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Neo-pro Vauquelin shines for Arkéa-Samsic on Oman's Green Mountain

Kevin Vauquelin (Akrea-Samsic)
Kevin Vauquelin (Akrea-Samsic) (Image credit: Getty Images)

Monday's penultimate stage of the Tour of Oman on Green Mountain saw Jan Hirt (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) storm to the stage win and, likely, overall glory, but it was a good day out for French squad Arkéa-Samsic, too.

The team went into the queen stage with team leader Elie Gesbert having dropped three places to sixth after suffering in the heat on stage 4, while next-best rider Kévin Vauquelin, lay 19th after taking a podium spot in Muscat, albeit over a minute behind stage winner Fausto Masnada (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl).

On Green Mountain, however, the pair were among the brightest lights to shine as they finished second and third behind Hirt, best of the rest on the steep slopes of the climb in the Al Hajar mountains.

Gesbert finished 48 seconds back and now lies a desperately close two seconds off Rui Costa's (UAE Team Emirates) third place. Neo-pro Vauquelin – a name few fans will have heard of before this week – was the closest man to Hirt, though. The 20-year-old reigning French U23 time trial champion was 39 seconds down on the Czech climber and vaulted up to sixth overall in the rankings.

"I've done very few mountain races in the past few seasons in the amateur ranks and I didn't think I would be able to do such things in the professional ranks," Vauquelin said after the 150.5-kilometre stage, which was hit by crosswinds midway through.

"That is, even though a climb is somewhat similar to a time trial effort since you have to hold watts over a given time period. So, it's in my line of work. What could have played a role here are the gradients in relation to my size, but I managed to negotiate them well and to manage my effort in order to not put myself in the red.

"The second place I got here is different from my podium yesterday because it's a physical summit finish and of course, I surprised myself. It's also more on merit because we finished one by one."

Gesbert, despite the disappointment of barely missing out on a podium spot – though he has a slim chance of grabbing the required bonus seconds in two intermediate sprints on stage 6 – praised his young teammate for his surprising efforts on the climb.

"There is satisfaction in seeing Kévin taking second and going strong," he said. "It's good. Good for a new young rider. I think in the future he'll be very, very good."

For his part, he said that he may have pushed too hard to try and follow Hirt on the double-digit gradients of Green Mountain. He dropped back after the Czech rider made his stage-winning effort, and raced with teammate Vauquelin before losing ground to the youngster in the closing stretch of road.

"It was a stressful day with no let-up, starting with crosswinds which we responded to by being in the front," he said. "We were always one step ahead and we were where we needed to be. Green Mountain is a demanding climb.

"Personally, I might have gotten a bit carried away by Hirt when he attacked. I paid for it a little bit at the end, and I probably left a few seconds I was missing to reach the podium.

"I still have regrets about stage 4 where I suffered in the heat. There, too, I missed a few seconds for the podium. But that's sport."

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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.

Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.