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In an exciting uphill sprint on the 6km climb to the finish, Pinot narrowly beat Voeckler to win the first stage of the Tour du Gevaudan; the FDJ rider also takes the leader’s jersey with one stage to go

Photo: Sirotti

GROUPAMA-FDJ

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STEPHANE ROSSETTO

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THIBAUT PINOT

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THOMAS VOECKLER

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26.09.2015 @ 17:25 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) got the perfect confidence boost for Il Lombardia, his final big goal of the season, when he won today’s very hard first stage of the Tour du Gevaudan. On the 6km climb to the finish, it came down to an uphill sprint from a French quartet and here the FDJ captain narrowly held off Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) to take both the stage win and the leader’s jersey.

 

At the start of the year, Thibaut Pinot made it clear that he had one big desire for 2015: to win races again. He may have come up short in his GC quest at the Tour but when it comes to wins, he has been hugely successful.

 

Pinot won the queen stages in both the Tours de Romandie and Suisse and he conquered Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France. Now he has made Il Lombardia his final big goal of the year and today he continued his winning trend by taking the first stage of his final preparation race, the Tour du Gevaudan, thus boosting his confidence for the big target.

 

All day, Pinot showed his intentions as FDJ controlled the stage before Arnold Jeannesson and Kenny Elissonde whittled the peloton down on the penultimate of three big mountains in the tough opening stage. 23 riders were left by the time they got to the top where Jeannesson led his teammates Pinot and Elissonde across the line followed by Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty). Amets Txurruka, Pello Bilbao, Heinier Parra, Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural), Jeannesson, Pinot, Elissonde (FDJ), Romain Bardet, Vuillermoz, Hubert Dupont (Ag2r), Voeckler (Europcar), Gasparotto (Wanty), Pierrick Fedrigo, Jonathan Hivert (Bretagne), Yoann Bagot, Nicolas Edet, Rudy Molard, Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis), Guillaume Levarlet, Theo Vimpere (Auber 93), Garikoitz Bravo (Murias Taldea), Thomas Sprengers (Topsport) and Julien El Fares (Marseille) had made the selection.

 

When the peloton hit the final 6km climb that averaged 8%, it was Edet who started the attacking. He was joined by Bravo and they managed to build a 5-second advantage while Jeannesson was chasing in the group. Elissonde took over when the future Cofidis rider swung off and slowly reeled the two attackers back before dropping Fedrigo and Edet.

 

Defending champion Txurruka lost contact when 15 riders were left and El Fares was the next to surrender to Elissonde’s brutal pace. Next Molard also fell back.

 

The first favourite to make a move was Bardet but on one responded and instead Elissonde slowly reeled him in. Paying for his effort, the Ag2r rider was dropped alongside teammate Dupont.

 

Elissonde finally swung off with 3km to go, leaving just Pinot, Bagot, Rossetto, Bilbao and Voeckler in the lead group. Cofidis had two riders in the group so it was no surprise that Bagot made the first attack. However, it was unsuccessfull.

 

Pinot made the next acceleration which was enough to drop Bilbao who fell back to Hivert. Then it was Voeckler who made a move before Rossetto accelerated as they passed the flamme rouge.

 

Pinot briefly lost contact but made it back to Bagot, Rossetto and Voeckler. In the end, it came down to a photo finish between Voeckler and Pinot in the uphill sprint and it was the FDJ rider who came out on top.

 

With the win, Pinot also takes the first leader’s jersey in the race and now leads Voeckler by 4 seconds. He will try to defend it in tomorrow’s final stage which includes a big category 1 climb at the midpoint and two passages of the well-known Montee Laurent Jalabert in Mende in the second half of the race. However, the finale passage comes 20km from the finish and after the descent it is a flat run to the finish.

 

The queen stage

The 2015 Tour du Gevaudan kicked off with a 151km stage that brought the riders from Marvejols to a summit finish on the Colde la Pierre Plate in Florac. After a lumpy first half, the riders would tackle the category 1 Col du Sapet at the midpoint before the descended to the bottom of the category 1 Col de Solpiere. Right after the descent from that climb, they hit the bottom of the final ascent.

 

It was a great sunny day when the riders gathered for the start and they got it off to a fast opening phase. Maxime Cam (Bretagne) attacked as soon as the flat was dropped and he was quickly joined by Antonio Molina (Caja Rural) and Daniel Lehner (Vorarlberg). The trio stayed clear until the 5km mark where they were caught.

 

Five riders get clear

Instead, Frédéric Brun (Bretagne), Loïc Chetout (Cofidis), Romain Guillemois (Europcar), Beñat Txoporena (Murias) and Lukas Meiler (Vorarlberg) got clear and they were allowed to build an advantage of 50 seconds before FDJ started to control things. However, they were not chasing yet and so the gap was already 2.40 at the 11km mark.

 

Ag2r started to ride on the front as the gap had gone out to 3 minutes after14km of racing. That was as much as they would get as Ag2r and FDJ combined forces to keep it between 2.00 and 3.00 for a while. At the 50km mark, the gap was exactly 2.30 and it was 2.25 11km later.

 

Txoperena attacks

Meiler beat Chetout and Txoperena in the first sprint before they hit the first climb with and advantage of 2.35. As they started to lose ground, Txoperena decided to attack 1km from the summit and as he reached the top, he has a 100m advantage over Brun, Chetout and Guillemois while Meiler was 100m further adrift and the peloton at 2.05. Guillemois led Brun and Chetout across the line to take second in the KOM sprint while Blel Kadri (Ag2r) was first from the peloton.

 

The three Frenchmen quickly rejoined Txoperena and Meiler also ultimately made it back. However, FDJ and Ag2r were not slowing down and when they entered the final 50km, the gap was only 1.25.

 

The peloton explodes

Chetoy beat Meiler, Txoperena and Guillemois in the second sprint before they started to climb the second ascent. Here Meiler was dropped almost immediately while the peloton quickly brought the gap down to less than a minute.

 

Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) became the first rider to abandon as the slopes made the peloton explode. Vincent Jérôme (Team Europcar), Yannick Eijssen (Wanty Group Gobert), Alo Jakin, Flavien Dassonville (Auber 93), Kevyn Ista (Wallonie-Brussels) and Nicolas Baldo (Team Vorarlberg) were among the many riders to get dropped.

 

The peloton managed to neutralize the break before they got to the summit and it was FDJ that did the damage. Kadri and his teammate Christophe Riblon were among the riders to surrender to the hard pace as less than 40 riders were now left in the group and later Remy Di Gregorio (Marseille) and Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) also fell back. At the top, only 23 riders had survived to make it into the exciting finale where Pinot came out on top.

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