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Impressive Gougeard makes it two in a row in Classique Loire Atlantique

For the second year in a row, Gougeard turned out to be the strongest from a breakaway in the Classique Loire Atlantique when he attacked out of a 10-rider group to defend his title

AG2R CITROEN TEAM

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ALEXIS GOUGEARD

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ANTHONY DELAPLACE

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CLASSIC LOIRE ATLANTIQUE

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MARCO MARCATO

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21.03.2015 @ 16:46 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.

 

Most of the riders from today’s race will be back in action tomorrow when the third round of the Coupe de France, Cholet – Pays de Loire, takes place. Held on a slightly less hilly course, there is a bigger chance that it will be decided by the sprinters but history shows that attacks often pay off in the Cholet race too.

 

A hilly circuit

The 16th Classique Loire Atlantique was held on a 16.8km circuit around the city of La Haye-Fouassiere that was to be covered 11 times for a total distance of 184.8km. The circuit was very undulating and had three small climbs, meaning that the race had traditionally suited the attackers who excel in hilly terrain.

 

The riders took the start under a cloudy sky and light rain was falling on the peloton as they headed out on the circuit for a very fast opening part of the race. While Ag2r-La Mondiale and Europcar controlled the race, lots of attacks were launched but for some time, no one was able to get clear.

 

The peloton splits

Armee de Terre took over the pace-setting to reel in a lone Ag2r rider and now the rain and wind had intensified. As a consequence, the peloton split in two and at the end of the first lap, the two groups were separated by 10 seconds.

 

A five-rider group escaped from the peloton and while more riders bridged across to make it a 20-rider breakaway that enjoyed a 10-second advantage, the two main groups merged. The lea group was soon brought back though as the riders again hit a windy section and suddenly it had split in two again.

 

A break is formed

While Sebatien Rosseler (Veranclassic) left the race, the 60-rider first group distanced the second group by 50 seconds. Meanwhile, the attacking continued and it was Julien Duval (Armee) who emerged as the lone leader from a 7-rider breakaway.

 

Hugo Houle (Ag2r), Kevin Reza (FDJ) and Bryan Nauleau (Europcar) bridged the gap and later Julien Guay (Auber 93) also made the junction. As Duval won the first KOM sprint ahead of Nauleau and Reza, the peloton slowed down and on the third lap, the five escapees were 0.30 ahead.

 

A 15-rider front group

The peloton made another big acceleration and in a matter of a few kilometres, the escapees were brought back. Instead, Maxime Renault (Auber 93) took off and he was being chased by a small chase group while the peloton was 15 seconds behind with 128km to go.

 

The chase group caught the lone attacker and suddenly a 15-rider group with Alexis Gougeard, Hugo Houle (AG2R La Mondiale), Kévin Reza (FDJ), Romain Feillu, Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne - Séché Environnement), Bryan Nauleau, Angelo Tulik, Alexandre Pichot (Team Europcar), Marco Marcato (Wanty - Groupe Gobert), Omar Fraile (Caja Rural - RGA Seguros), Romain Combaud (Armée de Terre), Maxime Renault (Auber 93), Timothy Dupont (Roubaix Lille Métropole), Julien El Farès (Marseille 13 KTM) and Sébastien Delfosse (Wallonie-Bruxelles) had formed. Thomas Sprengers (Topsport) and Rudy Kowalski (Roubaix) were 30 seconds behind while the peloton had already been distanced by 1.25 when 116km remained.

 

Cofidis lead the chase

Kowalski and Sprengers dangled at 30 seconds for a while before they fell back to the peloton which had been caught by the second bunch. With 100km to go, they were 2 minutes behind.

 

Cofidis had missed the move and so they started to chase. With 90km to go, the gap had been reduced to 30 seconds and for a long time, it hovered between the 30- and 45-second marks.

 

Topsport Vlaanderen take over

Topsport Vlaanderen took over from Cofidis and while the peloton started to split, the peloton started to lose ground. With four laps to go, the escapees had distanced the main group by 50 seconds.

 

Cofidis went back to work with the Topsport team but it didn’t have much of an effect as the gap increased to 1.10 with 58km to go. It even reached 1.20 when Cult came to the fore to do some chase work but it didn’t have any effect. With 39km to go, the gap was still 1.25.

 

Murias Taldea hit the front

At the start of the penultimate lap, the difference was 1.35 and now Cult gave up. The gap reached 1.55 before Murias Taldea hit the front and they managed to make a difference to reduce the deficit to 1.00 with 25km to go.

 

The attacking now started from the lead group and this immediately sent Feillu out the back door. As they started the final lap, he had already been caught by the peloton which was now only 45 seconds behind.

 

 

The gap went back up to 1.10 and this again opened the door for the escapees to attack each other. Gougeard made a big move and while he opened a gap, Pichot was distanced from the breakaway. He stayed clear for more than 5km before he was brought back and a 10-rider lead group was formed. It seemed that the race was over for the defending champion but he still had enough left to launch a race-winning move.

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