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Bouhanni emerges as the fastest in the uphill sprint in Porto-Vecchio that traditionally opens the short French stage race and is the first leader of the race ahead of the afternoon time trial

Photo: A.S.O.

CRITÉRIUM INTERNATIONAL

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GROUPAMA-FDJ

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NACER BOUHANNI

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NATHAN HAAS

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29.03.2014 @ 11:48 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) got back on track after the much debate over his non-selection for Milan-Sanremo when he won today's Criterium International opener. Being the big favourite, the Frenchman showed his excellent turn of speed to hold off Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) and Marko Kump (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the uphill sprint in Porto-Vecchio and he will wear the leader's jersey in the afternoon time trial.

 

This week Nacer Bouhanni has taken a lot of headlines due to his public criticism of his team's decision not to select him for Milan-Sanremo and he has even mentioned the possibility of changing teams. Today he showed his team management that their selection maybe was a poor one when he won the opening half-stage of the Criterium International.

 

The two-day French stage race usually opens with a short stage along the Corsican coast and it traditionally comes down to a bunch sprint on the uphill finishing straight. With little wind to challenge the riders in today's stage, the outcome was the expected one when the 2014 edition of the race kicked off.

 

Alessandro Vanotti (Astana) made a brave solo attack inside the final 10km and managed to stay clear all the way to the 2km to go sign but against the sprint teams he had no chance. Bouhanni unleashed his impressive power to hold off Nathan Haas and Marko Kump in the uphill dash to the line.

 

With the win, Bouhanni is of course also the first leader of the race and he will wear the yellow jersey this afternoon when the race continues with a short 7km technical time trial in Porto-Vecchio. This stage is set to produce the first time difference between the overall contenders ahead of tomorrow's big summit finish on the Col de l'Ospedale.

 

A flat opener

There was no chance to the format of the Criterium International for the 2014 edition as it again opened with two half-stages. The first of them was a short 89km out-and-back run along the coast starting and finishing in the Corsican city of Porto-Vecchio. The stage was mostly flat, with just a single small climb at the midpoint, but an uphill finish would make it a tough sprint for the fast finishers who were expected to come to the fore.

 

In the past, the stage has always come down to a bunch sprint but four riders still decided to give it a try as they took off very early in the stage. Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r), Theo Vimpere (BigMat), Clement Venturini (Cofidis), and Thomas Vaubourzeix (La Pomme Marseille) got clear and quickly had established a 1.05 gap.

 

The gap grows

After 20km of racing, they were 1.20 ahead and the gap reached a maximum of 2 minutes 5km further up the road. In such a short stage, however, the sprint teams were reluctant to give them too much leeway and so they already started to chase at this early point.

 

After an hour of racing, the gap was down to 1.30 and at the 43km mark, it was already below the 1-minute mark. The group managed to stay clear to contest the only KOM sprint of the day where Vimpere beat Gougeard and Vaubourzeix to become the first KOM leader in the race but at the 49km mark, it was all back together.

 

Schleck is caught out

In the past, the peloton has often split in the crosswinds on this stage and this happened again in this year's edition. At the 60km mark, it was divided into two bigger groups, with Andy Schleck (Trek) being caught in the second half.

 

The Luxembourger was lucky as things got back together at the 65km mark and so it was a big group that contested the day's intermediate sprint. The GC riders came to the fore as they tried to score a few bonus seconds, with Matthias Brändle (IAM) beating Bob Jungels (Trek) and Stephane Rossetto (BigMat).

 

Vanotti makes a brave attack

Alessandro Vanotti (Astana) made a late attack and passed the 10km to go sign with a 10-second advantage. The Italian did a fantastic job to stay away but with 2km to go, it was over for the Astana rider.

 

Instead, it all came down to the expected bunch sprint and here Nacer Bouhanni proved his fantastic turn of speed when he held off Nathan Haas and Marko Kump to take the first leader's jersey in the race.

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