By Gerard Cromwell
The soon to be defunct Crédit Agricole team got a good morale boost prior to their departure for the Vuelta España with victory for Sébastien Hinault at the Tour de Limousin Friday. Hinault won the race by a single second from both Aussie Allan Davis (Mitsubishi Jartazi) and stage two winner Yakira Arishiro (Meitan Hompo-GDR).
The final stage saw an attack by Benoit Vaugrenard (Francaise de Jeux) and his team-mate Frédéric Guesdon surprise the peloton with two kilometres to go. Although Guesdon was reeled in by the sprinters, Vaugrenard held out to take stage victory and eat up the ten second time bonus on the line.
With six seconds for second place and four seconds for third, the overall classification was to be decided in the gallop to the line. The Bouyges Telecom duo Pierrick Fédrigo and Jérôme Pineau rounded out the podium, as Davis could only manage fifth, with Hinault close by in seventh.
A stage win and two days in yellow each for Nicholas Roche and Hinault proved Crédit Agricole are in good form as the Tour of Spain looms next weekend. Roche won the opening stage on Wednesday, soloing to a three second advantage after spending 160kms of the 183km stage out front with two other riders. The 24-year-old held onto his yellow jersey the following day with a second place on stage two, but the mountainous third day on Friday proved too much for the Dubliner.
Having neglected to eat and drink sufficiently during the early part of yesterday's mountain stage as he chased time bonuses and tried to mark early attacks, Roche suffered the hunger knock shortly after the first climb of the day and eventually lost 29 minutes to a 28 man escape group. He had some consolation in the fact that the stage was won by his Crédit Agricole team-mate Hinault, who inherited the Irishman's yellow jersey. Today Roche set about helping the Frenchman, who has been with the team for ten years, defend his slim one second lead over Davis.
"Sébastien is a good sprinter but he's not one of the really top sprinters, like Boonen or Cavendish," said Roche after the stage. "We were lucky enough today that we didn't have to ride too much because Mitsubishi-Jartazi thought Allan Davis would beat him to win the stage and take the race overall with the time bonuses."
Crédit Agricole allowed small groups away to take the early time bonuses on offer during the stage, leaving the sprint to the finish to decide the overall outcome. "There were attacks all day, but all Sébastien had to do was follow Allan Davis," said Roche. "On the final climb about 10kms from the finish, I had to ride full gas all the way up, to discourage any attacks and keep the peloton together.
"After that it was fingers crossed Sébastien could hold on for the overall win and he did it. It's been a good week for the team. I go home for a few days now and then I leave for the Vuelta on Wednesday morning. Hopefully I can do something on some of the harder flat stages and hang on in the mountains, where I'm not quite up to the level yet," said Roche.
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