Critérium du Dauphiné: Thomas Voeckler outfoxes the break in Grenoble’s stage six finish
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Friday, June 07, 2013

Critérium du Dauphiné: Thomas Voeckler outfoxes the break in Grenoble’s stage six finish

by Ben Atkins at 8:58 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results, Critérium du Dauphiné
 
Europcar star overcomes Astana numbers to take four-man sprint

thomas voeckler

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) took his first victory of the 2013 season at last, and put a difficult spring behind him, as he won the sixth stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné, between La Léchère and Grenoble, despite the numerical superiority of the Astana team in a four-man break. The former French champion arrived at the finish with Kevin Seeldraeyers and Egor Silin (Astana), and José Herrada (Movistar) and, despite the Kazakh team having two riders in the group, managed to sprint to victory virtually uncontested.

Herrada was also able to beat the two Astana riders, both of whom are more used to climbing than sprinting, as they failed to put any pressure on the group in the closing kilometres, and Seeldraeyers rolled in ahead of Silin to take third.

"It brings good feelings back!” exclaimed Voeckler, who shattered his collarbone in the Amstel Gold Race in April, then suffered a freak crash in the Tour of Belgium on his return. "I was not used to reaching the month of June without the pleasure of winning. Doubt had taken place in my mind, I must admit.

“What reassured me since the beginning of the season was the great performances of our team,” he continued. “But personally, I wasn’t very successful. I was worried by the Movistar rider. I didn’t know if he was fast or not. Otherwise, I told myself to profit from the excessive numbers of the Astana team in the breakaway.

“I still know how to win races.”

His experience in breakaways certainly helped the wily Frenchman in the four-man sprint, but so too did his familiarity with the finishing straight in his Critérium du Dauphiné debut some nine years ago.

“In 2004, on this same finishing line here, I finished third as I won a sprint [of 20 riders including Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, etc.] for third place behind [Michael] Rasmussen and [Ivan] Basso,’ Voeckler explained. “I knew the final straight line.

“Everyone remembers when I’ve won but I’ve also failed many times like recently at the Tour of Belgium when many people thought I’d get a stage win,” he added. “Today, I really didn’t want to miss out. I hope the hard times are behind me. I’m often told that my break will help me now but I’ve missed the Amstel Gold Race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour de Romandie and the Four Days of Dunkirk for which I had a good form. A broken collarbone isn’t the end of the world. I’m sincerely happy today.”

With hire car firm Europcar ending its three-year association with the French Professional Continental team at the end of the season, Voeckler’s victory could hardly have come at a better time, as negotiations continue to find a replacement.

“My thoughts are for [team manager] Jean-René Bernaudeau who is doing all he can to find a sponsor,” said Voeckler. “Our future isn’t secured yet.”

The quartet was the remains of an eight-man group, which had formed on the 1st category Col du Barioz at the halfway point of the 143km stage and get almost three minutes clear. Originally with them were Alexandre Geniez (FDJ), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol), Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) but, with around 30km to go, an acceleration from Herrada saw the group split into two.

A fierce chase from Omega Pharma-Quick Step saw the peloton get almost to within a minute of the quartet with 20km to go but, with Sylvian Chavanel and Tony Martin both sitting up after long turns on the front, the Belgian team left the peloton in the hands of race leader Chris Froome’s Sky team. With no sprint ambitions for the day, and with two more tough days in the mountains ahead, the British team returned the peloton to a steadier tempo, which allowed the four-man group to stay away.

Team Sky’s Norwegian champion Edvald Boasson Hagen outsprinted Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s green jersey Gianni Meersman for fifth place, to show what might have been if his team had shown more urgency with the chase. Froome finished comfortably in the bunch behind him, with the top of the general classification unchanged.

The pace is on from the start and the fight to escape is fierce

The early kilometres saw a brief attack from Chavanel - who had been active from the start - after he led out teammate Meersman at the intermediate sprint, in Albertville after 22.5km. The former French champion was joined by Thomas Rohregger (RadioShack-Leopard), Jérôme Coppel (Cofidis), Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Sébastien Duret (Bretagne-Séché) and Jan Barta (NetApp-Endura), but the group was shut down before it could get far.

After 46km Assan Bazayev (Astana), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura) managed to tear themselves clear of the speeding bunch and, having completed 50.4km in the first hour, the peloton sat up and allowed them to get away.

Over the 4th category Côte d'Arvillard, after 60.5km, the trio was two minutes ahead, but Europcar had missed the move and pulled them back to just 40 seconds at the 70km point. As the Col du Barioz began shortly afterwards, Voeckler attacked from the peloton and made his way up to Flecha, passing Bazayev and Huzarski as he did so.

Seeldraeyers, Herrada and Geniez then made their way across the gap, followed by Wellens as Flecha was dropped, and then Nieve, Silin and De Gendt also got up to the leaders.

Team Sky then took up station at the head of the peloton and allowed the gap to widen again and, as Seeldraeyers led the eight-man group over the top after 80.5km, it was a minute clear. Wellens, who had been one of the last riders to be caught after having been in he breakaway the previous day, was briefly dropped over the top of the climb, but managed to rejoin after a fast chase.

Despite the presence of Geniez - who was just 3’41” behind Froome in 18th position - Team Sky was quite content with the group’s composition and set a steady tempo on the head of the peloton, allowing the break’s advantage to keep on growing. Over the top of the 2nd category Col des Ayes, after 90.5km, the British team had allowed it to widen to 2’43”.

With the pace in the bunch now much more manageable, the sprinters that had been dropped on the Col du Barioz were able to hold on.

As the gap to the leaders began to approach three minutes on the descent, BMC Racing joined Team Sky at the head of the peloton and gradually began to close it down. On the 4th category Col des Mouilles, which began almost immediately, Wellens began to struggle again but managed to keep the group in sight.

Chavanel then came to the front of the bunch and increased the pace again and, as Seeldraeyers was first across the line again, with 45km to go, the Frenchman had cut the gap to 2’10”. Keeping the pressure on, on the descent that followed, Omega Pharma-Quick Step sent more riders forward - along with BMC Racing and Garmin-Sharp - and slashed the break’s lead to 1’24” with 31km to go.

With the group’s progress faltering Herrada began to push on alone. Teammates Seeldraeyers and Silin were indecisive at first, over which one would join the Movistar rider, before both of them going with him. Voeckler then jumped up as the trio was beginning to open a gap, with Geniez chasing across soon afterwards, but Wellens, Nieve and De Gendt were now left behind.

The breakaway loses its danger man and the chase loses its impetus

Unhappy that his compatriot - who was the danger man overall - was still at the front, Voeckler then began to accelerate again on a small climb and Geniez sat up. The pace continued at the front of the peloton but, with 25km to go, the four riders were still 1’15” ahead on the technical, winding roads.

The pace set by Omega Pharma-Quick Step, however - with World time trial champion Tony Martin taking over from the spent Chavanel - was preventing sprinters like Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) and French champion Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) from rejoining the peloton.

With just over 20km to go Geniez, De Gendt, Nieve and Wellens were picked up by the peloton, but the other four were still 1’10” clear. Rohregger promptly attacked, and managed to get a few seconds clear.

Martin sat up, leaving the chase to Team Sky, and the gap to the leading quartet was allowed to grow to almost 1’30” with 14km to go, as the road descended towards Grenoble. Rohregger was steadily reeled in, and was caught with 12km to go, but the leaders were still 1’15” clear as they entered the final ten kilometres.

With no sprint ambitions for the day, Team Sky was happy to leave the four riders up ahead, and Omega Pharma-Quick Step now had just Michal Kwiatkowski in the front of the peloton, and so the gap began to widen again. It was still 1’17” at the five kilometre banner as Geraint Thomas led Team Sky on the fast, wide roads, and the four riders began to look at one another as they entered the outskirts of town.

Voeckler put in a small, speculative move with just over four kilometres left, but the Frenchman didn’t get far and the quartet calmly reformed again. Both Astana riders then began to watch the Europcar rider but, with just two kilometres left, there were still no attacks.

Finally, Silin put in a similarly speculative dig, which was followed by a second one as he was marked by Voeckler, but the four were still together as they passed under the flamme rouge. In the final kilometre the two Astana riders began to take turns, as first Seeldraeyers, then Silin again put in half-hearted moves, but nobody was able to commit to an attack.

Into the finishing straight, however, it was Voeckler that finally made a decisive move and, once the Frenchman was up to speed, the others were unable to get up to his wheel. Crossing the line, Voeckler raised both hands in the air as he put his difficult spring behind him. Herrada managed to beat both Astana riders in the race for second, while Boasson Hagen just managed to beat Meersman to the line 46 seconds later.

Result stage 6
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar
2. José Herrada (Spa) Movistar Team
3. Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Team Astana
4. Egor Silin (Rus) Team Astana
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky @ 46
6. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
7. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Team Astana
8. Wesley Sulzberger (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
9. Arnaud Gerard (Fra) Bretagne-Séché
10. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step

Standings after stage 6
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky
2. Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky @ 52s
3. Dennis (Aus) Garmin-Sharp @ 54s
4. Michael Rogers (Aus) Team Saxo-Tinkoff @ 1’37”
5. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha Team @ 1’47”
6. Daniel Navarro (Spa) Team Saxo-Tinkoff @ 1’49”
7. Rein Taaramäe (Est) Cofidis @ 1’52”
8. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step @ 1’58”
9. Leopold König (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura @ 2’16”
10. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Team Astana @ 2’20”

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