After two recent races in Belgium, the Canyon dhb SunGod team again crossed the English channel for their first 2021 appearance in France on 28th March. Fortunately the UCI 1.1 race, part of the Coupe de France road cycling series, based around the city of Cholet in the French region of Pays de la Loire, had avoided the recent widespread Covid-19 lockdown in northern France.
The first 150km of the 202km race consisted of a single loop from Cholet with seven short but challenging categorised climbs before returning back to the city and was followed by six laps of an 8km circuit which featured a short but sharp climb on each circuit.
The Canyon dhb SunGod team was facing another strong international field which included four WorldTour teams, twelve ProTour teams and just six Continental teams featuring, unusually for this level of race, eight-man teams. As this race often finishes in a reduced bunch sprint finish, some leading sprinters were competing including 2016 Olympic Omnium Champion on the track, Elia Viviani (Cofidis, Solutions Credit) who has also won five stages of the Giro d’Italia, 3 stages of the Vuelta a Espana, and not forgetting five stages of the Tour of Britain and 21 year-old Briton, Jake Stewart (Groupama – FDJ) who recently finished second in the season’s opening semi-classic Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Also racing was ‘enfant terrible’ Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea Samsic) who has won three stages of the Giro d’Italia and three stages of the Vuelta a Espana, but is probably better known as a sprinter who has had more than his fair share of disqualifications for baulking competitors in the final metres of sprint finishes.
For the Canyon dhb SunGod eight, Jim Brown was making his debut and Andy Tennant his first outing of the year, the remaining riders being Matt Bostock, Damien Clayton, Jacob Scott, Robert Scott, Rory Townsend and Reece Wood.
A group of five riders went away but their lead never really exceeded much above three minutes as the teams with the top sprinters kept the break very much in check. The whole Canyon dhb SunGod team were riding admirably with their riders taking positions on or close to the front with Clayton, Rob Scott and Townsend being notable in ‘taking the wind’ on the front. The peloton largely kept together until they reached the finishing circuits with 52km to go where the race exploded into action.
A severe narrowing of the road on each lap shortly before the finishing line caused bunching up and the odd tumble whilst also encouraging aggressive moves off the front of the peloton. A couple of very sharp corners on the circuit also disrupted the smooth flow of the riders.
Although half a dozen of the Canyon dhb SunGod riders were still in contention on the finishing circuits, the hazards encountered effectively split the team into individual riders and their numbers in the lead group dwindled as the laps ticked down.
Bostock worked himself into a good position on the closing lap, and as the finishing sprint unfolded he moved up the field strongly and at one point looked like he might take a top five placing. With a strong lead-out from his team, the race was won by Viviani with a storming sprint to the line. Stewart was looking good for a podium place but Bouhanni swerved across and barged him into the barriers with Stewart lucky to remain upright though losing all momentum and suffering a broken bone in his left hand. Bouhanni was disqualified for his dangerous move and with Bostock having crossed the line in eighth place being subsequently upgraded to seventh.
Rory Townsend finished 69th at 50 sec, Jacob Scott 77th at 1 min 57 sec, Jim Brown 2 min 15 sec, Rob Scott 129th at 6 min 32 sec, Reece Wood 138th at 9 min 35 sec and Damien Clayton 140th at 10 min 57 sec. After an earlier crash, Tennant was the only DNF.
The positive way in which the whole team rode throughout the race, and the fine 7th place taken by Bostock, will no doubt give the team great encouragement and confidence for the races to come.
Following the race 7th place finisher Matt Bostock commented…
“I think it was a respectable result in a field of that quality, and hopefully one we can take confidence from now and build on in the next races.
Once the break had gone we got together as a team and all 8 of us sat right up at the front and the guys did a fantastic job of looking after me.
“Jake led me into the start of the circuits perfectly, and him and Rory did a good job of keeping tabs at the front of the race on what was a really tough circuit – and they made sure nothing too dangerous slipped away.
“We didn’t manage to piece together a lead out due to a few crashes towards the end, but the guys had done such a good job up until then that all I had to do was try surf the wheels and launch my sprint.”
Rory Townsend added…
“The race was OK in the end but we had really needed someone to get in the break early doors but unfortunately we were on the back foot early on and missed the break that eventually went which was a bit of a shame. After that we gathered ourselves up and got ourselves in position at the front and the boys looked after me, Matt Bostock and Andy Tennant really well.
“The plan was to hit the finishing circuits in a decent position for Bostock and Tennant and then myself and Jake would have free reign to follow the attacks on the climbs and things like that so I was trying to get stuck in towards the end and follow moves as and when they went. It seemed from quite early on that a lot of the moves that were going were causing more damage at the back of the peloton rather than at the front which meant that there weren’t really loads of moves going. I tried to get involved and give it a go but nothing really came to fruition so it was a pretty reduced bunch by the time the sprint came around.
“Myself and Jim Brown were towards the back and started making our way forwards but there were a couple of crashes within a few hundred metres of each other. Jim got held up in the first crash and me in the second crash. Fortunately we were both fine and also we weren’t put right out of the back of the remaining bunch but once we were towards the back it was just a battle to try and make our way back up to the front.
“The real disappointment was that we didn’t get back up there to help Bostock who had to surf the wheels on his own. For him to dig out a decent result like that was actually a really nice way to finish the race and it was all good for the team in the end.”
Written by Paul and Marina Stedman.
1, 2, 4 & 5: Cassandra Donne
3: B&B Hotels p/b KTM
6: B. Bade – LNC