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After another great lead-out by Laporte, Bouhanni easily came around Theuns to win a reduced bunch sprint on stage 4 of Paris-Nice; Greipel was third and Matthews retained the lead

Photo: A.S.O.

ANDRÉ GREIPEL

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EDWARD THEUNS

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MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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NACER BOUHANNI

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PARIS - NICE

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10.03.2016 @ 18:25 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Two days after his painful relegation, Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) got his revenge by winning the reduced bunch sprint on a surprisingly hard fourth stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. The Frenchman benefited from a great lead-out from Christophe Laporte to easily come around Edward Theuns (Trek) who narrowly held off André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) in the battle for second. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) had to settle for fifth but retained the lead.

 

The first part of Paris-Nice has been hugely frustrating for Nacer Bouhanni. The Frencman missed out on the win in stage 1 where he was beaten by archrival Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and then was relegated for irregular sprinting one day later.

 

That left Bouhanni with potentially only one chance to go for victory in today’s fourth stage of the race which was the final stage of the race without any major climbs. Finally, things came together as the Frenchman and his Cofidis team did everything perfectly in what turned out to be a very hectic, stressful and hard finale to take the win.

 

However, the French team had made a big gamble as they had left it only the Katusha team to bring a very strong trio back. The catch was made just 500m from the finish but that left the team with their entire lead-out left while Katusha had emptied their reserves.

 

The situation of the race completely changed at the bottom of the final climb with 35km to go. At this point, the quartet of Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie), Florian Vachon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Evaldas Siskevicius (Delko Marseille) and Matthew Brammeier (Dimension Data) had a 45-second advantage over the peloton which was led by Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuickStep).

 

As they started to climb, Voeckler upped the pace and immediately distanced Brammeier and Vachon. Siskevicius finaly also had to surrender while an injured Arnaud Demare (FDJ) was one of the first riders to get dropped from the peloton in which Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) had upped the pace significasntly.

 

Matti Breschel (Cannondale) attacked and got a small gap while a touch of wheels in the front end of the peloton saw Geraint Thomas (Sky) go down. Ian Stannard, Nicolas Roche and Mikel Nieve waited for him and they had to pass lots of riders as they tried to rejoin the peloton.

 

One of them was Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) who found himself in a group that was being distanced due to Haas’ fast pace. The situation got even more dramatic when another pre-race favourite, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), had a mechanical and had to stop. Pavel Kochetkov and Sergey Lagutin waited for him

 

Meanwhile, Voeckler pressed on and he managed to increase his gap to 50 seconds. Meanwhile, Breschel was brought back by Haas and instead his teammate Patrick Bevin surged clear, passing Brammeier and Vachin.

 

Voeckler was the first rider to reach the summit while Haas set off in pursuit of Bevin who was third in the KOM sprint behind Siskevicius. The Australian took fourth but only had a small lead over the peloton which was now led by BMC. Meanwhile, Kittel was desperately trying to regain contact with his teammates Vandenbergh and Fabio Sabatini.

 

Haas was dangling just a few metres ahead of the peloton when he missed a turn on the descent and he was forced to abandon the race, luckily without any major injuries. At the same time, the group with Thomas and Kristoff regained contact.

 

Bevin was also brought back by the peloton and when Siskevicius was also back in the fold with 27km to go, the attacking started. Lars Boom (Astana) made a first move and was followed by Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale). Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Amael Moinard (BMC), Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal), Romain Bardet (Ag2r), Delio Fernandez (Delko) were also active and the attacks meant that Voeckler’s advantage dropped to 30 seconds with 26km to go.

 

The Boom trio was caught by the five chasers but there was no cooperation. Hence, Fernandez surged clear and only Chavanel decided to join the move. In the peloton, LottoNL-Jumbo were leading the chase and they brought the rest of the group back. Kittel was still chasing bit son realized that it wasn’t to be as he was 55 seconds behind the peloton with 25km to go.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo’s work set Seo Vanmarcke up for an attack and he quickly joined Chavanel and Fernandez.  The trio opened a nice gap as a there was a moment of hesitation before Lagutin started to chase for Katusha and Luis Angel Mate for Cofidis with 22km to go. Thomas De Gendt also came to the fore for Lotto Soudal.

 

When the gap was down to 15 seconds, Voeckler decided to wait for his teammate Chavanel and then he emptied himself completely. At this point, the gap had gone out to 30 seconds and Voeckler sat up with 20km to go.

 

In the peloton, there was some crosswind and suddenly a split occurred behind the first 20 riders. Most of the GC riders had missed out, it required a big effort of the Ag2t team to bring it back together. Meanwhile, Danilo Wyss, Marcus Burghardt (BMC) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) also started to work in the first echelon. The aggressive racing cost some time for the front trio which was only 15 seconds ahead with 18km to go.

 

As the road got less exposed, Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) and Lieuwe Westra (Astana) took off in pursuit of the leaders. They used a moment of hesitation to get a gap while some of the dropped groups regained contact and it was an 80-100-rider group that formed.

 

The peloton was very nervous and it was Imanol Erviti (Movistar) who hit the front before Sky took over with Ian Boswell and Roche. Meanwhile, Demare abandoned the race.

 

The two chasers were just 10 seconds behind the leader who had pushed their advantage out to 25 second with 14km to go. Meanwhile, the sprint teams finally got organized when Katusha started to chase with Zakarin, Lagutin and Sven Erik Bystrøm.

 

The work paid off as the gap was down to 15 seconds with 12km to go. Here Westra and Wellens decided to sit up as they were stuck at 10 seconds.

 

De Gendt joined forces with the Kausha trio but they had a hard time against the front trio. The gap was totally stable at 15 seconds for several kilometres even though Fernandez was not able to contribute in the front group.

 

With 6km to go, De Gendt exploded and two kilometres later, Lagutin also swung off. At this point, the gap grew to 20 seconds and Fernande was again able to contribute.

 

With 3km to go, the gap was still 17 seconds and as Bystrøm and Zakarin swung off, Katusha had to use their lead-out. Michael Mørkøv took a huge turn but the gap stayed stable.

 

With 2km to go, Cofidis surged forward with Julien Simon, Cyril Lemoine, Geoffrey Soupe and Christophe Laporte. The former two emptied themselves and brought the gap down to 10 seconds with 1.5km to go.

 

At the passage of the flamme rouge, Soupe took over and that was enough to being the break back with 500 to go. Here it was a big battle as lead-out men Jacopo Guarnieri (Katusha) and Laporte sprinted against each other in the final roundabout.

 

The Frenchman won the battle and so Bouhanni was ahead of Kristoff when Laporte did the lead-out. Edward Theuns tried to surprise them by launching a long sprint but when Bouhanni opened the gas, the outcome was never in doubt. Theuns narrowly held off André Greipel and Kristoff in the battle for second.

 

Michael Matthews finished fifth in the sprint but that was enough to retain his 14-second advantage over Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin). He will try to defend his position in tomorrow’s tricky stage 5. After a flat start, it includes the mighty Mont Ventoux in the first part but the top comes 126.5km from the finish. Then there’s another three category 3 climbs on the menu, with the last top coming 28.5km from the finish. From there, the terrain is flat, meaning that it could be a day for a reduced bunch sprint.

 

A chance for the srpinters

After yesterday’s canceled stage, the sprinters were expected to get a final chance in stage 4 which brought them over 195.5km from Julienas to Romain-sur-Isere. The rider tackled two early category 3 climbs but the hardest challenge was a category 2 climb with 32km to go. From there, it was flat terrain all the way to the finish where a technical finale greeted the riders.

 

It was sunny and 10 degrees when the riders gathered for the start. All riders that survived yesterday’s carnage were present as they rolled through the neutral zone.

 

Four riders get clear

Maybe the good weather is what inspired them to a little more aggression in the beginning than it is usually the case in a flat stage. In any case, there were several attacks before Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie), Florian Vachon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Evaldas Siskevicius (Delko Marseille) and Matthew Brammeier (Dimension Data) got away after 5km.

 

The peloton took a breather, and therefore the gap quickly grew to 1.05 after 7km of. It was already 4:05 after 13 kilometers. A little later Siskevicius took 4 KOM points in the first KOM sprint where he beat Vachon and Voeckler.

 

The sprint teams come to the fore

The gap reached a maximum of only 4.40 after 21km, and after Orica-GreenEdge had taken early control, it was Katusha who increased the tempo. After 29km they had reduced the gap to 4.20, and when Etixx-Quick Step, Cofidis and Orica-Green Edge gave them a hand, it was already down to 3.00 after 40km of racing. It was a slow stage as the riders only covered 38.3km during the first hour.

 

The break and the field played with each other, and so the gap was relatively stable. It was 2.40 after 63km and 3.15 after 72km of racing. At the same time, the escapees showed no interest the first intermediate sprint and it was Brammeier who led Siskevicius and Vachon over the line at the 80.5km mark. The pace had dropped further as the average in the second hour was a modest 37.2 km/h.

 

A game of cat and mouse

Siskevicius secured a solid lead in the mountains competition by beating Vachon and Voeckler in today's second KOM sprint after a third hour during which the average speed was 38.7 km/h. At the same time the gap was decreased to just 2.15 77 km from the finish.

 

In the peloton, Pieter Serry (Etixx-Quick Step), Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha) and Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) shared the work. They worked well together and after the gap was stabilized for a while, it dropped to 1.40 65km from the finish. Here Katusha decided to give a little more momentum to the quest by letting Lagutin contribute to the work. At the same time, the fight for position gradually intensified.

 

The peloton gets nervous

With 60km to go, the break was just 1.30 ahead of the peloton that did not want to catch them too early and so the gap was again 1.45 when Voeckler led Vachon and Brammeier over the line in the last intermediate sprint 51.5 kilometers from the finish. In general, the mood was extremely relaxed as the tailwind meant that there was no real danger.

 

The sprint teams stopped the chase in the strange waiting game 50km from the finish where the gap had again dropped to 1.30. However, suddenly the stress increased noticeably just five kilometers later when the big teams fought hard for position. It was Cannondale, Etixx-QuickStep and Sky that took control. As a consequence, the gap was down to 0.50 with 40km to go. Stijn Vandenbergh hit the front for Etixx-QuickStep and kept the gap at 50 seconds as they approached the final climb where the real race

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