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After a bold attack with 33km to go, Naesen beat Bettiol in a 2-rider sprint at the WorldTour Bretagne Classic; defending champion Kristoff won the sprint for third

Photo: A.S.O.










28.08.2016 @ 18:21 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Oliver Naesen (IAM) delivered one of the biggest surprises of the 2016 season when he rode to victory in a star-studded 80th edition of the Bretagne Classic, formerly known as GP Plouay. Having attacked with 33km to go, he joined forces with Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale) and Guillaume Martin (Wanty) and after having dropped the latter, he beat the Italian in a two-rider sprint. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) won the sprint for third and so missed out on a repeat win in the French race.


In 2014, Oliver Naesen impressed a lot during his time as stagiaire at the Lotto Soudal team but he didn’t get much attention as he was partly overshadowed by Tiesj Benoot. While the latter was signed by the Belgian WorldTour team, Naesen had to spend a year on pro continental level at Topsport Vlaanderen.


However, it was evident that he was destined for big things in the classics and it only became more evident when he finished 7th in the Belgium Tour, 6th in the Tour of Luxembourg, 2nd in Schaal Sels and 3rd in GP Stad Zottegem and crowned it all with a big win at La Poly Normande and in the smaller Gooikse Pijl. Hence, it was no surprise that he was picked up by the IAM team for the 2016 season.


Bad luck partly destroyed his classics season but a 13th place in Paris-Roubaix was a confirmation of the potential. He even earned selection for the Tour de France but we had to wait until today to get the final proof that a new classics star is born. The Belgian talent delivered one of the biggest surprises of the season when he won a star-studded edition of the Bretagne Classic which was formerly known as GP Plouay.


Knowing that he had little chance against the likes of Kristoff, Degenkolb and Bouhanni in a sprint, Naesen grabbed his opportunity with 33km to go when he attacked alongside Alberto Bettiol, Guilaume Martin and Alexis Gougeard. After the latter two had been dropped, the leading pair dug deep to keep the peloton at bay and finally Naesen managed to beat Bettiol in a sprint before a disappointed Kristoff led the peloton home for third place.


The decisive move was formed with 33km to go at a point where lots of attacks had created chaos in the peloton. A 25-rider group had gathered in the front but there were not cooperating well.

Martin attacked and was joined Naesen, Bettiol and Gougeard to form a quartet that quickly got a big advantage over the chase group. Daniel Oss (BMC) worked hard in the second group but they failed to stay clear and so they were soon brought back but then the Italian started to ride on the front to set up Van Avermaet for the win.


As they hit the next climb, Bettiol set a fast pace which made Goigeard explode and so only a trio was left as they reached the op. In the peloton, Oss set a brutal pace that saw one of te favourites, Giacomo Nizzolo, suffer at the back of the group.


As the peloton approached the top, Jesus Herrada (Movistar) attacked and he immediately bridged the gap to Gougeard. However, the peloton was not far behind as Oss was still chasing hard.


The front trio hit the final 25km with a 40-second advantage over the peloton. At the same time, the attacking continued in the peloton and it was a group with Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky), Jonathan Fumeaux (IAM), Sam Oomen (Giant-Alpecin), Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL), Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida, a  Delko rider and Carlos Verona (Orica) that caught Herrada and Gougeard.


As they headed up the next climb, Nordhaug desperately tried to keep the chase group going, dropping Gougeard in the process, but the peloton was breathing down their necks as BMC were chasing hard with the likes of Marcus Burghardt and Michael Schär. Hence, they soon gave up but before the junction was made, Vanmarcke and the Delko rider attacked again.


Vanmarcke dropped his companion and soloed towards the front trio. However, he was almost a minute behind when he crossed the line for the first time with 14km to go. The peloton reached the finish with a loss of 1.00 led by Marco Haller (Katusha) and Geoffrey Soupe (Cofidis).


Soupe took a massive turn to bring Vanmarcke back with 12km to go and then kept riding hard as they tackled the first of the two climbs on the circuit. Mathew Hayman then took over for Orica-Bike Exchange and then Marco Haller (Katusha), Davide Martinelli (Etixx) and Ben Swift (Sky) also started to chase hard.


Hayman, Swift, Michael Albasini (Orica), Haller and Martinelli traded pulls but the gap was still 55 seconds with 8km to go. Albasini took a huge turn but when he swung off with 6km to go, the gap was still 25 seconds.


Julien Vermote (Etixx-QuickStep), Jacopo Guarnieri (Katusha) and Luke Durbridge (Orica-BikeExchange) took over the pace-setting before they hit the final climb. Here the front group split up as Martin was dropped.


Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange) attacked hard in the peloton and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and ui Costa (Lampre-Meria) followed. Van Avermaet then increased the pace even further and only Costa could follow.


Costa and Van Avermaet caught Martin but they were soon brought back by a chase group with the likes of Roman Kreuziger and Sonny Colbrelli. However, there was no cooperation and so the group was brought back.


Bettiol and Naesen dug deep and still had a nice advantage as they passed the flamme rouge. At this point, it was clear that they would stay away and the battle for the win could start.


Bettiol was on the front as they headed down the finishing straight and he decided to launch his sprint from the first position. However, Naesen reacted immediately and easily came around to take the biggest win of his career. Bettiol crossed the line two seconds later before Alexander Kristoff beat Michael Matthews and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) in the sprint for third.


With Bretagne Classic done and dusted, the next events on the WorldTour are the Canadian Classics GP Quebec and GP Montreal which are held on September 9 and 11 respectively. The next major event in France is Sunday’s GP de Fourmies which is the next race in the Coupe de France series.


A new course

The 80th edition of the Bretagne Classic was held on a new 247km course around the city of Plouay. Instead of the usual circuit format, the race started with a big loop of 235 through the lumpy Breton terrain. On a route full of ups and downs, the riders tackled seven categorized climbs before they crossed the line for the first time. In the end, they did one lap of the well-known 13.9km circuit that included two climbs, most notably the famous Ty Marrec which summited just 4km from the slightly downhill finish.


The riders had cloudy and windy conditions when they gathered for the start and as always in the French classic, there were numerous attacks right from the beginning. The opening phase resulted in the formation of an 8-rider break of Simone Andreetta (Bardiani), Jack Bauer (Cannondale), Jan-Marc Bideau (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Romain Combaud (Delko), Damien Gaudin (Ag2r), Olivier Le Gac (FDJ), Matej Mohoric (Lampre-Merida) and Alexandre Pichot (Direct Energie) which had a 6-minute advantage after an hour of racing.


Sagan abandons

Unsurprisingly, Giacomo Nizzolo’s Trek team and Kristoff’s Katusha teammates took control and it was Eugenio Alafaci and Ilnur Zakarin who did the early work. They had reduced the gap to 4.45 as they entered the final 150km and they worked well together to keep it stable for a while.


World champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) was forced to abandon due to illness and Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) briefly hit the deck as rain was falling on the riders. With 120km to go, the gap was down to 3.20 but it had gone out to 3.47 as they hit the final 100km.


Three teams in control

Cofidis came to the fore to lend Trek and Katusha a hand and it was Nicolas Edet who did the early work for the Frenchmen. With 80km to go, the gap was already down to 1.35 and as it was too early to catch the break, Trek and Katusha stopped their work. Instead, it was left to Edet to keep the big break under control.


Trek and Katusha returned to the front and kept the gap stable at around 1.30 while they briefly faced some rain. The American team then took full control with Alafaci and made sure that the gap was still 1.25 with they hit a small climb with 60km to go.


Etixx-QuickStep increase the pace

As they went up the small hill, Iljo Keisse increased the pace for Etixx-QuickStep and the peloton started to splinter. Among the riders to suffer at the rear end of the field was Lampre-Merida sprinter Davide Cimolai.


Keisse maintained his speed after the climb and reduced the gap to a minute as they hit the final 55km. As they hit the next climb, the attacking started and it was Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal) who opened the game. Marcus Burghardt (BMC) and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) were also active but it was impossible to get clear.


A big group gets clear

The attacks had a big effect on the gap which was down to 10 seconds when they hit the next climb. This prompted Bauer to attack but he could only get rid of Gaudin.


The attacking continued in the peloton and suddenly a big group with the likes of Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale), Gougeard, Jacopo Guarnieri (Karusha), Jasper Stuyven (Trek), Daniel Oss (BMC), Giacomo izzolo (Trek), Davide Martinelli (Etixx-QuickStep), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Oscar Gatto (Tinkoff) caught the leaders. This was a dangerous situation for the peloton and as they increased the pace, one of the favourites Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was dropped from the peloton.


A strong 8-rider group

Gougard was very keen on keeping the break going and he managed to create a small group that also included Mohoric, Bauer, Oss, Martinelli and Guarnieri. Carlos Verona (Orica-BikeExchange) and Romain Combaud (Delko) rider joined the move and the 8-rider group worked well together to get a solid advantage.


The rest of the attackers were brought back but as there was no cohesion in the peloton, the attacks continued. Wanty were active but it was Stuyven and Michael Albasini (Orica-BikeExchange) show managed to bridge across.


A bigger group with Gorka Izagirre, Gianni Moscon, Marco Marcato, Wim Wellens, Oliver Naesen, Simon Geschke and Alberto Bettiol were the next to bridge the gap and this prompted Oss and Gougeard to try to split the group. However, they had no luck and instead the group failed to work together. That allowed another big group to latch onto the back and suddenly more than 20 riders had gathered with 33km to go. Moments later, Martin attacked and this was the start of the race-winning move.



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