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With a powerful attack 7km from the top of the Col de l’Ospedale, Peraud distanced his rivals to win the Criterium International queen stage and defend his title in the two-day race

Photo: Sirotti

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29.03.2015 @ 19:47 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) proved that he is back to his best after a slow start to the year when he defended his title at the Criterium International by winning the queen stage. After Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) had tried an attack, the veteran accelerated 7km from the top of the Col de l’Ospedale and delivered an incredible solo effort to win the stage and win the race overall for the second year in a row.

 

Due to injuries and various commitments, Jean-Christophe Peraud has had a slow start to the year and he has been far from the level that saw him finish as runner-up in last year’s Tour de France. Already before making his season debut at the Ruta del Sol, the Frenchman made it clear that he would probably not be back to his best before the Vuelta al Pais Vasco in early April.

 

However, Peraud showed steady improvement in Paris-Nice and so he went into the Criterium International with a small hope that he would be able to defend his title. However, he faced formidable opposition from an in-form Thibaut Pinot who had done nothing to hide his ambition in the two-day race.

 

Nothing suggested that Peraud would be able to beat the FDJ leader after he had been firmly beaten in yesterday’s time trial where Pinot had finished an excellent fourth. However, the veteran bounced back with a great win in today’s queen stage and his performance was enough to defend the title he took one year ago.

 

Peraud and the Ag2r team had hit in the peloton for most of the day while FDJ and the Cannondale-Garmin team of overall leader Ben King had done most of the work. As they hit the final climb of the Col de l’Ospedale, they left it to FDJ to make it hard and it was strong work by Steve Morabito who made it too hard for King who got distanced with 8km to go.

 

Morabito continued on the front for a little more before Pinot made his first move. He was closely followed by Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r) and later Julian Arredondo (Trek), Pierrick Fedrigo (Bretagne) and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) also made it back.

 

Realizing that he got nowhere, Pinot stopped his effort and so more riders rejoined from behind. Peraud got back in contention and he made an immediate attack that nobody responded to.

 

While the Frenchman soloed clear, no one to responsibility to chase and so the attacking continued. Jose Mendes (Bora-Argon 18) and Pinot both tried to get clear. However, the FDJ leader was always closely marked by Vuillermoz and so a bigger group gathered.

 

Peraud was now 30 seconds ahead and Pinot had no teammates to help him organize a chase. Instead, it was Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis) who hit the front but he got no help and so more riders could rejoin the group.

 

Meanwhile, Peraud extended his advantage and with 3km to go, he was 37 seconds ahead. 1km later, Pinot was forced to go all in and he made a final big attack.

 

Vuillermoz, Jan Bakelants (Ag2r) and Fedrigo were the only riders who could stay with the Frenchman while Arredondo, Fabio Felline (Trek) and Edet followed a little further back. Pinot didn’t look back and just kept riding on the front, gradually reducing Peraud’s advantage.

 

Vuillermoz was the first to get dropped and with 500m to go, Bakelants also lost contact. They got close to Peraud but the Ag2r leader held on to win the stage 15 seconds ahead of Fedrigo while Pinot followed in third one second later.

 

The win was enough to elevate Peraud into first and he defended his title by distancing Pinot by 10 seconds. Felline did great to hold onto third after his good time trial, 8 seconds further adrift.

 

Felline also won the points classification while Marco Canola (Unitedhealthcare) won the mountains jersey. Pinot was of course the best young rider while Ag2r crowned a great race by winning the teams competition.

 

The next major race in France will be held next Friday when the Route Adelie de Vitre is the next round of the Coupe de France race series. The next big stage race is the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe which starts next Tuesday.

 

The queen stage

After the hectic opening day with two half-stages, the Criterium International finished with the 189.5km queen stage that brought the riders from Porto-Vecchio to the top of the Col de l’Ospedale. After a flat start, the stage had a hilly middle phase with six smaller climbs before they again reached flat roads that led to the bottom of the final 14km ascent.

 

The riders had perfect racing conditions when they took the start and they were eager to get the race off to a fast beginning. In the first part, there were lots of attacks and at the 7km mark, it was still all together.

 

The break is formed

A little later, the early break was formed when Romain Feillu (Bretagne), Chad Haga (Giant-Alpecin), Christian Mager (Cult), Benjamin Giraud (Marseille) and Canola got clear. At the 15km mark, they were already 2.20 ahead and they had increased it to 3.35 five km later.

 

Cannondale-Garmin had how hit the front and while Feillu won the first intermediate sprint, they kept the gap between 3.15 and 3.30.  However, they slowed down a bit when they started to climb and when Canola reached the top of the first climb as the first rider, the gap was 4 minutes.

 

Canola picks up points

Cannondale now kept the gap between 3.00 and 3.00 and when Canola won the second KOM sprint, it was 3.55. Mager was first in the second intermediate sprint and when Canola was first at the top of the third climb at the 86km mark, the gap was 4.00.

 

The peloton now accelerated and as the gap was down to 2.40 at the bottom of the next climb, Romain Guillemois (Europcar) took off. At the top, Canola was again first while the chaser followed at 1.35 and the peloton at 2.25.

 

Guillemois bridges the gap

While rider started to leave the race, an impressive Guillemois bridged the gap. Moments later, Giraud was distanced and so the front group was again a quintet.

 

At the 118km mark, the gap was down to just 2 minutes and when Canola beat Guillemois at the top of the next climb, it was 2.05. The peloton slowed down a bit and when Canola took maximum points on the fifth climb, it was 2.55.

 

FDJ start to chase

FDJ now came to the fore to join forces with Cannondale and Ramunas Navardauskas and Arnaud Courteille were working hard on the front. With 35km to go, the gap was 2.30 and 5km later it was only 2.00.

 

On the penultimate climb, the front group split as Feillu and Haga escaped and Courteille had now blown up. Matej Mohoric and Navarduaskas were doing the work for Cannondale and they had brought the gap down to a minute with 25km to go.

 

The break is caught

They didn’t slow down at all and with 15.9km to go, the front dup were caught. Moments later, they hit the climb and it was Jeremy Roy (FDJ) who set the pace on the lower slopes.

 

When Roy swung off, Morabito took over before Davide Formolo came to the fore for Cannondale. Ignatas Konovalovas (Marseille) launched a brief solo attack but the Italian had brought him back with 9km to go.

 

At this point, Clement Saint-Martin (Marseille) who was second got distanced and a little later, King also had to surrender. Morabito had again taken over the pace-setting and moments later Pinot launched the attack that started the finale.

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