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Navardauskas makes a late attack the final time up the Cote de la Beucherie and puts 8 seconds into a small chase group to take both the stage win and the leader's jersey in the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe queen stage

Photo: RCS Sport










10.04.2014 @ 18:32 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

One day after finishing third in the time trial Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp) continued hi excellent performance at the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe when he won today's queen stage to move into the overall lead. The Lithuanian attacked the final time up the Cote de Beucherie which featured six times near the end and held off Julien Simon (Cofidis) and Anthony Roux (FDJ) by 4 seconds to position himself atop the leader board with just one stage remaining.


Yesterday Ramunas Navardauskas gave the first indications that he is riding really well at the moment when he finished third in the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe time trial. Today he confirmed his excellent condition when he took a solo win on the race's queen stage.


Sitting in third overall, Navardauskas bided his time in the peloton while first the Movistar team of race leader Alex Dowsett and later the IAM team set a hard tempo on the front of the peloton. The latter team had a clear intention of making the race as hard as possible to set up their climber Mathias Frank for an overall win and the final 10km finishing circuit with the Cote de la Beucherie was perfectly suited to doing some damage.


IAM's hard pace put an end to Dowsett's hopes of an overall victory as the British TT specialist was unbale to keep up with the main peloton. Their effort paid off as only 26 riders remained in the peloton by the time they hit the climb for the final time.


At this point, Francis Mourey (FDJ) had out in a solo move and it seemed that the Frenchman was about to repeat last year's solo win in a Sarthe stage. However, the Frenchman failed to hold off his chasers and on the slopes he was pegged back.


This was the signal for Navardauskas to launch his move and no one was able to stay with the strong Lithuanian. By the time, he crossed the line he had put 4 seconds into Julien Simon (Cofidis) and Anthony Roux (FDJ) who had taken off in pursuit. Fabio Felline (Trek) won the sprint of the small group of favourites another four seconds later.


Navardauskas not only took his first win of the season. With Dowsett having fallen behind and his teammate Rohan Dennis only having a 2-second advantage on GC, the Lithuanian moved into the overall lead. He takes a 16-second lead over Dennis into tomorrow's final stage which is another hilly affair. After a flat start, the riders end the race by doing 8 laps of a finishing circuit in La Ferte'Bernard that includes the short, steep Cote du Tertre. With the time gaps being small, all is still to play for in the short French race.


The queen stage

After two sprint stages and a time trial, it was time for the climbers to come to the fore in the fourth stage of the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe. The 196.2km stage started in Angers and after a flat opening part with only one categorized climb, it ended with 5 laps of a brutal 10km finishing circuit in Pre-en-Pail. The circuit included the short, steep Cote de la Beucherie that the riders would go up a total of 6 times. The finish line was located at the end of a false flat at the top of the climb.


The lumpy nature of the stage and the small 6-rider team invited to aggressive racing and many teams clearly had the intention of putting the Movistar team of race leader Alex Dowsett under hard pressure. BMC and Garmin-Sharp were very active in controlling the peloton in the early phase where several riders tried to take off.


A fast start

One of the riders to get a small gap in the hectic opening part of the race was Vegard Stake Laengen (Bretagne) but the young Norwegian failed to get clear. Instead, the attacking continued and after 20km of racing, things were still together.


Shortly after that point, the elastic finally snapped when Daniel  Oss (BMC), Michael Schwarzmann (NetApp-Endura), and Marco Minnaard (Wanty) took off. The peloton slowed down completely to take a short breather and at the 26km mark, the front trio were 1.05 ahead.


Movistar lead the chase

The gap kept growing and reached 2.05 after 30km of racing when Movistar decided to take control of the situation. The Spanish team set a steady pace on the front that kept the break in check but the advantage continued to grow very slowly.


When Oss beat Minnaard and Schwarzmann in the first intermediate sprint after 55.4km of racing, it was 2.40. The order of passage was exactly the same in the final two sprint and by the time they passed the third one after 78.5km, the advantage had gone up to 3.40.


Sprengers adds to his tally

Minnard beat Oss and Schwarzmann on the day's first climb to add to his KOM tally that he had started to open up when he was part of the escape on the opening day. Behind, KOM leader Thomas Sprengers (Topsport Vlaanderen) moved ahead to score the final point on offer.


The gap reached a maximum of 4.10 at the feed zone after 107km of racing. Having had the chance to refuel, the peloton upped the pace and started to close the gap. While Giant-Shimano captain Tobias Ludvigsson left the race, Movistar brought the gap down to 2.40 when they entered the finishing circuit 60km from the finish.


IAM up the pace

Movistar kept the gap stable between the 2- and 3-minute marks until they hit the climb for the second time. At this point, IAM showed their intentions as they put Gustav Larsson and Thomas Löfkvist on the front to make things harder.


Jasha Sütterlin and Jose Ivan Gutierrez who had done a lot of work for Dowsett where some of the first to fall off as the peloton was now exploding. Minnaard was the first to crest the summit to take maximum points in the KOM sprint ahead of Oss and Schwarzmann while Sprengers led Larsson and Löfkvist across the line in the peloton to again add to his tally.


The break is caught

At the finish line, the gap was down to just 40 seconds and moments later, the early escapees were swept up. Meanwhile, yesterday's stage winner Jonas Ahlstrand threw in the towel as the second Giant rider of the day.


IAM continued riding hard the third time up the climb and as they didn't slow down at the fourth passage, it was all over for Dowsett who fell off the pace. At this point Larsson and Löfkvist had ended their day, leaving it to Johann Tschopp and Stefan Denifl to do the damage.


Voeckler takes off

Tschopp led Denifl, Frank, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Angelo Tulik (Europcar)and Arnaud Gerard (Bretagne) over the top to score maximum points in the KOM sprint and his IAM team continued the pace-setting into the penultimate lap. On the climb, Voeckler took off and he was joined by Brice Feillu (Bretagne) and Nathan Haas (Garmin) to form a dangerous group.


Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) joined them but they were caught before the top. Instead, Mourey took off and he passed the line with a 22-second gap over the peloton.


He opened his advantage to 32 seconds over the 26-rider chase group but when he started the climb for the final time, it had come down to just 10 seconds. Moments later, he was brought back, setting the scene for Navardauskas' decisive attack.



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