The final stage of Criterium International tested the contenders' mathematical skills almost as much as it did their physical ability, with Jean-Christophe Peraud did (Ag2r-La Mondiale) getting his calculations just right to seal overall success.
Going into the decisive the finish at the summit of the Col de l’Ospedale on Sunday afternoon, Giant-Shimano’s Tom Dumoulin held the leader’s yellow jersey but it was likely that the winner would emerge from the riders behind the Dutchman and that the bonus seconds available on the line might prove crucial.
In the end, by finishing right on the wheel of stage-winner Mathias Frank, Peraud did exactly what he needed to take his first ever stage race.
The 36-year-old Frenchman had started the stage 11 seconds down on Dumoulin, but a vital five ahead of Frank. Victory for the IAM Cycling rider earned him 10 bonus seconds, but Peraud claimed six, giving him victory by a single second.
"It was simple really. If Frank had won the stage and taken the 10-second bonus for it and I had finished third, it would have been curtains for me," Peraud told L’Équipe. "So I knew that the stage was going to be tactical, that I would have to ride tactically, and that I would have to keep an eye on the seconds and the time bonuses."
Peraud admitted Frank was the biggest danger to his hopes, but other riders could also have nipped in to claim the title in the right circumstances. "I couldn't allow myself to be surprised by [Rafal] Majka, Fränk Schleck, [Tiago] Machado or even [Eduardo] Sepulveda. It was much more psychologically taxing than it was physically," Peraud confessed.
The French veteran revealed he had even encouraged Schleck and Majka to attack in the hope that they would take the biggest bonuses on the line. "The pressure was there right to the line, but I was finally able to relax with 250 metres to the finish," said Peraud, who succeeded Chris Froome as the 2014 race winner.
"It's the first time in my career I've won a stage race. At 36, I've reached physical maturity and I know that I'm not going to progress any more, but I can still set myself some objectives. I also want to keep my form right through the season," added Peraud, whose victory took Ag2r to the top of the WorldTour
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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