Victory for Veilleux in Dauphiné opener
Canada's David Veilleux stormed to a near clean-sweep of all jerseys in the opening 121km stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné on Sunday after a remarkable solo ride to and from Champéry.
It was the Québécois's biggest win of his career and a 16th victory for Team Europcar this season.
Team Europcar underlined their credentials after a pulsating first day in the saddle at the Dauphiné saw Veilleux lead from pretty much start to finish.
Having instigated the day's main break after just three kilometres, 25-year-old Veilleux dropped his fellow escapees on the Cat.1 Col du Corbier with 47km remaining before soloing to victory just less than two minutes ahead of the chasing peloton.
His winning ride saw Veilleux capture not only the race's first yellow jersey, but also the mountains classification (polka dot jersey) and points classification (green jersey). Were he just five weeks younger, Veilleux would also have snared the race's white jersey as best young rider.
"This is a fantastic feeling," said Veilleux, the second Canadian (after Steve Bauer) to take a stage in the eight-day race in the French Alps. "This is my first time taking part in the Dauphiné. The standard of the race is extremely high and I didn't have any expectation at this level."
Veilleux attacked from the peloton on the first of four categorised climbs, the Cat.1 Cote de Morgins. He was joined by Thomas Damuseau (Argos Shimano), Jean-Marie Bideau (Bretagne - Seche Environnement) and Ricardo Garcia (Euskaltel) and quartet went on to establish a nine-minute lead over the peloton as the race entered France following its first ever start on Swiss soil.
With the gap down to 5:30 and Germany's Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) riding in pursuit, Veilleux attacked his fellow escapees on the Col du Corbier in what many took as a mere bid to secure the polka dot jersey.
But Veilleux's ambitions were far loftier than the KOM standings, the Canadian increasing his lead over the chasing riders while keeping the returning peloton at bay. Veilleux crossed the summit of the Cat.2 Pas de Morgins with a three-minute advantage 20km ahead of the finish. He descended well to protect his lead as the peloton swept up Martin – the recent winner of the Tour of Belgium – and the other escapees.
Despite the Saxo-Tinkoff and Movistar teams of respective race favourites Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde combining well on the front of the pack, Veilleux held on up the final climb of the day to take a brilliant win for Jean-René Bernaudeau's men.
"It was worth trying," said Veilleux before taking to the podium three times to pick up his yellow, green and polka dot jerseys. "I started to believe that something would be possible when our breakaway gained more than nine minutes. But later, it was only in the last 300 metres that I realized I'd won. It's an enormous satisfaction. It comes from a lot of sacrifices and huge amounts of work. I'm happy that it has all paid off."
Victory was Veilleux's fourth but biggest for Europcar following success in La Roue Tourangelle in 2011, and Mi-Aout Bretonne and Tre Valli Varesine in 2012.
Belgian Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) edged ahead of the peloton to take second place on the stage, 1:56 down on Veilleux. Dutchman Tom Jelte Slagter (Blanco), winner of January's Tour Down Under, secured the white jersey with third place one second back, with Sky pair Richie Porte and the hotly tipped Chris Froome completing the top five.
Europcar team leaders Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland finished safely in the main pack and went straight to congratulate their team-mate Veilleux after his win.
Following Damien Gaudin's victory in the prologue of Paris-Nice back in March, Veilleux has prolonged Europcar's record of opening day wins in French stage races this season. Focus will now shift to defending the yellow jersey on Monday's second stage, another undulating 191km ride from Chatel to Oyonnax that features six lower category climbs.