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The fight between Sánchez, García and Berhane all came down to the last 81 km of the race, with time bonifications on offer in three intermediate sprints, as well as at the finish. And a fourth rider also made a bid for overal...

Photo: Tour of Turkey/Hakan Seker

CIRCUS-WANTY GOBERT

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DIRECT ENERGIE

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FREDERIQUE ROBERT

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LA TROPICALE AMISSA BONGO ONDIMBA

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NATNAEL BERHANE

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19.01.2014 @ 17:40 Posted by Lukas Knöfler

The last stage of a race may once in a while appear to be unimportant: Often the overall win is decided already, and riders are tired after a week on the road. But this presumption didn't hold true for the Tropicale Amissa Bongo.

 

Before the final stage, 124 km from Owendo to the capital Libreville, Luis León Sánchez (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) had the leader jersey; but Cofidis' Egoitz García and Natnael Berhane of Team Europcar were only one and four seconds, respectively, behind the Spaniard.

 

It all came down to the last 81 km of the race: 14 laps of a 5.8 km circuit in Libreville, including a short, two-part climb. There were time bonifications on offer in three intermediate sprints (3, 2 & 1 second in each for the first three riders), and finally 10, 6 and 4 seconds for the top-3 of the stage.

 

Fight for bonus seconds

 

Berhane's Europcar team controlled the peloton and positioned their leader well for the first intermediate, which he won ahead of Meron Teshome of the Eritrean national team and Egoitz García. This meant that García and Sánchez now were on the same time, with Berhane only one second behind. Just as spectators were starting to count back stage placings, Omar Fraile (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Marco Minnaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Amanuel Gebreigzabhier (Eritrea) broke away.

 

The break took the second intermediate sprint, and Luis León Sánchez may well have hoped that his teammate would last the distance. But Europcar's men in green worked hard, catching the three ahead of the last sprint. Berhane won again and took the virtual lead in GC, two seconds ahead of the two Spaniards.

 

On the last laps another trio chased stage glory: African continental champion Issak Tesfom Okubamariam (Eritrea), Rasmane Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso) and Janvier Hadi (Rwanda) had a half-minute gap with 20 km to go, but had to surrender to Wanty-Groupe Gobert. The Belgian team had already won three stages and wanted another sprint.

 

An unexpected contender

 

Or did they? When the three Africans were caught, Jérôme Baugnies attacked. Before the stage he was 7th overall, 52“ behind Sánchez, men with two laps remaining he'd built an advantage of 35 seconds. If Baugnies could go all the way and keep the peloton at least 49 seconds behind, he would put one over the other GC hopefuls and snatch overall victory from Berhane's hands due to the bonus seconds for the stage winner.

 

In the end, Baugnies couldn't keep up the necessary speed and was swallowed by the field. Wanty-Groupe Gobert still saved the day when Frédérique Robert won the sprint ahead of teammate Roy Jans, taking his second stage in as many days. In total, the team has won four of the seven stages in the race, and Roy Jans also wins the points classification.

 

With this, Natnael Berhane becomes the first ever African to win the Tropicale. The decision for the second podium place went down to a stage placing countback between Luis León Sánchez and Egoitz García - whoever had the lowest placings over all seven stages would get it. Due to his fourth place in the sprint, Sánchez won this contest against García, the Caja Rural rider scoring 77 'points' while the Basque of Cofidis has 89.

 

Stage result:

1. Frédérique Robert - Wanty-Groupe Gobert

2. Roy Jans - Wanty-Groupe Gobert

3. Meron Amanuel - Eritrea

4. Luis León Sánchez - Caja Rural-Seguros RGA

5. Egoitz García - Cofidis

 

Final general classification:

1. Natnael Berhane - Team Europcar

2. Luis León Sánchez - Caja Rural-Seguros RGA

3. Egoitz García - Cofidis

4. Grégory Habeaux - Wanty-Groupe Gobert

5. Linus Gerdemann - MTN Qhubeka

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