Arthur Vichot (FDJ) put a year of suffering behind when he finally returned to his winning ways by claiming victory on the final stage of the Tour du Haut Var. The Frenchman came out on top in a 25-rider sprint as he held off Jesus Herrada (Movistar) and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r) and that was enough to take overall victory on a countback, with Herrada and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) completing the podium.
When he won the French Championships and a stage in Paris-Nice, Arthur Vichot was widely tipped to become the next big French rider for the Ardennes classics. However, a year of illness in 2015 made him slip into anonymity and when he lined up for his first race in 2016, he just had the goal of being competitive again.
That’s what he has been right from the start of the year as he finished 5th overall in the Etoile de Besseges and he was clearly the strongest in the Trofeo Laigueglia where he had to settle for 7th overall. That made him one of the favourites for this week’s Tour du Haut Var whose lumpy course was tailor-made for his characteristics.
Vichot proved his intentions already on the first stage as he sprinted to second in the uphill finish and today he got the ultimate confirmation that he is back to his best by winning the final stage. To make things even better, he also took the overall victory.
The stage finished with one lap of a difficult 17km circuit that included the 15% climb of Les Tuilieres just 14.6km from the finish, with the final part being descending and flat. The stage had been dominated by a breakaway from which Ben Gastauer (Ag2r) and Romain Hardy (Cofidis) were the lone survivors when they hit the circuit.
At this point, they had an advantage of 45 seconds but it was melting away as they approached the climb, with Katusha on the front. Movistar took over as they hit the ascent and immediately made the group explode, sending riders like Laurent Pichon (FDJ), Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) and Franck Bonnamour (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) out the back door.
With 16km to go, it was over for the escapees and this was the sign for Movistar to go on the attack. Jesus Herrada took off but he never got much of an advantage before being brought back.
However, the fast pace had taken its toll and the group had split in two, with race leader Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale) finding himself on the wrong side of the split. At the same time, Amael Moinard (BMC) and Chris Anker Sørensen (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) attacked and they started the descent with a 5-second advantage over the peloton while Slagter was 26 seconds adrift.
Vichot and Patrick Bevin (Cannondale) bridged the gap but soon a group of around 20 riders with the likes of Herrada, Giovanni Visconti, Gorka Izagirre (Movistar), Francesco Gavazzi (Androni), Simon Spilak (Katusha), Julien Simon, Anthony Turgis (Cofidis) and Mikael Cherel (Ag2r) gathered. Izagirre didn’t hesitate to attack and as there was no great cooperation among the chasers, he entered the final 5km with an advantage of 20 seconds.
FDJ and Ag2r started to chase and so the gap was down to 11 seconds with 3km to go. At this point, Slagter was at 39 seconds and out of the battle for the overall win.
Izagirre dug deep but he was losing the battle and only had 4 seconds at the passage of the flamme rouge. Moments later he was brought back and it came down to a sprint from a 25-rider group. Vichot was perfectly set up by teammates Anthony Roux and Alexandre Geniez and managed to hold off Herrada and Vuillermoz to claim his first win of the year.
As there are no bonus seconds in the race, 10 riders ended equal on time and with a second and first place, Vichot had the lowest total of stage placings. That allowed him to also take the overall victory ahead of Herrada and Diego Ulissi, with Simon and Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep) completing the top 5.
Vichot also won the points classification while defending champion Gastauer was the best climber. Vakoc was the best young rider and Movistar was the best team.
With the Tour du Haut Var done and dusted, attention in France turns to the new stage race Tour Provence which takes place from Tuesday to Thursday. In the weekend, the riders will be back in action at the one-day races Boucles du Sud-Ardeche and Drome Classic.
The queen stage
After the hilly opener, the race ended with its queen stage which brought the riders over 206.8km around the city of Draguignan. First they did three laps of a circuit with the category 2 Tourtour climb and then two laps of a circuit with the category 2 Col de la Grange before they returned to Draguignan. Here they did two different circuits. The first one was flat and the second one included the steep Les Tuilieres climb just 14.6km from the finish, with the final part being a combination of descending and flat roads.
It was like a summer day when the riders gathered for the start. Nils Politt (Katusha), Pierre Gouault (Auber 93) and Julien Antomarchi (Roubaix) were non-starters as the 144 remaining riders rolled out of Draguignan.
A fast start
As expected, it was another very fast start with lots of attacks. Small groups of two and three riders got briefly got clear but the first dangerous move was formed by Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Julien Loubet (Delko), Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre-Merida), Rémy Di Gregorio (Delko) and Stef Van Zummeren (Verandas Willems) after the former had initiated the move. However, they never got more than a few seconds before they were brought back.
The peloton was together at the first intermediate sprint after 16km of racing where Sander Cordeel (Verandas Willems) came out on top ahead of Thibault Ferasse (Armee) and Taylor Phinney (BMC). Moments later, Egor Silin (Katusha), Matteo Montaguti and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2R La Mondiale), Mathieu Ladagnous (FDJ), Anthony Turgis (Cofidis), Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie), Brice Feillu (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Julien El Fares (Delko) escaped and they quickly put 10 seconds into a chase group and 15 seconds into the peloton. Meanwhile, riders were getting dropped, including Tony Hurel (Direct Energie) and Blel Kadri (Ag2r).
Slagter comes to the fore
Cannondale took control of the peloton as more riders bridged across to make it a 16-rider group. At this point, more than 30 riders had already lost contact.
At the top of the first climb, Ben Gastauer (Ag2r) won the KOM sprint ahead of Daniele Ratto (Androni), Jose Herrada (Movistar), race leader Slagter and Hubert Dupont (Ag2r). The 16 riders were brought back while two groups had formed behind the peloton.
Three riders get clear
Gastauer accelerated on the descent and was joined by Romain Hardy (Cofidis) and Duchesne. They managed to get an advantage of 40 seconds over a group with Slagter while the peloton was 1.30 at the bottom.
Slagter’s hroup was brought back as the race finally calmed down and after 41km of racing, the gap had gone out to 4.25. Cannondale hit the front and kept the gap at around 4.30 as they approached the second passage of the Tourtour.
Cannondale in control
Kadri, Hurel and Julien Duval (Armee) abandoned while Tim De Troyer (Wanty) lost contact with the peloton and then also left the race. Meanwhile, Gastauer beat Duchesne and Hardy in the KOM sprint while Joeri Calleuw (Verandas) and Kristoffer Skjerping (Cannondale) were first from the peloton 4.30 later. The gap had previously briefly reached five minutes.
At the bottom of the third passage of Tourour, Cannondale had kept the gap at 4.30 and this time Mikel Aristi (Delko), Yoann Barbas (Armee) and Thomas Deruette (Wallonie) were among the riders to get dropped before abandoning the race. Gastauer again won the KOM sprint ahead of Duchesne and Hardy and again Calleeuw and Skjerping were first from the peloton.
More KOM points for Gastauer
The riders averaged just 33.4km/h during the second hour for an overall average of 37.5km/h and reached the 85km mark with a gap of 4.30. Moments later they hit the Col de la Grange for the second time where Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida), Florent Pereira (Roubaix), Romain Combaud (Delko), Maxime Renault (Auber 93) and Florian Senechal (Cofidis) dropped and left the race.
The escapees increased the gap to 5.30 before Gastauer beat Hardy and Duchesne in the KOM sprint. Calleeeuw and Toms Skujins (Cannondale) were first from the peloton which entered the final 100km with a delay of 5.20.
Cannondale up the pace
Cannondale now upped the pace and had reduced the gap to 4.15 at the end of the third hour which was done at an average speed of 37km/h. The gap stabilized there as they hit the climb for the second time with a delay of 4.05.
Sergei Tvetcov, Franco Pellizotti (Androni), Rudy Barbier (Roubaix) and Danilo Napolitano (Wanty) were among the many riders to get dropped and leave the race. That’s when Julien Loubet and Brice Feillu (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) made a move but they were quickly brought back.
Gastauer led Hardy and Duchesne over the top while Calleuw and Skujins were first from the peloton 3.15 later. Cannondale stabilized the situation and the gap was still 3.10 with 62km to go.
The lumpy terrain was hard and Jeremy Leveau (Roubaix), Yannis Yssaad (Armee), Rodrigo Contreras (Etixx-QuickStep), Thibault Ferasse (Armee) and Boris Dron (Wanty) all got distanced as they approached Draguignan. With 40km to go, Movistar decided that it was time to up the pace and when Hardy beat Gastauer and Duchesne in the final intermediate sprint at the first passage of the line, they had reduced the gap to 2.55.
Duchesne is dropped
Tom Bohli (BMC) and Calleeuw paid the price for the faster pace as they hit the small climb of Route de Grasse 2.15 behind the escapees. Here many riders were dropped and Movistar reduced the gap to 1.30 with 28km to go.
Duchesne was dropped from the lead group while Gastauer and Hardy pressed on. They were 1.10 behind with 26km to go where Franck Bonnamour and Loubet took over the pace-setting for Fortuneo Vital Concept.
FDJ came to the fore with 25km to go and reduced the gap to 1.00 just three kilometres later. At the start of the final 20km, it was down to just 45 seconds and riders were dropping off, including Cattaneo and Davide Vigano (Androni). Moments later they started the final lap where the Vichot did things right to come away with the win.
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