around. He briefly seemed to make it but Vakoc had another kick and managed to hold off the Frenchman. Pardini completed the podium.


With the Classic Sud-Ardeche now done and dusted, the weekend of hilly racing in France will continue tomorrow when an almost identical field will take on the similarly tough Drome Classic which has been won by Samuel Dumoulin and Romain Bardet in its first two editions.


A hilly course

The 16th edition of the Classic Sud-Ardeche was held on a new 182.6km course that started and finished in Guilherand Granges. After the Cote de la Corniche once, the riders tackled three laps of a circuit with the climb of Col des Ayres, Col de Rotisson and Cote de la Corniche before they headed to the finish via the Cote du Chemin de Touland. After a first passage of the line, they did another three laps of the circuit before they headed to the finish via the Chemin de Touland climb which summited just 4.5km from the finish.


It was cold and overcast when the riders gathered for the start and all riders were present as they headed out for their neutral ride. As soon as the flag was dropped, Guillaume Thevenot (Direct Energie) launched the first attack but he was brought back immediately.


Lots of attacks

The attacking continued but no one had managed to escape by the time they hit the first climb after just 10km of racing. Here Kevin Ledanois (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) and Danilo Wyss (BMC) gave it a try while Stef Clement (IAM), Florent Delfosse (Wallonie), Jeremy Cornu (Direct Energie) and Blel Kadri (Ag2r) were the first riders to get dropped.


Loic Vliegen (BMC), Romain Hardy (Cofidis) and Kevin Lebreton (Armee) managed to join the trio and they had built a 17-second advantage at the top of the climb. Ag2r and Etixx-QuickStep took control of the chase and as they attacking continued, 18 riders suddenly had an 18-second advantage over two chaser and 30 seconds on the peloton after 15km of racing. Big names like Vakoc, Bardet and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r) were all part of the group.


A dangerous group

The two chasers made it across but the peloton was slowly coming back. At the 21km mark, the gap was down to 18 seconds and moments later, it was all back together.


Rudy Molard (Cofidis) did most of the work in the peloton while Lande Synaeve (Wanty) became the first rider to leave the race as the peloton splintered. He controlled the many attacks and things were still together as they hit the Cote de la Corniche for the second time after 36km of racing.


The break is formed

Odd Christian Eiking (FDJ) tried his luck on the ascent while Kiel Reijnen (Trek) and Anthony Turgis (Cofidis) took off in pursuit when the gap had gone out to 15 seconds. Brice Feillu (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Lebreton also left the peloton which was soon distanced by 30 seconds.


Turgis and Reijnen were the first to join Eiking and later Feillu and Lebreton also made the junction at the end of a first hour during which 38.3km had been covered. However, the peloton didn’t give them much leeway and the gap was still 25 seconds at the 39km mark. Meanwhile, Kevin Ista, Samuel Dumoulin, Maxime Cam, Eugenio Alafaci and Yoann Barbas were among the many riders to get dropped.


Ag2r in control

The peloton finally slowed down and the gap had gone out to 1.30 after 53km of racing. This was the signal for Ag2r to start to chase and they placed six riders on the front of the peloton, keeping the gap between 1.30 and 1.50.


The gap briefly went down to 1.15 but it had gone out to 1.58 with 103km to go. It even went out to more than 2 minutes and at the first passage of the line with 88km to go, it was 2.05.


Riders get dropped

Ag2r allowed it to reach 2.40 with 82km to go before they decided that it was time to really chase. As they reduced the gap to 2.00 on the climbs, riders like Laurent Pichon, Caleb Fairly and Francis Mourey were dropped.


The acceleration was costly for the escapees which saw their advantage drop to 1.32 with 65km to go. However, it was still too early to catch the break and so the gap was back up to 1.52 at the start of the final 60km.


Sicard bridges the gap

Etixx-QuickStep came to the fore to lend Ag2r a hand, with Carlos Verona and David De La Cruz working with Vuillermoz. They hit the bottom of the Cote de la Corniche with 50km to go 1.50 behind the escapees.


Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) launched a strong attack and in a very impressive way he managed to close the rather big gap. In the peloton, De La Cruz and Verona upped the pace and reduced the gap to 1.15 with 45km to go.


The break splits up

Etixx-QuickStep’s fast pace was too much for Evaldas Siskevicius, Yannis Yssaad, Fabrice Jeandesboz, Arnaud Courteille, Christophe Laborie, Stephane Rossetto, Jeremy Maison, Daniel Diaz and Clement Chevrier who were among the many riders to get dropped. It was also costly for the eascapees who were just 20 seconds ahead with 38km to go.


As they hit the next climb with 35km to go, Eiking upped the pace. Turgis and Lebreton were the first to lose contact and Reijnen and Feillu also had to surrender. Finally, Sicard was also distanced, leaving just the Norwegian to press on.


Eiking is caught

Vuillermoz, Luka Mezgec, Michael Albasini and Romain Feillu were distanced from the peloton which caught everybody but Sicard and Eiking. Etixx-QuickStep and Ag2r were still doing the damage, 15 seconds behind the leading Norwegian.


While Sicard was caught, Eiking did an impressive job to maintain a 15-second advantage while Julien Guay, and Tobias Ludvigsson were dropped from the peloton. He even briefly pushed it out to more than 20 seconds.


Cyril Gautier (Ag2r), Verona and de la Cruz took some huge turns on the climb inside the final 30km, distancing the likes of Rohan Dennis and Thomas Degand. Ultimately, it also became too much for Eiking who was brought back with 22km to go. At this point, 25-30 were still in contention and it was finally Vakoc who came out on top



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