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With a powerful acceleration on the uphill finishing straight, Slagter held off an elite field of puncheurs to win stage 1 and take the lead at the Tour du Haut Var; Vichot was second and Cherel was third

Photo: Sirotti

ARTHUR VICHOT

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EF EDUCATION - EASYPOST

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MIKAEL CHEREL

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TOM-JELTE SLAGTER

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TOUR DU HAUT VAR

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20.02.2016 @ 18:43 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale) confirmed that he is a man for the early season by claiming an impressive victory in the first stage of the Tour du Haut Var. With a powerful surge 400m from the line on the uphill finishing straight, he managed to hold off Arthur Vichot (FDJ) and Mikael Cherel (Ag2r) to claim both the stage win and the overall lead.

 

Tom-Jelte Slagter has often proved that he is in excellent form in the early part of the year. In 2013 he won the Tour Down Under overall and one year later he won two stages in Paris-Nice.

 

This year he has had a slower start in Mallorca and Valencia and so he has flown a bit under the radar for this week’s Tour du Haut Var. However, it was always obvious that the lumpy terrain in France is tailor-made for the classics specialist and today he proved his skills by opening his account and again get his season off to a flying start.

 

The tough course featured two passages of the Col du Blavet, with the final passage coming just 21.1km from the finish and leading to two laps of a lumpy 7.5km finishing circuit that had an uphill finishing straight. At the bottom of the climb, the trio of Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Pierre Latour (Ag2r) and Franck Bonnamour (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) were dangling just 50 seconds ahead of the reduced peloton which had been led by Movistar, FDJ and Lampre-Merida.

 

As the gap was down to 10 seconds, Jerome Cousin (Cofidis) attacked and he bridged across to De Marchi and Latour who had dropped Bonnamour. Meanwhile, Antonio Pedrero, Fabricio Ferrari, Mattia Cattaneo and Calleuw were among the many riders to get dropped.

 

Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) managed to join the leaders but 500m from the top, it was all back together. Jesus Herrada (Movistar) beat Cousin, Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Calmejane and Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) in the KOM sprint.

 

It was a reduced peloton that descended to the finish line where they started the first lap of the lumpy 7.5km finishing circuit. Movistar were now in full control and it was Jose Herrada who led his teammates Dayer Quintana and Jesus Herrada across the line to win the second intermediate sprint.

 

Movistar maintained the speed for most of the first lap until FDJ came to the fore. Geniez led teammates Anthony Roux and Kevin Reza across the line to win the final intermediate sprint and start the final lap.

 

The tough circuit took its toll and fast riders like Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis), Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie) and Reza were all distanced. Meanwhile, Antonio Pedrero (Movistar) made an attack with 4km to go.

 

The Spaniard dug deep to maintain a small advantage before he was joined by Anthony Turgis (Cofidis). The Frenchman left his Spanish companion before he passed the flamme rouge as the lone leader.

 

However, he was brought back with 500m to go where a few riders tried to attack. However, it was Slagter who timed his move perfectly with 400m to go. No one was able to bring him back and he narrowly held of Arthur Vichot and Mikael Cherel who led a splintering peloton across the line in the same time as Slagter.

 

Only 13 riders got the same time as Slagter who is the first leader of the race but as there are no bonus seconds, they all have the same time in the standings.He will try to win the race overall in tomorrow’s harder second and final stage. The first part of the stage includes two circuits that will see the riders tackle the Tourtour climb thrice and the Col de la Grange twice before they return to the finish. Here they will first do one lap of a flat circuit and then another circuit with the difficult Les Tuilieres climb just 14.6km from the flat finish in Draguignan.

 

A hilly opener

The 38th edition of the Tour du Haut Var kicked off with a 155km stage that brought the riders from Le Cannet des Maures to Bagnols en Foret. After lumpy first part with a first passage of the category 2 Col du Blavet (7km, 5%), the riders crossed the finish line for the first time with 92.6km to go. Then they tackled a big circuit that included the walls in Montauroux and Fayence and another passage of the Col du Blavet with 21.1km to go. In the end they did two laps of a 7.5km finishing circuit that included a slightly rising finishing straight.

 

There was bright sunshine and almost no wind when the riders gathered for the start. All riders that had been registered for the race, were present as they rolled out for their neutral ride.

 

A six-rider break is formed

 As always in Haut Var, it was a fast start, and four riders first made a failed attack. Instead, Pierre Latour (Ag2r), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Franck Bonnamour (Fortuneo) and Daniele Ratto (Androni) tried their hand and they worked hard to maintain a 10-second advantage.

 

Gaetan Pons (Wallonie) and Joeri Calleeuw (Verandas Willems) joined the move before the peloton sat up and allowed the gap to grow. After 10km of racing, it had already gone out to 2.30 and five kilometres later it was 4.25.

 

Cofidis and FDJ up the pace

No one took the initiative in the peloton and so the six riders managed to push their advantage out to 6.30 after 25km of racing. That’s when Cofidis started to chase and during the next 10 kilometres they reduced the gap by 15 seconds.

 

FDJ took over the pace-setting and that had a bigger effect as the gap was down to 5.40 at the 33km mark. It was down to 5.05 as they started to climb the Col du Blavet for the first time where Pons won the KOM sprint ahead of Calleuw, Ratto, Bonnamour and Latour.

 

Movistar up the pace

At the top of the climb, FDJ had reduced the gap to 4.05 and they maintained their speed to reduce it to 3.15 by the time Ratto beat Bonnamour and De Marchi in the first intermediate sprint at the first passage of the line. It was down to 2.35 as they hit the Mur in Montauroux.

 

Movistar decided to up the pace and dropped several riders, including Julien Duval, Pierre Gouault, Yannis Yssaad, Blel Kadri, Tim De Troyer and Gaetan Bille. However, the pace went down after the climb and everybody managed to rejoin the bunch.

 

Lampre-Merida come to the fore

With 70km to go, the gap was still 2.35 as they headed towards the Mur de Gayence. Here Lampre-Merida joined forces with Movistar and sent riders like uval, Yssaad, Bille and Florent Perreira out the back door.

 

Lampre-Merida were now in the driving seat 2.40 behind the escapees but they accelerated hard during the next few kilometres. With 51km to go, the gap was only 1.35 and many of the riders that had been dropped failed to rejoin the peloton.

 

The peloton splits up

The break split up in the hilly terrain and with 45km to go, De Marchi, Bonnamor and Latour were leading Ratto and Pons by 15 seconds while Calleeuw was at 35 seconds. The latter was quickly brought back while the chase duo were still 15 seconds behind with 35km to go. At this point the peloton was at 1.20.

 

With 30km to go, the gap had dropped to 50 seconds before they hit the final climb. The chasers were brought back on the lower slopes where the peloton splintered, setting the scene for the exciting finale.

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