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After a great lead-out from the Cofidis team, Bouhanni beat McLay and Guardini in the bunch sprint on stage 2 of the Tour de Picardie; the Frenchman extended his advantage in the overall standings

Photo: A.S.O.

ANDREA GUARDINI

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NACER BOUHANNI

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TOUR DE PICARDIE

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14.05.2016 @ 17:58 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) continued his dominance of the Tour de Picardie by making it two in a row on the second stage of the race. After a splendid lead-out from his team, he beat Daniel McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Andrea Guardini (Astana) to both take the stage win and solidify his overall lead on the eve of the final stage.

 

It seems to be a tendency that Nacer Bouhanni struggles a bit after racing break but when he finally gets up to speed, he is usually unstoppable. That was the case at the start of the year as he had a hard time in the sprints in February but he had great form in March where he won stages in Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya and was very close to victory in Milan-Sanremo until a mechanical destroyed his chances.

 

Last week Bouhanni returned to competition after a short spring break and again he had a hard time in his comeback race. At the 4 Days of Dunkirk, neither he nor his lead-out train got things right in the sprints and even though he was in the top 6 in the four sprint stages, he left the race without the elusive victory.

 

However, he got the ball rolling yesterday when he took his first win on the first stage of the Tour de Picardie and now he is back at a good level. Today he confirmed his dominance in the French sprint race as he also came out on top in the bunch kick on stage 2.

 

After the opening sprint stage, the terrain got slightly hillier for stage 2 which brought the riders over 180.3km from Fequieres-en-Vimeu to Flixecourt. There were three categorized climbs in the first two thirds of the stage but the real challenge was be the 17.3km finishing circuit that the riders would cover twice. It had a small uncategorized climb at the midpoint but the final 5km were mainly flat, with a slightly uphill final kilometre.

 

There were no non-starters when the 120 riders gathered for the start under a cloudy sky in windy conditions. Like yesterday, the opening phase was fast with many attacks, including a strong sextet right from the gun. Brian Van Goethem (Roompot) also tried a solo move before Matthieau Ladagnous (FDJ), Simon Pellaud (IAM), Sebastien Delfosse (Wallonie) and Damien Gaudin (Ag2r) managed to open up a gap of 35 seconds.

 

While the peloton slowed down, Etienne van Empel (Roompot) tried to bridge the gap and while he stayed 30 seconds behind the escapees for a while, the peloton lost ground. That allowed the break to wait for their chaser and the junction was made around the 20km mark where the gap had gone out to 2.05.

 

Cofidis took control in the peloton but were not chasing yet, allowing the gap to go out to 3.30 before they stabilized the situation. Meanwhile, van Empel beat Delfosse and Pellaud in the first KOM sprint where the peloton crested the summit 4.20 later.

 

The riders covered 42.6km during the first hour and reached the 50km mark with a gap of 3.50. Here van Empel beat Pellaud and Delfosse in the second KOM sprint. The peloton accelerated hard on the climb and reached the top just 2.05 later, with Martin Laas (Delko) being the first rider to get dropped.

 

It was the Direct Energie team that did the damage but when they stopped, the gap again started to grow. It was 2.50 in the feed zone but was again down to 2.20 at the 100km mark.

 

Van Empel beat Delfosse and Pellaud in the final KOM sprint while the peloton reached the top with a delay of 2.25. Cofidis were back in control and now started to accelerate, reducing the gap to 1.50 at the 125km mark.

 

Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) easily rejoined the peloton after a puncture just when the peloton accelerated. With 47km to go, the gap was only a minute and this opened the door for Evaldas Siskevicius (Delko) to try to bridge across. While his teammate Laas left the race, he got to within 30 seconds but then started to lose ground and he was brought back before the peloton crossed the line for the first time.

 

Further up the road, van Empel and Gaudin were dropped and it was Ladagnous who led Delfosse and Pellaud across the line to win the first intermediate sprint. The peloton arrived 1.15 later and quickly brought the two chasers back.

 

The front trio started to attack each other as they crossed the line again to start their final lap of the circuit. Meanwhile, Gaudin attackd again and was joined by his teammate Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r) and Artyom Zakharov (Astana). With 15km to go, they were just 15 seconds behind the leaders while the peloton was 20 seconds further adrift.  Ladagnous beat Delfosse and Pellaud in the final intermediate sprint at the passage of the line.

 

The three chasers were brought back while the peloton kept the gap at around 30 seconds. Cofidis were always in control and inside the final 10km, they accelerated. With 6km to go, the break was brought back and from there Cofidis neutralized a few attacks. The French team stayed on the front before giving Bouhanni a perfect lead-out. The Frenchman beat Daniel McLay and Andrea Guardini in the final dash to the line to make it two in a row.

 

With more bonus seconds, Bouhanni extended his advantage in the GC to 15 seconds over Debusschere while McLay is 17 seconds behind in third. The Frenchman has a big chance to make it a clean sweep in tomorrow’s final stage which is mostly flat. There are three climbs on the menu, with the final short 1.1km ascent coming with 15.1km to go on the 21.2km finishing circuit that will be covered once. The circuit is lumpy but the final three kilometres are flat, with a small uphill drag to the line, meaning that the scene is set for another bunch sprint.

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