While most have their eyes firmly fixed on Milan-Sanremo, racing heats up in France as well. After a break of more than a month, the Coupe de France will continue with two races this weekend. After Saturday’s hugely entertaining Classique Loire-Atlantique, more attacking will be in store in Sunday’s Cholet Pays De Loire but a slightly easier course means that there is a bigger chance for the sprinters.
Milan-Sanremo gets most of the attention but for the French riders, the Coupe de France series is almost extremely important. The race series carries huge prestige in its home country and always creates very exciting racing. It all started in January when Dries Devenyns won the GP La Marseillaise and now it is finally time for the second and third round this weekend.
After Saturday’s Classqiue Loire-Atlantique which is a relatively new event, Sunday’s Cholet Pays De Loire has been on the calendar much longer. First held in 1978, it moved to Cholet in 1990 when it got its current name. It gradually moved up in the UCI ranks until it was awarded 1.1 status in 2005. It has been part of the Coupe de France calendar ever since the series was created in 1992 and has always been held on the Sunday after Milan-Sanremo, giving it the nickname of Primavera Mauges.
The race is very similar to Classic Loire-Atlantique as it is held on a hilly course that is perfect for attacks. Hence, it has mostly been won by aggressive riders but the sprinters have a better chance than they had I Saturday’s race. The last three editions have been won by breakaways, with Pierrick Fedrigo (2015), Tom Van Asbroeck (2014) and Damien Gaudin (2013) coming out on top, but bunch sprints decided the race every year from 2009 to 2012. Hence, it is a very unpredictable race that can be won by a big group of riders.
As most of the Coupe de France races, it is a predominantly French affair. The field will be made up of all the major French teams as well as pro continental teams Topsport Vlanderen, Wanty, Androni and Roth while Euskadi Basque Country, Wallonie and 3M add some international flavor to the continental teams.
Unlike Classic Loire-Atlantique, Cholet Pays de Loire is not a circuit race. It is held on a hilly 210km route around the city of Cholet. First the riders will tackle a big 181km loop on the northern outskirts of the city, with 8 climbs spread throughout the course. The first 50km are all uphill and lead to the top of the Cote du Cimitiere at the 47.7km mark and then a long descent leads to rolling terrain with seven smaller climbs. The final part of the circuit is relatively easy, with the seventh climb coming at the 131km mark and the eighth climb coming at the 160.1km mark.
Having crossed the finish line for the first time, the riders will end the race by doing one lap of a 29km circuit on the southern outskirts of Cholet. It includes the climbs of Cote de La Tessoualle and Cote de la Seguiniere with 23.2km and 8.1km to go respectively. From there, it is a flat run to the finish.
The riders couldn’t have asked for much better conditions. Sunday will be a sunny day with a maximum temperature of 13 degrees. There will be a moderate wind from a westerly direction. This means that it will be a crosswind for most of the day. On the final circuit, it will first be a crosswind, then a tailwind, then another crosswind section and finally a headwind from the final climb back to the finish.
Classic Loire-Atlantique proved why Coupe de France races have a reputation as being some of the most unpredictable on the calendar. Most of the events have moderately hilly courses that would be controllable for the sprint teams at the WorldTour level. However, these races turn out to be extremely aggressive and they are rarely decided in sprints. That opens the door for many kinds of riders who don’t necessarily have a fast sprint.
In Saturday’s race, Cofidis delivered a dominant performance to put four riders into the top 5 and have five riders in the 8-rider group that decided the race. They completely overshadowed their rival French teams and it was quite embarrassing for FDJ, Direct Energie and Ag2r to miss out in the wat they did. They will be eager to get their revenge in Cholet Pays De Loire.
Sunday’s race is more suited to sprinters and this is reflected in the line-up. A few fast finishers have been brought in and more teams will have an interest in a bunch sprint. However, everybody knows that the race rarely ends in sprint so most teams will be keen to join the attacks and no one will go all out for a sprint. The only team that may have this plan is Direct Energie but as Bryan Coquard has just come back from injury, we doubt that they won’t be part of the attacks.
Much will depend of the composition of the early break. If all the major teams are there, it will be another day for the strong riders. This means that it is a bit of a lottery to pick the winner as it requires a lot of luck to hit the right break. However, in a hard race with a few climbs and lots of crosswinds, the in-form riders will often come to the fore. If a few key teams have missed out, we may get a bunch sprint but we put our money on a breakaway to decide the race.
One of the riders that are knocking on the door for a big win is Dimitri Claeys. The Wanty rider has been riding really strongly all year. He was 12th in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and today he was again up there. He missed the boat when the right break went but he was part of the chase group. He has all the skills to do well in this kind of race as he is strong, powerful and fast. If he hasn’t spent too much energy today, he will be up there again tomorrow so we put our money on him to win the race.
Pierrick Fedrigo is the defending champion and the race suits him well. He abandoned Paris-Nice with illness but got reassured as he was in the chase group today. He is targeting the overall Coupe de France so he won’t hold anything back. He is in good form and has the experience to both join the right break and play his cards right in the finale.
Thomas Voeckler is no longer the rider he once was but his victory in Provence proves that he is still a force to be reckoned with if he joins the right break. His form is relatively good and as Direct Energie are unlikely to focus everything on Coquard, he will be free to attack. Unlike many of the other strong riders, he didn’t spend too much energy today. He is not very fast in a sprint but history shows that he often wins if he joins the right break.
Sebastien Turgot has not been at his best level in recent years but in 2016 he seems to be riding well as he builds form for the cobbled classics. He was climbing well in Tirreno and today he was in the mix early in the race. Tomorrow he will again try to join the attacks and with his fast sprint, he has the skills to finish it off.
Angelo Tulik is a huge talent and he likes this kind of hilly race. He has not always been very consistent but in recent months he has been riding really well. He is strong in this terrain and is fast in a sprint. Leonardo Duque has many of the same characteristics. He is no longer a sprinter but climbs well and still has a decent sprint. He showed good form in Paris-Nice and will be keen to attack
If it comes down to a sprint, Bryan Coquard is obviously the big favourite. He may have just returned from injury but he claims to be in a competitive condition. He showed that in today’s race where he was part of the action until he blew up. Tomorrow the course will be easier and this will give him better chances. He was sprinting extremely well before his crash, winning sprints in Besseges with big margins. He is not always very good at positioning but he has improved a lot and is clearly the fastest rider here.
Yauheni Hutarovich has been brought in for this race and will be a big rival in a sprint finish. The Belarusian showed good form by sprinting to a top 5 finish in the tough uphill finish on the Nokereberg at Nokere Koerse. He is not as fast as he once was but he is still one of the fastest here.
The same goes for Baptiste Planckaert who was also up there in Nokere. Surprisingly, he abandoned the race early on Saturday after getting dropped so he may be suffering from some kind of health issues. However, if he is at 100%, this is a good race for him as he climbs better than many sprinters and is one of the fastest here.
Other sprinters are Marc Sarreau, Romain Feillu, Antoine Demoitie, Michael van Staeyen and Rudy Barbier who should all be up there in a bunch sprint and have a real chance to win. Benjamin Giraud, Daniele Ratto, Maxime Daniel, Hugo Hofstetter, Yannick Martinez, Marco Benfatto, Maxime Renault, David Menut, Stephane Poulhies and Yannis Yssaad but they are unlikely to win.
Other in-form riders who could do well in a break are Johan Le Bon, Barbier, Tony Hurel, Kevin Ledanois, Evaldas Siskevicius, Anthony Turgis, Quintin Jauregui, Laurent Pichon, Ryan Anderson and Eliot Lietaer.
***** Dimitri Claeys
**** Pierrick Fedrigo, Thomas Voeckler
*** Sebastien Turgot, Angelo Tulik, Bryan Coquard, Yauheni Hutarovich, Baptiste Planckaert, Leonardo Duque
** Marc Sarreau, Romain Feillu, Antoine Demoitie, Michael van Staeyen, Johan Le Bon, Rudy Barbier, Tony Hurel
* Kevin Ledanois, Evaldas Siskevicius, Anthony Turgis, Quintin Jauregui, Maxime Daniel, Laurent Pichon, Ryan Anderson, Benjamin Giraud, Daniele Ratto
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