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After Cofidis had worked hard for their leader, Bouhanni beat Debusschere and Enger in the bunch sprint on stage 1 of the Tour de Picardie; the Frenchman is the first leader of the race

Photo: A.S.O.

JENS DEBUSSCHERE

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NACER BOUHANNI

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SONDRE HOLST ENGER

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TOUR DE PICARDIE

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NEWS
13.05.2016 @ 18:09 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After a disappointing 4 Days of Dunkirk, Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) finally returned to his winning ways when he came out on top in the first stage of the Tour de Picardie. Having well-supported by his hard-working team all day, he held off Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) and Sondre Holst Enger (IAM) in the expected bunch kick and also took the overall lead.

 

After a solid start to the year with stage wins in Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya and a big disappointment at Milan-Sanremo where he had a chain problem in the sprint, Nacer Bouhanni has set his sights on the Tour de France. After a mid-season break, he had hoped to get back to his winning ways immediately at the 4 Days of Dunkirk where he was also looking to prove himself in a direct battle with Bryan Coquard.

 

However, the French race ended as a huge disappointment for Bouhanni as he was firmly defeated by Coquard in the four sprint finishes and his best result was second place in stage 2. The Cofidis train had worked poorly and this gave some doubts as he headed into this weekend’s Tour de Picardie.

 

Nonetheless, Bouhanni was clearly the pre-race favourite for the three-day race which is traditionally won by a sprinter and today he proved that he is back to his best after last week’s disappointment as he came out on top in the first stage. In the expected bunch sprint, the French favourite held off Jens Debusschere who had a great comeback after his Gent-Wevelgem crash, and the in-form Sondre Holst Enger.

 

The 70th edition of the Tour de Picardie kicked off with a relatively classic stage that brought the riders overs 176.6km from Chaumont-en-Vexin to Formerie. There were two small climbs in the middle part of the stage but the terrain was largely flat. The stage ended with one lap of a 20.6km finishing circuit. In the finale, it is slightly uphill until the flamme rouge and then it’s was a flat final kilometre at the end of a long straight road with no turns in the final three kilometres.

 

It was dry and cloudy when the 123 riders gathered for the start of three days of fast racing and they set the tone right from the start. There were lots of attacks right from the gun, with four riders forming a first move in the first 5km.

 

Yann Guyot (Armee) rejoined the peloton after a puncture when the peloton suddenly came to a standstill, with no one trying to attack. However, it was a short break and the aggression started again after 20km of racing.

 

Two riders briefly surged clear but things were back together at the 25km mark. That allowed another two riders to escape but their move was neutralized when Cofidis and Lotto Soudal attacked in the crosswinds. Only 40 riders were left in the first group that quickly put 20 seconds into the second bunch from which two riders tried to bridge the gap.

 

Cofidis stopped their work when the gap had gone out to 25 seconds and so it started to come down. While Johan Le Bon (FDJ), Sebastien Minard (Ag2r) and Brian Van Goethem (Roompot) briefly surged clear, the two groups merged again.

 

The peloton split again but after a first hour at an average speed of 47.3km/h, it was again back together. After two riders had gone clear, the break was finally formed when Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Clement Chevrier (IAM), Julien Loubet (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r) and Julien Stassen (Wallonie) attacked and they quickly got a gap of 1.35 with 114km to go.

 

The gap went out to 2.40 before the situation stabilized. Meanwhile, Jauregui beat Loubet and Calmejane in the first KOM sprint and Maxime Renault (Auber 93) became the first rider to leave the race.

 

Jauregui was also the fastest in the first intermediate sprint where he held off Loubet and Calmejane. At the same time it started to rain just as they ended the second hour at an overall average speed of 43.2km/h.

 

The rain again stopped while the peloton slowly started to bring the break back. The gap was 2 minutes with 78km to go and it was the FDJ team which further upped the pace when they hit the second climb. While Jonathan Hivert (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) who is making his comeback here, was dropped from the peloton, Felix Poilly (Roubaix) abandoned and Rudy Barbier (Roubaix) suffered a puncture, Jauregui beat Loubet and Stassen in the KOM sprint. The peloton reached the top just 35 seconds later.

 

The bunch didn’t slow down and so things came back together with 63km to go, just in time for the second intermediate sprint. This allowed Bouhanni to pick up three bonus seconds as he beat Jens Debusschere Boeckmans (Lotto Soudal) and his teammate Christophe Laporte in the battle for points and seconds.

 

Just before the peloton reached the finish for the first time, Brian Van Goethem (Roompot) and Guillaume Thevenot (Direct Energie) managed to escape and they crossed the line with a 35-second advantage over the peloton which was led by Cofidis. The gap even went out to 1.10 before it again started to come down.

 

Mikel Aristi (Delko) became the next rider to abandon while the peloton slowly brought the gap down to 35 seconds. Here disaster struck for Van Goethem as he punctured out of the lead group and he was soon swallowed up

 

Thevenot entered the final lap with a 25-second advantage but he was brought back just moments later. That opened the door for new attacks and it was Gaetan Bille (Wanty) who surged clear. Sebastien Turgot (Ag2r) joined him and the pair managed to put 8 seconds into the peloton.

 

However, Lotto Soudal wanted a sprint finish and as they took control, it all came back together with 10km to go. Bille tried again though and this time he was joined by Francois Bidard (Ag2r). They were brought back with 5km to go where Hugo Hofstetter and Jerome Cousin swung off after having worked hard for Cofidis.

 

From there, it was evident that it would be a sprint finish and it was a big fight for position between the lead-out trains. Cofidis did best and they managed to deliver Bouhanni to victory, with the Frenchman holding off Debusschere and Sondre Holst Enger.

 

With the win, Bouhanni is the first leader of the race with a 5-second advantage over Debusschere. He will try to make it two in stage 2 which should be another one for the sprinters. There are three categorized climbs in the part but the race ends with two laps of a 17.3km circuit that has a small ascent at the midpoint and a slightly rising finale which means that another bunch sprint is expected.

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