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After a very strong two-rider break had been caught inside the final 2km, Bouhanni emerged as the fastest in the final stage of Circuit Cycliste Sarthe; Navardauskas scored bonus seconds and won the race overall by a single second

Photo: Sirotti














10.04.2015 @ 15:39 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Three days after taking his first win for Cofidis, Nacer Bouhanni doubled his tally when he won today’s final stage of the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe. The Frenchman emerged as the fastest in a bunch sprint after the strong duo of Ramunas Navardauskas (Cannondale-Garmin) and Tiago Machado (Katusha) had been brought back with less than 2km to go and the Lithuanian picked up enough bonus seconds to win the race by a single second.


The first part of the 2015 season was a hugely frustrating experience for Nacer Bouhanni. The Frenchman had been signed by Cofidis to bring the French team back on track after a couple of less successful seasons but nothing seemed to work for the fast Frenchman in the first part of the year.


Despite a pretty heavy racing schedule, Bouhanni always came up short in the many bunch sprints he contested and when he lined up for this week’s Circuit Cycliste Sarthe, he still hadn’t opened his account. However, the French race has often been a happy hunting ground for Bouhanni who finally took his first win three days ago in the opening stage.


Wednesday’s morning stage was another frustrating experience for Bouhanni as he missed the chance to sprint for the win when a 3-rider breakaway stayed away. However, he proved his status as the fastest rider in the peloton as he easily won the sprint for fourth.


This made him the big favourite for today’s final stage which was expected to suit the sprinters. However, his Cofidis team had to work hard in the finale as a difficult finishing circuit with a small climb was the perfect scene for an attack from Ramunas Navardauskas and Tiago Machado.


The pair managed to build an advantage of 18 seconds at the start of the final 8.5km lap and Cofidis was forced on the defensive. With less than 2km to go, however, their hard work paid off and it all came back together for a bunch sprint. Here Bouhanni confirmed his superiority by beating Alexei Tsatevich (Katusha) and Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) into the minor podium spots.


Howevr, the big winner was defending champion Navarduaskas who had started the stage in third, 5 seconds behind race leader Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo). The Lithuanian had big plans to turn things around though and he was intent on using his sprinting skills to turn the GC around.


Navardauskas used his Cannondale-Garmin team to chase down the early break in time for the two final intermediate sprints which both came on the finishing circuit. Here he showed his speed as he managed to win both of them, earning himself a 6-second bonus that moved him into the provisional lead.


Moments after the final sprint, he even went on the attack with Machado and even though that move didn’t pay off, it was a great day for the Lithuanian who defended his title. Like it happened in last year’s Tour of Denmark, Boaro lost it all on the final day despite doing a tremendous job to fight back from a puncture inside the final 10km. He had to settle for second, 1 second behind Navardauskas, while Adriano Malori (Movistar) completed the podium.


Bouhanni won the points competition while Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) was the best climber. Best young rider Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff-Saxo) was disqualified for fighting with Anthony Roux (FDJ) and so Sven Erik Bystrøm (Katusha) won the blue jersey. Cannondale-Garmin completed a great race by winning the teams competition.


With the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe done and dusted, attention in France moves to Sunday’s big battle on the cobbles at the Paris-Roubaix. The next major French stage race is the 4 Days of Dunkink in the beginning of May.


A tricky stage

After the queen stage, the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe ended with a very tricky stage that brought the riders over 178.5km from Abbaye de l’Epau to Le Lude. After a rolling first part with three smaller climbs, the riders hit flatter roads before they reached the 8.5km finishing circuit which would be tackled 6 times. It included a small climb before the riders hit the descent and the short flat stretch back to the finish.


Three riders decided not to take the start when the peloton lined up for the final stage under a beautiful sunny sky. Enrico Gasparotto, Kevin van Melsen (Wanty) and Romain Lemarchand (Cult) decided to travel home instead of doing the final leg.


Two riders take off

The stage has often been won by a breakaway and so it was no surprise that it got off to a very fast start. Ben King (Cannondale-Garmin) was one of the first riders to attack but he was quickly brought back as Cofidis controlled the situation.


After 15km of fast racing, Serghei Tvetcov(Androni) and Pieter Jacobs (Topsport Vlaanderen) had built an advantage of 30 seconds and this was the perfect situation for the sprint teams. The main group slowed down and 2km later, they were already 1.15 ahead. Jacobs led Tvetcov over the top of the first climb while KOM leader Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) and Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) were first from the peloton.


Roux and McCarthy disqualified

At this point, a small drama happened as Anthony Roux (FDJ) and best young rider Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff-Saxo) had a fight in the peloton. As a consequence, the commissaries disqualified both riders.


After 43km of racing, Tinkoff-Saxo took control of the peloton and they kept the gap stable between 2.00 and 2.30. Jacobs also led Tvetcov over the top of the second climb while Loic Chetout (Cofidis) and Jesper Hansen (Tinkof-Saxo) were first from the peloton as Cofidis had now started to work with Tinkoff-Saxo.


Van Empel bridges the gap

At the 56km mark, Etienne van Empel (Roompot) launched an attacked at a time when the gap had been brought down to just 1.30. 6km later, he was only 30 seconds behind the leaders and moments later he made the junction.


As Jacobs led Tvetcov and van Empel over the top of the final climb of the race, Juraj Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) crossed the line as the first rider from the peloton 1.45 later. The peloton had now slowed down a bit and when van Empel led Jacobs and Tvetcov across the line in the first intermediate sprint, the gap was 2.50.


Cannondale-Garmin accelerate

While Tim De Troyer (Wanty) left the race, Cofidis and Tinkoff-Saxo continued to ride on the front and they again started to bring the escapees back. At the 105km mark, the gap was down to 1.55.


5km later it was only 1.30 and now Cannondale-Garmin started to ride at the front and this had a big effect. After 119km of racing, they had brought the gap down to just 50 seconds.


The break is caught

The faster pace started sent Chetout who had been doing a lot of work for Cofidis out the back door before the peloton crossed the line for the first time with a 40-second deficit. Moments later, Tvetcov was dropped from the breakaway.


Jacobs was the strongest rider in the break and he managed to distance van Empel with 38km to go. At this point, he was still 30 seconds ahead and 5 minutes later he had been brought back by Cannondale-Garmin.


Bonus seconds for Navardauskas

This meant that the GC riders could sprint for the bonus seconds in the second intermediate sprint at the third passage of the finish line. Cannondale-Garmin’s hard work paid off as Ramunas Navarduaskas won the sprint ahead of teammate Nathan Haas while Enrique Sanz (Movistar) was third as he tried to protect his teammate Adriano Malori.


Cannondale-Garmin were still not content so they maintained a high speed until the got to the third sprint with two laps to go. Here Navardauskas was again the fastest as he beat Jan Bakelants (Ag2r) and Michael Kolar (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the sprint.


Puncture for Boaro

Navardauskas was unstoppable and he went straight on the attack after the final sprint. He was joined by Tiago Machado (Katusha) and they quickly built an advantage of 15 seconds.


At the start of the final 8.5km lap, the front duo were 18 seconds ahead and it was now Cofidis who had gone into chase mode. At this point, disaster struck for race leader Boaro who punctured just 50m from the line.


The Italian had to fight hard to rejoin the peloton and he managed to do so in time. Meanwhile, Cofidis managed to catch the two escapees with less than 2km to go and it was Bouhanni who sprinted to th



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