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With a great acceleration out of the final turn, Coquard beat Demare in the bunch sprint on the first stage of the Route du Sud after Quintana had been in the early break; Coquard is the first leader

Photo: Sirotti

ARNAUD DEMARE

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BRYAN COQUARD

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DIRECT ENERGIE

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JOSE JOAQUIN ROJAS GIL

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LA ROUTE D'OCCITANIE

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16.06.2016 @ 18:19 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) continued his fantastic 2016 season by winning the big battle with Arnaud Demare (FDJ) on the first stage of the Route du Sud. Using superior technical skills, he accelerated out of the final corner to open a gap and easily held off his rival and Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) to take both the stage win and the leader’s jersey.

 

In recent years, the emergence of Nacer Bouhanni, Arnaud Demare and Bryan Coquard has made France one of the dominant sprint nations but opinions are divided when it comes to who’s the best of the trio. Surprisingly, they have rarely raced against each other in 2016 and so there is no clear hierarchy.

 

While Demare showed good form at the Giro and Bouhanni had success at the Dauphiné, Coquard has had a dream season with several wins during the months of May and June. Hence, this week’s Route du Sud has been highly anticipated as it is the first chance since February to watch a direct duel between Coquard and Demare.

 

The two sprint stars got their first chance in today’s opening stage and as expected their teams made sure that it all came down to a bunch sprint. After a huge fight between their lead-out trains, it was Coquard who drew the first blood by riding to a dominant win.

 

The 40th edition of the Route du Sud kicked off with a196km stage that brought the riders from Saint-Pons-De-Thomère to Bessières and could be split into two parts. The first part took place on the outskirts of the Pyrenees and included early category 2 and category 3 climbs. However, as the riders left the mountains, the terrain became completely flat. The stage ended with one lap of a flat 25.3km finishing circuit.

 

There were no non-starters when the peloton gathered on a sunny and very windy day in the southern part of France. Everything suggested that it was a day for the sprinters to the early break escaped almost straight from the gun.

 

The big surprise was that Nairo Quintana (Movistar) had made his way into the move and he was joined by Quentin Jauregui (AG2R La Mondiale), Thierry Hupond (Delko-Marseille-Provence-KTM), Ildar Arslanov (Gazprom-RusVelo), Bruno Armirail (Armee) and Imanol Estevez (Euskadi Basque Country-Murias). Guillaume Levarlet (Auber 93) took off in pursuit and got to within 20 seconds of the leaders when they had pushed their advantage out to 55 seconds. However, the peloton was reluctant to let such a big group get clear and so they started to chase, bringing Levarlet back in the process

 

The breakaway split up as Quintana, Jauregui and Estevez got clear and moments later the latter also lost contact. Only Quintana and Jauregui managed to stay clear and fought hard to maintain a 30-second advantage.

 

The peloton was pleased with the smaller break and so slowed down, allowing the gap to go out to 1.05 before Flavien Dassonville (Auber 93) took off in pursuit. As the peloton didn’t react, he managed to get an advantage of 35 seconds but soon realized that it was impossible and so dropped back to the peloton.

 

Arslanov who had been in the early break, abandoned the race after a slow first hour during which only 34km had been covered. At this point, the gap was 3.05 and it was 5.15 when Jauregui beat Quintana in the first KOM sprint. Vegard Breen (Fortuneo), Axel Domont (Ag2r) and Yoann Offedo (FDJ) were frist from the peloton.

 

FDJ put two riders on the front but had not really started to chase. In fact the gap grew rapidly and was a massive 11.15 at the 70km mark where Jauregui beat Quintana in the first intermediate sprint. The peloton sprinted for third place and the battle was won by Mickael Delage (FDJ).

 

The pace had been upped significantly in the second hour during which 43.6km had been covered and FDJ had now really started to chase. With three riders, they started to bring the gap down and when Jauregui beat Quintana in the second KOM sprint with 133km, Delage led Domont over the top 9.10 later.

 

The gap was coming down steadily and had been reduced to 6.15 with 80km to go after a third hour at an average speed of 40.0km/h. Jauregui and Quintana looked like they had given up and when Quintana beat Jauregui in the second intermediate sprint with 60km to go, Delage won the battle for third just 4.10 later.

 

FDJ still did all the work to reduce the gap to 1.20 with 50km to go. They realized that it was way too early to catch the escapees though so they stopped their work and the group came to a standstill.

 

The gap grew to 1.40 but the slow pace opened the door for new attacks. A Gazprom-Rusvelo rider started the battle but Direct Energie quickly shut the move down. When Gazprom tried again, Lorrenzo Manzin (FDJ) reacted.

 

The attacking continued for a little while until Jonathan Lastra (Caja Rural) and Estevez got clear with 46km to go. They sprinted past the two early attackers as Quintana even stopped for a natural break and both were swallowed up by the peloton.

 

Direct Energie started to chase and as attacks were launched from the likes of Remy Di Gregorio (Delko) and Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Lastra and Estevez were brought back. More attempts ffollowd until Aritz Bagues (Euskadi) got clear,

 

Finally, the sprint teams managed to calm things down and as Direct Energie patrolled the front, the lone Basque managed to push his advantage out to 55 seconds with 36km to go. At this point, the French team hit the front to keep the attacker in check but as they were not really chasing yet, they allowed the gap to go out to more than a minute.

 

Thomas Voeckler, Lilian Calmejane and Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) were the riders working on the front as the peloton slowly upped the pace and the gap had already dropped to 45 seconds when they entered the final 27km. It looked like he would easily be reeled in but Bagues had something extra left in the tank and as he upped the pace, he managed to maintain his advantage as he went under the 20km to go banner.

 

While the fight for position startd, Calmejane, Voeckler and Chavanel upped the pace and that made the gap melt away. Bagues’ big for freedom ended with 16km to go but that didn’t stop Voeckler and Chavanel from riding hard after Calmaejane had ended his work.

 

Movistar and FDJ moved up next to the Direct Energie riders, with Imanol Erviti and Lorrenzo Manzin leading their trains but Voeckler and Chavanel remained in control. Calmejane came back to lead the peloton to the 11km to go mark and then it was again the two French veterans setting the pace.

 

With 7km to go, Movistar hit the front with Imanol Erviti who rode strongly to keep Quintana out of trouble, stringing the peloton out. FDJ moved up next to them but it was the FDJ team winning the battle when Yoann Gene hit the front.

 

Erviti got back to take a final turn, leading the peloton under the 5km to go banner, but then it was Direct Energie staring the leasd-out. Voeckler hit the front and strung things out before Gene again took over.

 

With 3.5km to go, the FDJ train lined up next to Gene and the Direct Energie riders and it was Olivier Le Gav who made Demare’s train win the battle. Yoann Offredo took over and he quickly responded when Julien Loubet (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) launched a surprise attack.

 

Offredo led the peloton under the 2km to go banner and still had Marc Sarreau, Mickael Delage and Demare on his wheel. Thomas Boudat and Angelo Tulik had Coquard on their wheel and were riding just behind the FDJ riders.

 

Sarreau took over just before the flamme rouge and won the sprint when Boudat tried to pass him.  Then it became a huge battle between Tulik and Delage who entered the final turn side by side.

 

That’s where Coquard made the difference. The Frenchman took the turn excellently and accelerated straight after the corner. Demare tried to respond immediately but couldn’t match Coquard’s impressive kick. The FDJ sprinter was not even close to coming around and had to settle for second, with Jose Joaquin Rojas rolling across the line in third.

 

With the win, Coquard is of course the first leader of the race, holding a four-second advantage over Demare while Quintana is one second further adrift in third. He should have a good chance to make it two in a row in tomorrow morning’s stage 2 which only has an early category 2 climb and has a flat finish on the motor circuit in Albi. Things will get more difficult in the afternoon where the GC battle will start in the hilly time trial.

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