Tour de France01/07/2012 - 18:32 - Updated 01/07/2012 - 19:38
Rolland and Voeckler solid in Seraing
Pierre Rolland finished strongly in Seraing after Yohann Gene was part of the main break in stage one of the Tour de France on Sunday. Rolland showed his good form with a 19th place finish after a difficult climb inside the final kilometres of the 198km stage in Belgium.
Protected perfectly by team-mates Davide Malacarne and Giovanni Bernaudeau during most of a testing opening road stage of the 99th Tour de France, Pierre Rolland stayed in touch with the main GC riders in the final of five Cat.4 climbs in Belgium to post a solid finish.
Rolland crossed the line one place ahead of defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) to secure an early top 20 place after Slovakia's Peter Sagan (Luiquigas) outsprinted yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara (BMC) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) for the victory.
Thomas Voeckler also finished inside the main peloton in a safe 42nd place while Cyril Gautier and Bernaudeau finished in a small group 23 seconds in arrears.
"It was a result in line with our expectations. In fact, it's even better than we hoped because both Pierre and Thomas were there at the finish," said Jean-Rene Bernaudeau.
The team manager said Rolland’s result had "largely made up for his prologue on Saturday". Bernaudeau was also pleased with Voeckler's performance so soon after recovering from a knee injury. "Thomas is a big rider and it's reassuring for the rest of the race," he said.
Yohann Gene was part of a six-man group which broke away from the peloton after just two kilometres of the stage from Liege to Seraing. Also included in the break were Frenchmen Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun), as well as Spaniard Pablo Urtasun Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Denmark's Michael Mørkøv (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank).
The group build up a maximum lead of around 4:30 but was reeled back in by the peloton inside the final 10km – not before Gene picked up maximum points at the first intermediate sprint of the Tour.
Bernaudeau was ecstatic about Gene's performance. "He did a job and he did it well. Unfortunately, we understood quite quickly that it would be difficult for him to hold out right until the end. Certain breaks go the distance, but this one was never going to make it," he said.
The final 25km were marred by two crashes which held up large portions of the peloton and made for a very nervous conclusion to an otherwise largely sedate day in the saddle. Fortunately, no Europcar riders went down in the accidents.
"Every day the priority is for our riders to finish in good health," said Bernaudeau, who remains cautious ahead of Monday's 207.5km second stage between Visé and Tournai. "It will be a very similar scenario as today. The winds are not going to make the task in hand any easier and it risks being very nervous."