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"This race suits me well. There is never a break and no time to rest. It is a pleasure to win with the number 1 on the back. And I win in front of my family, it's also nice."

Photo: Sirotti

AG2R CITROEN TEAM

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ALEXIS GOUGEARD

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CLASSIC LOIRE ATLANTIQUE

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21.03.2015 @ 20:21 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

One year after taking a breakthrough win in the Classique Loire Atlantique, Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) repeated his solo performance in the 2015 edition of the race to defend his title in impressive fashion. After his first attack had been brought back, he escaped from a 10-rider group with 3km to go and held his chasers off to win the race ahead of Marco Marcato (Wanty) and Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne).

 

One year ago, neo-pro Alexis Gougeard surprised the entire French cycling elite when he attacked out of a breakaway on the hilly circuit in the Classique Loire Atlantique to take a big solo win. Later he went on to confirm his potential by winning another major French race, Boucles de l’Aulne, to firmly establish himself as one of the biggest French talents.

 

This year he went into his title defence at the Classique Loire Atlantique with modest ambitions, telling Directvelo that he had no protected role in the Ag2r team and that he would mainly use the race to build condition for the Flemish classics. However, the strong Frenchman who recently impressed with a fifth place in the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen, was simply unstoppable as soon as he hit the hilly circuit of the race that was the second round of the Coupe de France race series and so had gather most of the French elite.

 

After a very fast start in rainy and windy conditions, a 15-rider group got clear and Gougeard had been attentive to join the move together with Ag2r teammate Hugo Houle. Being no fast finisher, however, the Frenchman was in a difficult situation if he wanted to defend his title and he had to surprise his rivals to come away with the win.

 

He benefited from a brutally hard race which suited a hard man like Gougeard perfectly. Cofidis, Topsport Vlaanderen, Cult and Murias Taldea had all missed the move and they all took turns at leading the chase in the splintering peloton. This meant that the gap to the leaders stayed between 0.30 and 1.30 for the entire race and meant that the escapees had to ride hard all day.

 

This opened the door for attacks in the final two laps and Gougeard made his move with around 10km to go. He quickly distanced his rivals and with 5km to go, he still had a solid advantage over his former companions.

 

However, the group worked well together and inside the final 5km to go, the defending champion was brought back by 9 chasers. It seemed that he had burnt his matches and that it would be no repeat win for the 22-year-old Ag2r rider.

 

However, Gougeard had different plans and with 3km to go, he made another attempt. Again he managed to distance his rivals and this time there was no one able to bring back the Frenchman. Gougeard held on to take an impressive solo win while Marco Marcato beat Anthony Delaplace in the sprint from the chase group to take second.

 

"It was hard to get away," he told Directvelo. "It took a long time to create the right group. Like last year, it was hard to make it. At first some held something back but everyone gave their all when it came time to keep the peloton at bay. Everyone participated. 

 

"I knew that the last two laps would hurt because we were all riding hard. I decided to make it hard on a climb with two laps to go. It is the right approach in this kind of finale. I made three attacks and the final one in the same place as last year. They soon returned to me. 

 

"The race was a bit like last year. It took a long time to get out but eventually the breakaway could go. We had to fight all day. I tried my luck within the final ten kilometers. I got clear on my own, but they did not let me do it. I was in a group with four kilometers to go, but I managed to get away again. I had no doubt. If I could not stay away, I knew that Hugo (Houle) could do it.

 

"When the legs are good, I do not mind going joining a battle, I always attack. This is my trademark. It is reassuring for the future. Since the beginning of the season I was always up there (six top ten in 18 race days). I was not far ooff in the Three Days of Flanders. After two weeks without racing, I was  not sure how I would feel.  

 

"We were present in all the moves with the AG2R La Mondiale team. This success is a reward. It is important for me. I had difficult moments, I think of the Tour Down Under where I was not in condition. It is hard to have fun when the form is not there. I already won here last year. This race suits me well. There is never a break and no time to rest. It is a pleasure to win with the number 1 on the back. And I win in front of my family, it's also nice. 

 

"I had a lot of top 10 resilts this year but still no win or a even podium. I am confident for the future. This victory is reassuring for my next goals, the Belgian classics. I'll do them all. I like Paris-Roubaix. It's a race that can make your career. 

 

"The Coupe de France is not a goal because I will not do a lot of the races. However, it is interesting for the teams classification which is an objective for AG2R La Mondiale. 
 

I could have very sore legs [tomorrow in Cholet Pays de Loire]. I have to see how I will recover. Anyway, the team works well, I'm not the only one. After that, it will be time to think about Belgian classics. And I can not wait."

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