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After a hugely aggressive finale, Bouhanni was clearly the fastest in the reduced bunch sprint that decided the fourth stage of the Criterium du Dauphiné; Dennis retained the leader’s jersey

Photo: Sirotti










10.06.2015 @ 17:45 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) again proved that he is clearly the fastest rider in the Criterium du Dauphiné when he powered clear to take his second stage victory in the French race. After a hugely aggressive finale where even the GC riders went on the attack, the Frenchman was unbeatable in the reduced sprint that decided the stage, easily holding off Jonas Van Genechten (IAM) and Luka Mezgec (Giant-Alpecin) to extend his lead in the points competition. Rohan Dennis (BMC) stayed safe in the finale and retained the yellow jersey.


The 2015 season has been a frustrating one for Nacer Bouhanni who has been unable to deliver his usual string of victories for his new Cofidis team. However, the Frenchman has always been confident that he will get into his best condition for the Tour de France which is his big goal of the season and after his many second places earlier in the year, it seems that he is now back to his best.


After he won the second stage in a bunch sprint, Bouhanni made it two in a row when he emerged as the fastest in a reduced bunch sprint on stage 4. The Frenchman positioned himself perfectly in a very hectic finale and even though he had no lead-out, he could start his sprint for the ideal position and easily held off Jonas Van Genechten and Luka Mezgec in the final dash to the line.


However, it was no easy thing for Cofidis to bring it back together for a bunch sprint. Two small climbs featured inside the final 15km and they turned out to be harder than most had expected.


Earlier on a two-rider break of Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) and Martijn Keizer (LottoNL-Jumbo) had threatened to steal the show as they entered the final 20km with an advantage of 3.05. However, they were clearly tiring and as MTN-Qhubeka, Cofidis and Etixx-QuickStep were chasing hard with Stephen Cummings, Nicolas Edet, Florian Senechal and Martin Velits, they were losing ground quickly.


Things only got more difficult for the escapees when the fight for position intensified. The GC teams also came to the fore to position their captains for the final two climbs and as they entered the final 15km, it was the BMC team which had taken control with Michael Schär and Manuel Quinziato.


At this point, the gap was only 1.45 and moments later Keizer led the front duo onto the first climb. In the peloton Cannondale-Garmin had taken over and it was Jack Bauer and Ramunas Navardauskas who took the final turns to lead the American team onto the lower slopes.


Keizer tried to distance van der Sande who responded well until he cracked and lost contact. Meanwhile, Nathan Haas and Kristijan Koren had taken over for Cannondale and they were making the peloton blow to pieces.


While Jesper Hansen (Tinkoff-Saxo) went down in a small crash, Cyril Gautier (Europcar) launched the first attack. Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin) took off in pursuit but he had a hard time closing the gap to the Frenchman who caught van der Sande just before the top of the climb.


Keizer crested the summit as the first rider while van der Sande, Craddock, Gautier and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) had gathered a small chase group 15 seconds further back. In the peloton, Sky had taken control with Wout Poels who was working hard to keep Chris Froome safe.


While van der Sande sacrificed himself completely for Wellens, the attacking continued in the peloton. Daniel Oss (BMC), Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) and Tiago Machado (Katusha) were the first to try and when they were caught, Oss and Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) gave ti a go.


As they hit the next climb, Wellens dropped his companions and quickly bridged the gap to the fading Keizer. Meanwhile, the attacks continued and suddenly a group with Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal), Oss, Alaphilippe, Craddock, Romain Bardet (Ag2r), Talansky and Mathias Frank (IAM) had gathered.


Race leader Rohan Dennis was forced to chase himself and he brought the group back just after Kelderman and Alaphilippe had taken off. Machado took off in pursuit while Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Oss and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) attacked from the peloton.


Machado was brought back and it was Nibali who managed to bridge the gap to Kelderman and Alaphilippe. Cannondale started to chase with Koren and he brought the chase trio back.


Wellens had now dropped Keizer who was caught by the peloton that was led by Serge Pauwels for MTN-Qhubeka. They were desperately trying to bring Wellens back as the Belgian had a 12-second advantage with 4km to go.


Adam Yates came to the fore for Orica-GreenEDGE and after he had shut an attack from Andriy Grivko (Astana) down. He started to chase. He got a bit from help from Rein Taaramae (Astana) and that spelled the end for Wellens with 3km to go.


Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Oss attacked and Bram Tankink (LottoNL) managed to join them to form a very strong trio. Yates was losing ground but as the escapees took the wrong way in a roundabout, it came back together with 1.5km to go.


Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) launched an immediate counterattack and he immediately got a big gap that forced Christophe Laporte to chase hard for Cofidis. He swung off under the flamme rouge and here Gallopin was still ahead.


Reinardt van Rensburg hit the front for MTN-Qhubeka and his lead-out was enough to bring Gallopin back with 500m to go. When he swung off, Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) did a long sprint, going head to head with Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka).


However, Bouhanni, Van Genechten and Mezgec were well-placed behind those three riders and they easily passed the leading trio. Bouhanni was clearly the fastest and even had plenty of time to celebrate his win.


Dennis survived the carnage and so defended his overall lead. He is still equal on time with his teammate Tejay van Garderen as they go into the first big mountain stage of the race. After a moderately hilly start with three smaller climbs, the riders will tackle the category 1 Col d’Allos in the finale before they descend to the bottom of the final category 2 climb of Pra Loup where a big battle between the GC riders is expected.


A final sprint stage

After the team time trial, the sprinters were expected to have one final chance in the race before they will head into the mountains tomorrow. Stage 4 was held over a brutal 228km distance and brought the riders from Anneyron to Sisteron. After a mostly flat first part, the riders tackled two smaller climbs at the midpoint and then there was another uncategorized ascent before the riders again hit flat roads. However, the stage had a nasty sting in its tail as there was a category 4 climb just 12.5km from the finish followed by another small climb before the flat finale.


It was a slightly cloudy day when the riders gathered for the start of the longest stage. One rider was absent as Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) was not fully recovered from the Giro d’Italia and decided to return to Germany to recover for a possible start at the Tour de France.


The break is formed

Everybody knew that this was a stage that was likely to be firmly controlled and so there was no fight to get into the break. Martijn Keizer (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) attacked at km 3 and after 8km of racing, they were already 1.00 ahead.


The peloton was content with the situation and so the gap quickly ballooned. At the 12km mark, it was 2.30 and 6km later it was a massive 7 minutes.


The gap comes down

The gap went out to 7.25 at the 25km mark but now BMC and Cofidis came to the fore. Dylan Teuns, Joey Rosskopf (BMC) and Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) worked well together to keep the gap between 7.00 and 7.30 for a long time.


After around 90km of racing, it started to rain slightly which may have inspired the peloton to reach the finish a little earlier. They upped the pace and brought the gap down to 6.10 where they kept it stable.


Boeckmans abandons

The rain started to fall harder as they went through the feed zone where Lotto Belisol sprinter Kris Boeckmans who crashed in stage 2, left the race. The gap went out to 6.40 and this prompted MTN-Qhubeka to chase as Jacques van Rensburg started to trade pulls with Rosskopf and Mate.


Those three riders worked well together and as they entered the final 55km the gap had come down to just 5 minutes. Things seemed to be under control but the escapees still had something left in the tank.


The chase gets serious

During the next 10km, they managed to extend their advantage to 5.20 and this prompted Cofidis to put Edet on the front. That didn’t have much of an impact though and with 33km to go, the gap was still 5.15.


MTN-Qhubeka realized that something had to be done and so Daniel Teklehaimanot and Cummings also started to work on the front. That made a difference and even though the group of chasers was quickly down to just Mate, Edet and Cummings, the gap had come down to 4.25 with 25km to go.


Florian Senechal (Cofidis) and Velits also started to work hard while the fight for position intensified. The combination of that battle, the hard chase and a headwind made a big difference. When the front group started the final 20km, they only had an advantage of 3.05 and moments later the exciting finale started.



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