Cyril Gautier (Europcar) finally took his first season victory when he won today’s second stage of the Tour du Limousin in an uphill sprint. After a hard day in undulating terrain, he beat Davide Rebellin (CCC) and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) in the final dash to the line while Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty) finished 8th and retained the overall lead.
Being one of the most aggressive riders in the peloton, Cyril Gautier has been close to a victory on a number of occasions in 2014 but until today the victory had eluded the small Frenchman. Today he broke his drought when he used his great puncheur skills to win the hilly second stage of the Tour du Limousin.
After a fast and aggressive day of racing, it all came down to an uphill sprint on the short, steep rise to the finish. Here Gautier proved his sprinting skills by holding off Rebellin and Taaramae to take his first win since last year’s Tour du Finistere.
After the hilly opening stage, the second day offered another classic Tour du Limousin stage that brought the riders over 171.8km from Relissac to Grezes. It was up or down almost all day, with three categorized climbs along the way. The stage ended with a short, steep 200m climb to the finish, setting the scene for the puncheurs.
The riders took the start under beautiful sunny conditions but unlike yesterday, it didn’t take long for the early break to be established. Already after 5km of racing, Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier (FDJ.fr), Clement Saint-Martin (La Pomme), Jerome Pineau (IAM), Christophe Laborie (Bretagne), Matteo Rabottini (Neri Sottoli) and Johnny Hoogerland (Androni) got an advantage and the peloton was content with the situation.
The escapees were allowed to build a gap of 3.30 while Laborie beat Lecuisinier and Saint-Martin in the first intermediate sprint. However, Colombia and Caja Rural had missed the move and they started to chase, bringing the gap down to 1.10 after 40km of racing.
The escapees tried to respond and managed to reopen their advantage to 1.30. However, Colombia and Caja Rural refused to give up and when they had brought the gap down to just 50 seconds, they send Juan Pablo Valencia and Omar Fraile across together with Europcar’s Yukiya Arashiro.
The move was in vain though as Cofidis, Bardiani and CCC were intent on bringing it back together and after 60km of racing, the front group was caught. This opened the door for new attacks and after 10 minutes of aggressive racing, Axel Domont (Ag2r), Rudy Molard (Cofidis) and Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar) got a gap.
While Quemeneur scored maximum points on the first climb of the day, the trio started to build an advantage that reached a maximum of 4.30 before the peloton reacted. Molard won the second intermediate sprint while Wanty and Bardiani had started to chase.
They brought it down to 2.30 and while Domont won the final intermediate sprint, they kept the situation stable. On the second climb, Quemeneur again took maximum points but this was the signal for FDJ to kick into action.
The French team brought the gap down to 1.50 which opened the door for Rein Taaramae and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) to try to bridge across. Edet was the first to give up and as Taaramae was a GC threat, he was brought back with 45km to go.
At this point, the gap was 1.00 but the peloton allowed it to grow back up to 2 minutes. While Quemeneur took maximum points on the final climb, FDJ went back to the front which caused the peloton to split to pieces.
The escapees fought hard to maintain an advantage of just under a minute but against the FDJ riders they had no chance. With 18km to go, the gap was 25 seconds and with 15km to go, it was back together.
The peloton was now riding very fast and this caused it two split into two groups. At the same time, it started to rain and Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) now saw his chance to give it a go.
Passing the 10km to go sign, Chavanel was 15 seconds ahead while Marco Frapporti (Androni) and Angelo Tulik (Europcar) set off in pursuit. An impressive Chavanel managed to build a 50-second advantage but with 3km to go, it was back together.
A reduced peloton approached the flamme rouge where Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani) and Kevin Reza (Europcar) launched an attack. Reza fell off the pace and with 700m to go, Zardini was still 10 seconds ahead.
However, the Italian faded on the climb to the finish and it all came down to an uphill sprint. Here Gautier emerged as the fastest, holding off Rebellin and Taaramae.
Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty) finished 8th and so defended his overall lead which he takes a 14-second advantage over Mauro Finetto (Neri Sottoli) into tomorrow’s third and penultimate stage. It’s another rolling affair with three categorized climbs and like today it ends with a short, steep uncategorized rise to the finish.
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