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Mezgec survived the tough climbing in the Tour du Haut Var queen stage before beating Gilbert and Planckaert in a sprint from a reduced group; Gastauer won the race overall

Photo: Sirotti

AG2R CITROEN TEAM

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BAPTISTE PLANCKAERT

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BEN GASTAUER

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JONATHAN HIVERT

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LUKA MEZGEC

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PHILIPPE GILBERT

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TOUR DU HAUT VAR

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22.02.2015 @ 17:37 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Luka Mezgec (Giant-Alpecin) made use of his great combination of climbing and sprinting skills when he came out on top in the final stage of the Tour du Haut Var. The Slovenian survived the many steep slimbs on the hard course to make it into a select group that sprinted for the win and here he beat Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Baptiste Planckaert (Roubaix) to take his first win of the season. Ben Gastauer and his Ag2r team did everything to perfection and so the Luxembourger won the race overall.

 

In his first two years at the professional level, Luka Mezgec has established himself as one of the best climbers among the sprinters. Last year he made use of that great combination of speed and climbing legs to win three stages in the hilly Volta a Catalunya and he has made it a big goal to target stage wins in hilly races that are too hard for the pure sprinters.

 

Hence, the Tour du Haut Var was an evident target for the Slovenian and after he had worked for Chad Haga in yesterday’s uphill sprint, today’s queen stage was his chance to shine. The hilly course was loaded with tough ascents but the final difficulty, Cote de Tullieres, summited 15km from the finish, leaving time for a regrouping to take place in time for a sprint from a reduced peloton.

 

That was exactly what happened. After his Giant-Alpecin team had helped Ag2r chase down a strong early break, Mezgec dug deep on the final climb to make it into the small group that emerged at the top. However, the situation was a dangerous one as Julien Loubet (Marseille) and Davide Rebellin (CCC) had escaped on the climb.

 

Luckily, he found an ally in the strong Ag2r team which was riding for overall leader Ben Gastauer and they brought the strong duo back. Lots of new attacks took place in the hectic finale but the French team had everything under control, with Gastauer even contributing to the work himself.

 

Hence, it came down to the expected sprint and here it was no surprise that Mezgec was the fastest among those who had made the selection. He held off Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Baptiste Planckaert (Roubaix) to open his 215 account.

 

Gastauer finished safely in the bunch and as there are no bonus seconds in the French race, he defended his 7-second lead. Gilbert used his good result to move into second while Jonathan Hivert (Bretagne) completed the podium.

 

Gilbert’s consistent performances allowed him to win the points classification while Ignatas Konovalovas (Marseille) took the mountains jersey. Ag2r crowned their great work by taking the win in the teams competition.

 

Many of the protagonists from the Tour du Haut Var will be back in action next weekend when racing in France resumes with a pair of hilly one-day races. While the classics specialists will be riding on the cobbles in Belgium, the Ardennes riders will test themselves in the Boucles du Sud-Ardeche and the Drome Classic.

 

The queen stage

After the tricky opener, the Tour du Haut Var ended with its hardest stage that brought the riders over 194.7km from a start in Draguignan and back to the traditional finish in the same city. As usual in Haut Var, it was a day of constant ups and downs and twisting roads as the riders tackled four bigger climbs in the first two thirds of the race. A long descent led to the tricky finale where the riders tackled the difficult Les Tullieres climb just 15km from the finish before they descended back to a flat finish in Draguignan.

 

After the brutal weather conditions for the first stage, the riders were pleased to find nice winter sunshine and 12-degree temperatures at the start. However, the entire Cult team didn’t get to enjoy the weather as a robbery prevented them from starting the race. Rick Zabel (BMC) and Alexandre Pichot (Europcar) were the other two non-starters.

 

Lots of attacks

Antoine Demoitie (Wallonie) was the first attacker of the day and he was quickly joined by Albert Timmer (Giant-Alpecin). Another 5 riders bridged the gap but at the 4km mark, it was all back together.

 

The attacking continued and the fast pace unfortunately caused a crash that forced Stephane Rosseto (Cofidis) to abandon. After 15km of racing, a dangerous 15-rider move was briefly formed but they were quickly brought back.

 

A dangerous group

The fast pace created a split in the peloton and it took some time for the second group to rejoin the first one. At the same time, the hilly course was too hard for many riders who got dropped.

 

After 26km of racing, Rudy Molard (Cofidis) launched a promising move and he was quickly joined by Pierrick Fedrigo (Bretagne) and Nikolay Mihaylov (CCC). Yoann Paillot (Marseille), Tom Dernies (Wallonie) and Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar) also made it across. Suddenly, the group had grown to 27 riders abut shortly after Jimmy Turgis (Roubaix) beat Brice Feillu (Bretagne) and Timmer in the first intermediate sprint, it was back together.

 

The break is formed

The riders now hit the Tourtour climb and this was the scene of an attack from Turgis, Timmer, Steven Tronet (Auber 93) and Serge Dewortelaer (Veranclassic). Another 7 riders bridged the gap and it was Timmer who led Dewortelaer, Jussi Veikkanen (FDJ), Jerome Cousin (Europcar) and Turgis over the top.

 

At the 48km mark, the break was caught and 6km later, it was still together despite the many attacks. After 60km of fast racing, the elastic finally snapped when Johan Le Bon (FDJ), Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Yannick Martinez (Europcar), Anthony Turgis (Cofidis), Nikolay Mihaylov (CCC Sprandi), Ignatas Konovalovas (Marseille 13 KTM), Julien Guay (Auber 93), Antoine Demoitié ( Wallonia - Brussels) and Serge Dewortelaer (Veranclassic - Ekoï) got clear.

 

Ag2r in control

They had to work hard to get an advantage but the peloton finally slowed down. With 129km to go, the 9 riders were 1.05 ahead and as they started the Tourtour again, they had increased it to 1.45. At this point, however, Ag2r took control of the peloton and kept the gap stable at between 1.20 and 1.45 for alittle while.

 

Konovalovas consolidated his lead in the mountains competition by beating Dewortelaer, Guay, Le Bon and Demoitie in the KOM sprint. At the top of the Col de la Grange, he was again the fastest as the same five riders occupied the first 5 spots in the same order.

 

More points for Konovalovas

Ag2r loosened their group a bit and allowed the gap to reach a maximum of 1.55 with 77km to go. The riders now hit the Col de la Grange for the second time and here the gap started to come down, reaching 1.25 halfway up the slopes.

 

Turgis decided to attack and he was chased by Dewortelaer while Le Bon, Demoitie and Mihaylov were suffering. At the top of the climb, however, 8 of the riders were back together as only Mihaylov was unable to get back. Konovalovas led Turgis and Le Bon over the top while the peloton was 1.55 behind.

 

The gap comes down

Mihaylov was caught by the peloton which was still 1.55 behind with 56km to go. Ag2r gradually started to wind up the pace and with 40km to go, they had reduced their deficit to 1.10.

 

At the first passage of the finish line with 38km to go, the gap was 1.05 and it was Belkov who led Demotie and Konovalovas to win the intermediate sprint. The reduced advantage prompted Jean-Marc Bideau (Bretagne) to try to bridge across and he managed to get to within 30 seconds before he started to lose ground.

 

Le Bon takes off

Now it was time for the attacking to start and it was Le Bon who opened the action. Turgis took off in pursuit while the rest of the group split up, with Belkov, Guay and Demoitie being in a third group and Martinez and Dewortelaer being fourth on the road. Konovalovas paid the price for two days of attacking and got dropped.

 

Turgis, Belkov, Demoitie and Guay joined forces while the rest of the attackers were all caught but as they crossed the line for the second time to start the difficult final circuit with the Tullieres, they had lost 1 minute to Le Bon while the peloton was at 1.35. Moments later, the four chasers were caught and now Le Bon was also losing ground.

 

Rebellin and Loubet escape

Giant-Alpecin and Ag2r were now chasing hard and before they hit the climb, the lone leader was caught. This set the scene for a big battle on the steep slopes and it was Davide Rebellin (CCC) and Julien Loubet (Marseille) who managed to build a 15-second advantage at the top where the Italian took maximum points ahead of the Frenchman, Pierrick Fedrigo (Bretagne), Julien El Fares (Marseille) and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r).

 

The two attackers were caught on the descent and instead Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r), Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and Fedrigo escaped. They were brought back too as a reduced peloton headed towards the finish.

 

Lots of new attacks were launched but Ag2r controlled everything firmly and it was even Gastauer himself who brought a late attack from an Armee rider back. In the end, the riders sprinted for the win and here Mezgec came out of top. 

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