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With a dominant sprint on the uphill finishing straight, Coquar distanced his nearest rivals by metres to make it three in a row at the 4 Days of Dunkirk, with Planckaert and Barbier completing the podium; Coquard still leads

Photo: Sirotti

4 JOURS DE DUNKERQUE

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BAPTISTE PLANCKAERT

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BRYAN COQUARD

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DIRECT ENERGIE

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06.05.2016 @ 18:30 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Bryan Coquard confirmed that he is one of the best uphill sprinters in the world when he made all his rivals look like amateurs on stage 3 at the 4 Days of Dunkirk. Having started his sprint from Nacer Bouhanni’s (Cofidis) wheel, he easily distanced everybody else on the uphill finishing straight, putting metres into second-placed Baptiste Planckaert (Wallonie) and Rudy Barbier (Roubaix) in third and extending his overall lead on the eve of the queen stage.

 

Due to his tiny stature, Bryan Coquard has done nothing to hide that he loves uphill sprints and in recent years he has proved to be one of the best in the business when it comes to a final dash on a rising finishing straight. Last year he got a lot of attention for an impressive sprint in Paris-Nice where he came from far back to take second behind Davide Cimolai.

 

Those skills naturally made him the man to beat in today’s third stage of the Four Days of Dunkirk. With two wins in two stages, the Direct Energie sprinter is clearly on form and with a finale tailor-made for him, he had a perfect chance to make it a hat-trick.

 

Coquard confirmed his skills in the most impressive fashion as he made some of the best sprinters in the world look like neo-pros when he came off Nacer Bouhanni’s wheel in the sprint. While the Cofidis sprinter faded back, the Direct Energie rider powered to the line to put several metres into his nearest rivals, aptiste Planckaert and Rudy Barbier.

 

However, for a long time it looked like he would never get the chance to sprint for the win. Things seemed to be under control when they climbed towards the finish line to start the first of two laps of a lumpy 10.5km finishing circuit. Direct Energie had controlled things all day and had reduced the gap to Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep), Brian van Goethem (Roompot) and Tom Devriendt (Wanty) to just 40 seconds when things suddenly became difficult.

 

Yann Guyot (Armee) attacked on the finishing straight and was joined by the in-form Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) to form a strong duo. The pair caught the leader with 17km to go but things still looked good for Direct Energie as Perrig Quemeneur and Yoann Gene had worked well to reduce the gap to just 15 seconds.

 

The added firepower gave new life to the break which had pushed it out to 30 seconds just two kilometres later and despite the hard work of Quemeneur and Gene, the gap was still 30 seconds when Gougeard led the peloton across the line to start the final lap of the circuit.

 

Rasmus Quaade (Stölting) attacked on the finishing straight and was between the two groups for several kilometres before being brought back. Flavien Dassonville (Auber 93) made a late attempt to join Quaade but he would quickly sit up.

 

With 7km to go, the gap was still 22 seconds and the chase was not made any easier by a big crash that involved an Ag2r rider. As the gap was not really coming down, lots of teams started to work, with FDJ and Fortuneo-Vital Concept taking a huge turn with 5km to go.

 

At this point, the gap was still 20 seconds and this prompted Sylvain Chavanel to hit the front for Direct Energie. He was riding so fast that he had to slow down to wait for the rest of the group but his work paid off as the gap was down to 10 seconds with 3km to go.

 

That’s when Cofidis kicked into action with Gert Joeaar who hit the front. Gougeard really did his best to up the pace in the front group but he couldn’t keep the group at bay. With 1.3km to go, Florian Senechal brought it back together after FDJ had briefly lent Cofidis a hand.

 

Senechal led the peloton under the flamme rouge where Borut Bozic took over for Cofidis. Adrien Petit tried to pass him but lost the battle and instead he dropped Coquard off on Bouhanni’s wheel.

 

Geoffrey Soupe came from far back to take over from Bozic and was doing a great lead-out for Bouhanni when Kenny Dehaes (Wanty) hit out from afar. Bouhanni moved into second, followed by Coquard and Maximilano Richeze (Etixx-QuickStep) but the Cofidis sprinter reacted too late when Coquard dropped the hammer. From there, the outcome was never in doubt as Coquard was in a class of his own and even though Planckaert and Barbier both did good sprints from far back, they were not even close to matching the Direct Energie sprinter.

 

With the win, Coquard extended his overall lead over Bouhanni to 20 seconds. He now faces the toughest challenge in the race as he goes into the queen stage in Cassel. After a relatively flat start, the riders will do nine laps of a tough 14.6km circuit that includes two climbs. One of them is a 3km uphill drag that ends just one kilometre from the finish and from there it is a false flat all the way to the line, meaning that it is a great day for puncheurs.

 

A lumpy stage

After the first two sprint stages, the terrain was hillier for stage 3 which brought the riders over 174km from Bethune to Saint Pol sur Ternoise. There were four climbs in the first half of the course but then the terrain got flatter. It ended with two laps of a 10.5km finishing circuit that had some small hills and an uphill finishing straight.

 

Kai Reus (Roompot) and Thibaut Ferrasse (Armee) both crashed yesterday and so were absent when the 138-rider peloton left Bethune under a sunny sky. Unlike in the two first stages, the start was very fast and it took a long time for a break to be formed. First a promising sextet with Julien Berard (Ag2r), Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep), Laurent Pichon (FDJ), Tiziano Dall’Antonia (Androni), Romain Combaud (Delko) and Brian van Goethem (Roompot) managed to open a one-minute advantage but Fortuneo-Vital Concept were not pleased with the situation. Hence, they brought it all back together at the 29km mark. Meanwhile, Johan Le Bon (FDJ) crashed and was forced to abandon.

 

Four riders get clear

Keisse and van Goethem refused to give up and when they attacked again, they were joined by Armindo Fonseca (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Tom Devriendt (Wanty). The quartet was allowed to escape and had opened an advantage of 1.20 after 37km of racing.

 

The gap was growing quickly and just 15km later, it had gone out to 3.55. Unsurprisingly, Direct Energie took control in the peloton and they made sure that the gap did not get too big. At the 80km mark, the gap was 4.40 when Fonseca beat van Goethem and Devriendt in the second KOM sprint.

 

Direct Energie in control

Direct Energie upped the pace as Quemeneur, Fabien Grellier and Guillaume Thevenot did a great job on the front of the peloton. As they entered the final 60km, they had reduced it to 3.35 and it was down to 2.30 just 8km later.

 

With 40km to go, the three Direct Energie riders still did a good job as the gap was now only 2 minutes but the five escapees still had something left in the tank. They reacted well and suddenly the gap stabilized at 1.55 for almost 10km.

 

The breakaway splits up

As they approached the finishing circuit, Thevenot, Grellier and Quemeneur upped the pace even further and this had a big effect. When the riders reached the final intermediate sprint with 23km to go, it was down to less than a minute.

 

Devriendt beat van Goethem and Fonseca in the sprint and then kept going in a solo move. Van Goethem was quick to join while it took a few kilometres for Keisse to get back. Fonseca was swallowed up by the peloton where Thevenot had now ended his work and things seemed to be under control when the peloton crossed the finish line for the first time to start the exciting finale.

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