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The young Frenchman makes it into the decisive 13-rider group in a very aggressive race and makes a late solo escape that denies the four OPQS riders the win; Delfosse takes 2nd and Meersman 3rd

Photo: AG2R LA MONDIALE / Kramon

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ROMAIN BARDET

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02.03.2014 @ 18:18 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) continued his rice towards the stars when he took a beautiful solo win in today's hilly French one-day race, La Drome Classic. In a very aggressive race where the front groups were constantly reformed, he was joined by no less than four Omega Pharma-Quick Step riders in the decisive 13-rider move but managed to launch a brave and smart solo attack to come away with his first win of the season.

 

It is no secret that Romain Bardet is one of the future stars of French cycling and after his fine showing in the recent Tour of Oman, he put his form to good use in today's hilly French one-day race, La Drome Classic. The Ag2r-La Mondiale rider rode a smart race to come away with the win in a race that was dominated by a very strong Omega Pharma-Quick Step team.

 

The race was extremely aggressive and new big group kept forming in front of the peloton. At several points, it seemed that the decisive move had taken off but new riders always seemed to get back in contention.

 

A strong 6-rider group escaped from the day's early 18-rider move and was riding away from the peloton when a very stronger counterattack was formed. Bardet was one of the riders to make it into that move and with Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) he made it across to the leaders Riccardo Zoidl (Trek), Sebastien Delfosse (Wallonie), Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano), Pieter Serry (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Benjamin Giraud (La Pomme Marseille).

 

 More riders joined from behind to form a 13-rider group that suddenly included no less than 4 Omega Pharma-Quick Step riders. The team seemed to have the upper hand and started to send riders off in attacks.

 

Bakelants made the decisive one when he drew clear a 6-rider group that contained Bardet. However, the group behind got organized and it seemed that things would come down to a group sprint when Bardet made his move.

 

Despite the hard chase effort from behind, the young Frenchman managed to stay clear and he could celebrate a beautiful solo win. Delfosse completed an excellent race by escaping to take 2nd while Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) lived up to expectations when he took the sprint win for 3rd.

 

With today's race, the pair of hilly one-day races in France have come to an end. The French season continues next weekend with the first European WorldTour race, Paris-Nice.

 

A hilly race

The 189km La Drome Classic was the second in a pair of hilly one-day races in France and took the riders over 189km undulating kilometres around the city of Valence. 9 categorized climbs were on the menu, with the final two located inside the final 20km of the race.

 

The race was off to a very fast start as the undulating terrain invited to attacks. Several riders made unsuccessful attempt to get clear and the first one to get a noticeable gap was local rider Guillaume Bonnafond (Ag2r).

 

A big group takes off

He was quickly brought by the peloton which started to split under due to the high pace. Suddenly, 18 riders had opened up a 20-second gap that reached 25 seconds after 25km of racing.

 

The group was made up of Courteille, Vichot (FDJ), Bardet, Bonnafond (AG2R), Gautier, Rolland (Europcar), Barguil (Giant-Shimano), Minnaard (Wanty), Stuyven (Trek), Edet, Molard (Cofidis), Bilbao (Caja Rural), Lindeman (Rabobank), Maaskant (Unitedhealthcare), Rostollan, Siskevicius (La Pomme Marseille), Delfosse (Wallonie-Bruxelles) and Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Séché). Belkin had missed the move and started to chase hard.

 

More riders join from behind

The riders hit the very steep climb at Allex after 38km of racing and the gap was still a manageable 25 seconds. This allowed several riders to bridge across on the climb as Mangel (FDJ), Cherel, Domont, Peraud (AG2R), Bernaudeau, (Europcar), Eijssen, Gilbert, Evans (BMC), Bakelants, Pauwels, Serry (Omega Pharma - Quick Step), Clement, Hivert (Belkin), Roosen (Rabobank), Euser (Unitedhealthcare), Di Gregorio, Giraud, (La Pomme Marseille), and Romain Feillu (Bretagne-Séché) all made the junction. A little later Roy (FDJ), Keizer, and Ten Dam (Belkin) also made it across and when a 14-rider group with Le Boulch, Vimpère (Bigmat - Auber 93), Bérard (AG2R La Mondiale), Helven, Salomein, Sprengers, Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen), Prémont (Wallonie - Bruxelles), Fonseca, Gérard (Bretagne - Séché), Meersman (Omega Pharma - Quick Step) and Nauleau, Reza, Voeckler (Europcar) joined them, a 53-rider group had formed.

 

Le Boulch quickly fell off the pace but the gap had now come up to 1.35 as all the chase work was left to the small Verandas Willems team. It seemed that the race had been decided as Ag2r with 6 riders in the front were setting a fast pace.

 

It comes back together

However, there was plenty of disagreement among the leaders and after the gap had remained stable at around a minute for a long time, it now started to come down. After 81km of racing, the big group was caught and the race was again completely open.

 

The steep Cote de Beauvallon was used as a launch pad for an attack from an 18-rider group that consisted of Pieter Serry, Gianluca Brambilla and Julian Alaphilippe (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Giovanni Bernaudeau and Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Thierry Hupond and Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano), Riccardo Zoidl and Fabio Felline (Trek), Arnaud Courteille (FDJ.fr) , Axel Domont (AG2R La Mondiale), Ben Hermans (BMC), Jérôme Baugnies (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Arnaud Gérard (Bretagne-Séché Environnement), Christopher Jones (Unitedhealthcare), Ivar Slik (Rabobank), Benjamin Giraud (La Pomme Marseille 13) and Sébastien Delfosse (Wallonie-Bruxelles). For the first time, the peloton took a short breather, allowing the gap to come up to 1.56.

 

Belkin again on the defence

Belkin had again missed the move and the Dutch team started to chase hard. With 68km to go, they had brought the gap down to 1.08 as they now also got assistance from Cofidis and later also Caja Rural.

 

The gap came down to 35 seconds but the front group managed to reopen it to 53 seconds. However, Belkin refused to give up and with 58km to go, they again had it down to a minute.

 

Six riders take off

Zoidl, Delfosse, Giraud, Serry, Barguil, and Courteille took off and quickly managed to reopen their gap to 1.03 while Cofidis now led the chase, catching the rest of the escapees. However, the gap continued to grow and with 26km to go, it was 1.40 over the Belkin-led peloton.

 

Martijn Maaskant (Unitedhealthcare), Michel Kreder (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Armindo Fonseca (Bretagne-Séché Environnement), Serge Pauwels, Gianni Meersman, Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Mikaël Chérel, Guillaume Bonnafond, Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Pierrick Fédrigo (FDJ.fr) set off in pursuit and while the peloton lost ground, they gradually got closer to the leaders. Up ahead, Delfosse made a short-lived solo attack while the peloton now was 2.20 behind.

 

Bardet reaches the front

With the gap between the first two groups down to 15 seconds, Bardet, Gilbert, Voeckler and Bakelants managed to bridge across. The latter made an immediate solo attack but was quickly back in the group.

 

Fonseca, Pauwels, Meersman, Cherel, and Fedrigo also made the junction while Giraud and Courtelli fell off the pace. A 13-rider front group with from Omega Pharma-Quick Step had now formed when Fedrigo made unsuccessful solo attempts.

 

Delfosse launches the decisive action

Maaskant and Kreder were the next to close the gap but at that time Delfosse had already escaped on his own. He was later joined by Bakelants and Bardet to form a very strong break.

 

Cherel, Fedrigo, and Zoidl also joined the leaders and the sextet managed to open a 35-second gap. The chase group was now made up of Barguil (GIant), Gilbert (BMC), Meersman, Pauwels, Serry (Omega), Fonseca (Bretagne Séché), Kreder (Wanty) while Courteille Voeckler followed a little later.

 

Bardet makes his move

Bakelants launched the first attack inside the final 5km but had no success. The chasers were now getting closer and had the gap down to 17 seconds.

 

This was when Bardet made his move and he passed the flamme rouge with a 7-second advantage. He managed to keep it all the way to the line to take a solo win while Delfosse managed to stay clear for 2nd ahead of the chase group that was led home by Meersman.

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