Boudat celebrates surprise win in Ruta del Sol

Frenchman claims biggest victory of career in bunch sprint ahead of Modolo

It took the organisers of the Ruta del Sol more than a few minutes to confirm that France’s Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie) was the winner of Wednesay's opening stage.

In a fast, slightly downhill bunch sprint into Granada, the TV cameras initially focussed in on Sacha Modolo (EF Education First-Drapac) as he crossed the line, raising his arms in the air. But on the other side of the road and in the last 50 metres, Boudat, a former UCI Track World Championships Omnium winner, powered past Modolo for a narrow but convincing win.

Initially unsure that he had taken the victory, Boudat was told by his sports director to return to the finish "just in case." And that "just in case" proved to be right, with the 23-year-old claiming the biggest road win of his incipient pro career to date.

In the process, Boudat also claimed the overall lead of the Ruta del Sol and also continued France's lengthy run of bunch sprint success in the Spanish race. Former Direct Energie fast man Bryan Coquard won the race's previous full bunch sprint last year on stage 4, and sprinter Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) triumphed in the same race back in 2016 at Cordoba.

Coquard has now moved on to Vital Concept during the off-season, and if Boudat was previously overshadowed by his compatriot in bunch sprints with Direct Energie, in 2018 the young Frenchman has wasted no time stepping into the spotlight in the Ruta del Sol.

"I couldn't find a gap to get through in the last metres, but I went for it as best I could," Boudat said. "I was on the other side of the road, and I had no idea I had won. But my director told me to go to the finish to see what was going on, because I could hear my name on the loudspeakers.

"If the commissaires say I've won, I've won," he continued. "I was coming up very fast. [Modolo] was right on the other side of the road, I saw [Clement] Venturini (AG2R La Mondiale) but I couldn't see anybody else.

"I threw my bike over the line, but it ended up being decided on the photo finish."

No matter how narrow the margin, a win is a win, and for Boudet, this level of success comes after two second places on home soil in the Etoile de Besseges. It is also the first win of the season for Direct Energie, which, he said with a grin, "is a very good thing."

With no Coquard in the team, too, Boudat has now got an opportunity to take over as leader for Direct Energie in the sprints, and he says he's determined to take it.

"A result like today's," he said, "is the best way of proving that the team is right to put its trust in me."

And at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Paris-Nice, his next races after the Ruta del Sol, Boudat will be hoping to prove it again.

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