A last-kilometre ambush by Valentin Ferron (TotalEnergies) netted the Frenchman the victory on stage 6 of the 2002 Critérium du Dauphiné from a six-rider day-long breakaway, while Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) remained safely in the overall lead.
Ferron, 24, darted away just after the kilometre-to-go flag in Gap to net TotalEnergies their second stage win in the race following teammate Alexis Vuillermoz's triumph, also from another breakaway, last Monday.
The first of Ferron’s foiled breakaway companions, King of the Mountains Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels-KTM) crossed the line three seconds back, with Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic) in third.
After five hilly stages and a time trial, the Criterium du Dauphiné now hits its decisive phase this weekend with two tough mountain stages and back-to-back summit finishes. But for Ferron and TotalEnergies, come what may in the Alps, the race has already been a huge success.
"It's a colossal moment, a win in a WorldTour race like this is amazing," Ferron said afterwards. "I knew [fellow breakaway Andrea] Baglioli (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) was quicker than me so when I saw the finish line in the distance, I knew I had to go for it."
How it unfolded
The early news of the day was the DNS of promising young Spanish allrounder Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates), lying eighth after the mid-week TT, because of sickness. But neither the soaring heat on a stage running through the lower foothills of the Alps nor a jaw-droppingly fast first hour could discourage seven riders from testing the waters early on the hilly 196-kilometre trek from Rives to Gap.
On a day with four minor categorized climbs, the presence of King of the Mountains Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels-KTM) in the move was perhaps not overly surprising, nor was the presence of a rider with a noted predilection for hilly stages like Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic). After making their move, come the summit of the second category Col de Rousset, the hardest climb of the day, the two Frenchmen were joined by Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën), Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ), Andrea Bagioli (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Victor Lafay (Cofidis), and Valentin Ferron (TotalEnergies).
Behind, the speed of the stage saw the peloton shatter briefly even before the Rousset, with Chris Froome (Israel-Premier Tech) amongst those dropped, finally losing five minutes.
The pace also proved too much for Ineos Grenadiers' former World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski, who abandoned with knee pain.
However, the blistering 44.591 kph average speed for the day could not prevent the breakaway from maintaining a solid three-minute lead as they entered the final 30 kilometres. Only Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ) was unable to stay in contact with a break where there was an unusually high degree of collaboration. That collaboration was notable by its absence in the sprinters' teams, where Jumbo-Visma, Bike Exchange-Jayco and UAE Team Emirates would make inroads into the sextet's advantage only to sit up again and watch their hard work unravel.
Despite the presence of a noted fast finisher like Bagioli in their number, it was only when the six reached the outskirts of Gap that things began to look more unsettled. Bouchard tried one surging move on a gentle rise, which proved ineffective. Then given the long, flat straightaway to the finishing gantries which followed, it seemed certain that the six would be watching each other too closely for anything but a small bunch sprint to materialize.
Ferron, though, thought otherwise, darting away on the opposite side of the road from the rest of the break with less than a kilometre to go, and ramping up the pace to ensure his rivals could not get back on his wheel. Rolland tried the hardest to get back on terms, but it was too late.
After a largely uneventful day, broken only by the late on-bike drama involving Juan Sebastian Molano (UAE Team Emirates) and Hugo Page (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux), a largely intact bunch sped across the line 32 seconds later. On Saturday and Sunday, though, the gaps between the finishers are expected to be considerably larger.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.
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