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Frenchman holds off select group on difficult finishing circuit to take his first season victory and the overall lead

Photo: Sirotti

CIRCUIT CYCLISTE SARTHE

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PIERRE ROLLAND

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04.04.2013 @ 18:08 Posted by Frederik Palle Pedersen

Pierre Rolland (Europcar) attacked on the hard finishing circuit in the queen stage of the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe to take a stunning solo victory. Behind, race leader Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge) cracked on the steep climbs and had to give away they leader's jersey to the day's victorious Frenchman.

 

Pierre Rolland had been quiet so far this season, but he now seems to come into form. He seized an opportunity with 25km to go in today's stage of the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe and accelerated off the front with David De La Cruz (NetApp-Endura).

 

The duo quickly bridged the gap to an earlier breakaway, and as the repetition of a hard climb on the finishing circuit wore down the legs of their fellow escapees, the duo set off alone. On the last lap of the 10km finishing circuit, the Frenchman managed to drop his companion and he soloed off to take an impressive solo win.

 

Behind the peloton exploded on the hard circuit, and only 19 riders were left in the peloton on the final lap of the circuit. Rolland's teammate Thomas Voeckler did an outstanding job to disturb the chase and played a major role in the victory.

 

Stefan Denifl (IAM) managed to slip off the front inside the final kilometres of the race, and he set off in pursuit of Rolland. He failed to close the gap, but took a fine 2nd place while Tobias Ludvigsson (Argos-Shimano) won the sprint of the 18-rider peloton to take 3rd.

 

Race leader Luke Durbridge cracked on the climbs and lost almost 5 minutes on an incredibly hard day of racing. Instead, Rolland took over the lead with a 10 second gap to the duo of Jan Barta (NetApp-Endura) and Ludvigsson. He will try to defend the leader's jersey in tomorrow's final stage of the race.

 

An early break

The fourth stage was the race's queen stage, and the 188,7km leg finished with 6 laps of a hard finishing circuit containing an 8% climb. With snow falling at the finish line, the riders faced another epic day of racing in the unusually cold European spring.

 

With teams only consisting of 6 riders, the hard stage would be difficult to control, and so many riders fancied their chances in the day's early breakaway. After an aggressive start, the race finally calmed day when Jimmy Engoulvent (Sojasun), Cyril Bessy (Cofidis) and Marco Coledan (Bardiani) took off.

 

The trio was allowed to build up a gap of around 5 minutes, and the gap was kept stable by the Orica-GreenEdge team of race leader Durbridge throughout most of the day. As they approached the final circuit, the Radioshack team of 2nd placed Bob Jungels joined the Australian team at the front, and the gap started to come down rapidly.

 

Riders join from behind

As soon as they hit the hard finishing circuit, a group containing Sebastien Duret (Bretagne), Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r) and Kevin Reza (Europcar) took off and they quickly closed the gap to the day's early escape. Behind, it was the IAM team of Denifl and Thomas Löfkvist at the head of the peloton.

 

On the fourth lap, Rolland and De La Cruz accelerated off the front and they quickly managed to close the 35 second gap to the front group. Bessy, Engoulvent, Coledan and Duret were dropped, and Rolland, Reza, Mondory and De La Cruz were now alone in the lead.

 

Behind, Durbridge could not keep up with the peloton whose size was dramatically reduced by the repeated climbs. On the penultimate lap, Reza and Mondory were dropped, and Rolland now only had De La Cruz for company.

 

De La Cruz cracks

As they started the final, they still had 22 seconds on their chasers. Moments later, De La Cruz could not keep up with his French companion, and he was caught by the peloton. Voeckler controlled all attacks in impressive fashion until Denifl finally managed to get clear.

 

The Austrian reduced the gap to Rolland considerably, but at the finish line, he was still 9 seconds short. Rolland took an impressive solo victory and is now poised for an overall triumph at the conclusion of tomorrow's final stage.

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