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After an impressive lead-out by the Cofidis team, Bouhanni powered clear to easily distance Vallee and Barbier in the GP de Denain and so defended his title in the French sprint race

Photo: Sirotti






16.04.2015 @ 16:40 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After a slow start to the season, Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) continued his recent momentum when he took a hugely dominant win in the Grand Prix de Denain. Having been given the perfect lead-out by a very strong Cofidis team, he was a class of his own in the bunch sprint and easily relegated Boris Vallee (Lotto Soudal) and Rudy Barbier (Roubaix) to the minor podium positions.


After several years with a lack of success, Cofidis signed Nacer Bouhanni to significantly increase their victory tally in 2015. In addition to the French fastman, they signed several lead-out riders in an attempt to build one of the strongest lead-out trains in the business.


However, nothing worked for the new formation in the first part of the year as Bouhanni failed in several bunch sprints during the months of January, February and March. The sprinter didn’t seem to have his usual speed and the lead-out train clearly didn’t work in the way the team had hoped for.


Hence, Bouhanni went into the month of April without any victories but now he has finally got the ball rolling. After two stage victories in the Circuit de la Sarthe, he took his third win in less than two weeks by defending his title in the Grand Prix de Denain.


The race is known as the French sprint championships as the flat course and long finishing straight makes it a treat for the fast finishers and most of the greatest French sprinters have excelled in Denain. Furthermore, the race is an important part of the Coupe de France race series which makes it a hotly contested affair.


Today most of the fastest Frenchmen were again at the start, with Arnaud Demare (FDJ) being the notable absentee, and as expected it all came down to a bunch sprint. Here Cofidis proved that they have learnt from their mistakes as they delivered a flawless performance to deliver Bouhanni to another victory.


With 5km to go, the French team kicked into action when Gert Joeaar, Florian Senechal, Kenneth Vanbilsen, Christope Laporte, Geoffrey Soupe and Bouhanni hit the front. They briefly allowed Wanty to take over and loomed behind when the Belgian team brought back lone escapee Alexandre Geniez (FDJ).


With 4km to go, Senechal passed the fading Wanty riders to again position the train on the front while everybody fought hard for position behind the dominant team. Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) moved up alongside the French riders, with his teammates Jasper de Buyst and Brois Vallee slotting in behind Bouhanni before the young Belgian hit the front.


Vanbilsen took over for a short turn before a Roompot rider gave them a chance to breathe. As they passed the flamme rouge, it was Laporte who kicked into action and from there it was Cofidis all over the place.


Soupe made his lead-out with 500m to go and when Raymond Kreder (Roompot) and Bryan Coquard (Europcar) tried to anticipate, Bouhanni launched his effort. No one was even close to the Cofidis sprinter who only had to ride for a short while before he could set up to celebrate his win, with Vallee and Rudy Barbier completing the podium.


With the win, Bouhanni also takes over the lead in the Coupe de France series but he is unlikely to defend his position as he will skip the next two races which will be held in Bretagne in the weekend. On Saturday, Coquard will try to defend his title in the hilly Tour du Finistere while the gravel roads of Tro Bro Leon will test the riders on Sunday.


A sprint race

The 2015 edition of the GP de Denain was held on a 198.3km course that started and finished in Denain and was made up of several almost completely flat circuits. First the riders did one lap of a big 93.9km circuit that included five smaller climbs in the first part and then they tackled a flat 42.5km loop. Finally the race ended with three laps of a 20.6km circuit that had no topographical challenges and where all was expected to come down to a sprint on the long finishing straight in Denain.


The riders gathered in Denain on a beautiful day in France and took the start under a beautiful sunny sky. However, there was a rather strong wind which could potentially wreak some havoc on a field that was mostly intent on a sprint finish.


A fast start

Despite the reputation as a race for sprinters, the riders got the race off to a very fast start with lots of attacks and when Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) was the first rider at the top of the second climb at the 15km mark, no one had escaped. Moments later, Yoann Paillot (Marseille) and Jonathan Dufrasne (Wallonie) managed to build a 50-rider advantage and for a moment, it seemed like the break had been formed. After 43km of racing, however, it was all back together.


The attacking continued but when Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r) left the race at the 69km mark, no one had managed to escape. At this point, a big crash brought down a few riders, including one from Ag2r.


The break gets clear

The crash may have prompted the peloton to slow down as Sebastien Turgot (Ag2r), Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) and Ludwig De Winter (Wallonie) escaped at this point. At the 79km mark, they had built an advantage of 3 minutes but the peloton had no intent of leaving them more room as the situation now stabilized.


Unsurprisingly, it was Cofidis who took complete control, with Dominique Rollin doing a great job to single-handedly keep the gap around 3 minutes for most of the stage. Meanwhile, there was a pretty relaxed atmosphere in the peloton as the wind was clearly not strong enough to split the field.


Cofidis set a steady pace

With 70km to go, the riders approached the finishing circuit and this signaled the start for more teams to move up. When the riders crossed the finish line for the first time, the gap was 2.50 and there was now a bigger fight for position.


Cofidis now gathered most of the team on the front while Rollin continued to keep the gap stable at around 2.45. With 51km to go, he got some help from Simone Andreeta (Bardiani) who wanted to set Nicola Ruffoni up for the sprint but the Canadian had to ask the Italian to slow down as he didn’t want to catch the break too early.


Pirazzi start to chase

Bardiani added a bit more firepower to the chase when Stefano Pirazzi started to work with Rollin and Andreeta and at the end of the first lap, they had brought the gap down to 2.00. This signaled the end for Rollin and Andreeta and so Jonas Ahlstrand started to work with Pirazzi.


In the front group, Geniez had reacted to the faster pace and he briefly distanced his companions before the group came back together. They had now extended their advantage to 2.20.


Mortensen and Cousin attack

With 32km to go, Cult started to ride aggressively when Martin Mortensen took off. He was joined by Jerome Cousin (Europcar) who hesitated a bit on the Dane’s wheel before he started to cooperate. The dup managed to keep an advantage of 15 seconds for a while but with 25km to go, they were brought back by Joeaar and Pirazzi who were now working in the peloton.


Rudy Kowalski (Roubaix) launched an immediate counterattack but he never got much of an advantage. Meanwhile, Pirazzi swung off and now Cousin started to work with Joeaar and Senechal for Europcar.


The break splits up

At the start of the final lap, the gap was only 1.22 and moments later, De Winter was dropped from the breakaway. At this point, Dan Craven (Europcar) and a Southeast rider also worked in the peloton as more teams showed interest in the chase.


With 15km to go, De Winter was caught and now Bretagne took control with two riders. Moments later, Turgot was distanced by Geniez who was 1 minute ahead of the peloton.


With 10km to go, Europcar hit the front with most of their team and for a little while, they worked with Bretage. With 7km to go, the gap was only 25 seconds and moments later Cofidis took over with their 6 riders, signaling the start of the exciting sprint.



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