Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) confirmed his status as the leading French stage racer by riding to an impressive stage win on the Col de l’Ospedale in the Criterium International. Having attacked 1.5km from the top of the climb, he passed lone leader Pierre Latour (Ag2r) before soling across the line to win both the stage and the overall. Latour finished second on both the stage and the GC while Arnold Jeannesson (Cofidis) and Sam Oomen (Giant-Alpecin) completed the podium in the stage and the GC respectively.
One year ago Thibaut Pinot was aiming for victory at the Criterium International to confirm his status as the best French GC rider. He got it all off to a strong start in the time trial but cracked under the pressure in the mountain stage where he attacked too early and was beaten by Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r).
The result was a big disappointment but it also provided him with a valuable lesson for future stage races and today he proved that he has learnt from it. Unlike last year, he kept his calm in the same mountain stage in the two-day race and this time there was no one stopping the French youngster.
Pinot already proved his form yesterday when he won the time trial and so could allow himself to sit back in the peloton while his rivals attacked in today’s mountain stage to the top of the Col de l’Ospedale. Using his formidable team to control things, he waited until the final 1500m before making an unstoppable move that allowed him to take both the stage and the overall victory.
Everything was decided on the final 14.1km climb to the finish. At the bottom, Cyril Gautier (Ag2r), Moreno Moser (Cannondale), Loic Chetout (Cofidis), Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie), Remy Di Gregorio and Quentin Pacher (Delko) had an advantage of 50 seconds. FDJ had been chasing all day and was now using Odd Christian Eiking to reel the break in.
Chetout was dropped immediately and was picked up by the strong Eiking who had reduced the gap to less than 30 seconds when he swung off with 13km to go. Meanwhilem Pacher was the next to surrender in the break, leaving just four riders to press on.
Sebastien Reichenbach took over the pace-setting in the peloton and slowly whittled down the field, with Patrick Konrad (Bora-Argon 18) the first notable rider to fall off. He didn’t react when an Armee rider attacked and he slowly reeled him in.
Di Gregorio tried an unsuccessful move with 12km to go and when the gap was down to 20 seconds with 11km to go, he went again. Gautier had to dig deep to join him while Moser and Voeckler went straight through the back door of the field.
With Voeckler no longer in the break, Direct Energie played their next card when Fabrice Jeandesboz took off. He quickly passed the Gautier and Di Gregorio who were caught by the peloton. At the same time, second-placed Jerome Coppel (IAM) was dropped.
Reichenbach kept the gap at around 10 seconds with 9km to go and one kilometre later, he brought the Frenchman back. At the same time, the riders continued to get dropped, with Yoann Bagot, Stefan Denifl, Pierre Rolland and Paul Voss among the riders to surrender.
With 6km to go, Pierre Latour took off and when he had built a gap of a few metres, his captain Jean-Christope Peraud bridged the gap. Latour emptied himself for his leader but the impressive Reichenbach always kept them at just a few seconds, sending former winner PIerrick Fedrigo out the back door in the process.
Reichenbach finally left it to Alexandre Geniez to do the work for Pinot and he slowly reeled the Ag2r pair in. Peraud decided to sit up with 5.4k to go but Latour pressed on. With Peraud back in the fold, Geniez eased off a bit and Latour managed to increase his advantage.
The group had now been whittled down to Geniez, Pinot, Arnold Jeannesson, Lawson Craddock (Cannondale), Peraud, Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r), Dominik Nerz (Bora-Argon 18) and Sam Oomen. They kept Latour in sight until Geniez swung off with 3km to go.
Pinot kept his calm and didn’t move to the front, instead waiting for his teammate to return when the pace went down. He took another big run until Jeannesson made a move just before the 2km to go mark which ended the day for Peraud and Geniez
The six-rider group were 7 seconds behind Latour with 2km to go and it was Jeannesson and Craddock who tried a few moves. They were all unsuccessful and instead, Pinot took off with 1.5km to go. He easily made it up to Latour while Jeannesson took off in lone pursuit.
With 1.2km to go, Latour had to surrender and from there it was a dominant solo show by Pinot. He held off the Ag2r rider by 7 seconds and had plenty of time to celebrate the second win in two days Latour held on to second while Jeannesson finished third.
The win saw Pinot open an advantage of 37 seconds over Latour in the overall standings while a gutsy ride by Oomen saw him move into third, keeping Jeannesson off the podium. Pinot also won the points competition while Di Gregorio was the best climber. Latour was the best climb and FDJ the strongest team
With the Criterium International done and dusted, attention turns back to the Coupe de France series which continues next Friday with the hilly Route Adelie Vitré.
The queen stage
After yesterday’s double stage, it was time for the queen stage which brought the riders over 171.5km from Porto-Vecchio to the top of the Col de l’Ospedale. After a flat start, the riders hit three big climbs, most notably the very steep Col de Bavella at the midpoint before they descended to the coast where there was another small climb before a flat section led to the bottom of the final climb which averaged 6.2% over 14.1km.
Weather conditions were perfect for the final stage of the Critérium International, just like the day before. The 120-strong peloton set off from Porto-Vecchio harbour shortly after 11 am for a 171.5 km trek to Col de l'Ospedale under sunny skies. It was a hectic start, with the peloton riding flat out to shut down any breakaway attempts and the average speed for the first hour clocking at an impressive 48.8 km. Julien Antomarchi (Roubaix) was the only rider to make a promising attack.
KOM points for Di Gregorio
It was not until Col de Larone, the first climb of the day, that a seven-rider group composed of managed to escape when Di Gregorio, Pacher, Gautier, Chetout, Voeckler, Moser and Anthony Delaplace (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) got away. Di Gregorio led the breakaway over the top as the peloton trailed by 45 seconds. The gap had ballooned to 2.50 by the time the Delko – Marseille Provence leader grabbed an extra 6 mountain points atop the never-raced-before Col de Bavella. The second climb of the day was too much for Delaplace and he was dropped by the other six riders.
The gap reached a maximum of 3 minutes at the 82km mark before the peloton was gradually inching closer under the impetus of yellow jersey Thibaut Pinot's FDJ team, bringing the gap down to 1′40″ at the top of the third climb, Col de Bacinu. Francis Mourey (Fortunep-Vital Concept) was hovering 1.20. behind the breakaway, but the Frenchman's ill-fated attempt to catch the escapees ended on the following descent.
FDJ reduce the gap
Although the gap had risen back to 2.05 at the top of the fourth climb, Côte de Ceccia (km 128.5), where Di Gregorio again took maximum points, by this point in the race the yellow-jersey group seemed firmly in control of things. Jeremy Roy, Anthony Roux and Laurent Pichon made maximum use of the flat section that led to the final climb to slowly reduce the gap. Di Gregorio beat Moser and Pacher at the second intermediate sprint in Porto-Vecchio (km 154), with the peloton a mere 55″ back and just 19km to go. Moments later, they hit the final climb where Pinot finished off the work of his teammates,
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