Frenchman Jimmy Casper won a close sprint on Wednesday in the opening stage of the 39th Etoile de Bessèges, giving his Besson Chaussures-Sojasun team its first win of the season in Le Grau du Roi. Casper bested Sébastien Chavanel (Française des Jeux) and Klaas Lodewyck (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) in the photo finish on the 128km stage from Bellegarde.
The day was marked by a breakaway of three men who escaped 40 km into the stage: Frenchman Jonathan Thira (Auber 93) and Belgians Tom Stubbe (Silence Lotto) and Jef Peeters (An Post - Sean Kelly Team). The trio gained a maximum advantage of 7:25 on the field, but was brought back into the fold on the closing circuits with less than 10km to go. In the bunch sprint, Casper managed to win by millimetres, taking the overall lead by four seconds ahead of Chavanel on time bonuses.
Casper earned his turn in the spotlight last season after he became the fifth rider to test positive during the Tour de France. He was one of seven riders to be found with glucocorticoids in his system, but the only one who did not carry a Therapeutic Use Exemption for the drug.
Casper, then riding for Agritubel, blamed an error in his paperwork for the problem, and said he did not use the drug for performance enhancement, but to treat his asthma. The French cycling federation's disciplinary commission later exonerated him.
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Etoile de Bessèges.