Pichot denied in GP La Marseillaise
Alexandre Pichot was denied a chance of competing in the bunch sprint of the Grand Prix de la Marseillaise after being caught up in a crash during the first European race of the new cycling season.
Justin Jules (La Pomme Marseille) won the rolling 148km race in the south of France ahead of defending champion Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2R-La Mondiale) in a time of three hours 40 minutes and five seconds. In a tight bunch sprint outside the Stade Velodrome another Frenchman, Thomas Damuseau (Argos-Shimano), took third place to complete the podium.
The highest placed rider from Team Europcar was Vincent Jérôme, who rolled across the line in 20th place just ahead of team-mates Angelo Tulik, Davide Malacarne and Jérôme Cousin. Both Cyril Gautier and Alexandre Pichot, who had fancied his chances before the race, saw their hopes dealt a hammer blow inside the closing kilometres when a motorbike crash caused a split in the bunch.
An early break by Jules' La Pomme Marseille team-mate Thomas Vaubourzeix and Belgian youngster Jelle Wallays (Topsport) had built up a lead of over seven minutes going over the snow-capped summit of the main climb of the day, the Petit Galibier.
"Two riders broke clear early on," explained Europcar directeur sportif Dominique Arnould. "We had plan to attack ourselves on the first climb of the day, the Col de l'Espigoulier, but Vacansoleil were setting a fierce pace and it was impossible for us to make any headway."
The two escapees were reeled in 20km from the finish before Belgium's Sander Armee (Topsport) put in a brave solo dig that was only swept up inside the final kilometre.
"The first race of the season is always hard to predict," said Arnould. "We came to the finish line and we were all a bit stuck in no-man's land. It's hard to gauge where we are – and we still can't really assess our level compared to that of the other teams.
"But there was no cause for concern today. With 10km remaining we still had six riders in the main pack. We could have tried something with Cyril Gautier or Alexandre Pichot, who has quite a kick, but a race motorbike crashed one kilometre from the finish and both riders were caught up in the melee. Thankfully, it was nothing serious.
"Either way, we probably didn't have enough speed to battle it out in the final sprint with the likes of Dumoulin. But we did what was necessary today and gave it out best shot," Arnould concluded.
Focus now shifts to the first European stage race of the season, the Etoile de Bessèges, which runs from Wednesday 30th January until Monday 3rd February. The five-day stage race will give sprinter Bryan Coquard the chance to get his first win for Europcar. It will also mark the first appearances of the season for team leaders Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland, the latter looking to build on his fourth-place overall finish in last year's race.