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Etoile de Bessèges stage 1 - Live race coverage

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Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of the Etoile de Bessèges.

As the Cyclingnews blimp takes height and we join the action, there are 67km left to race. 

The action so far has been fast but steady, with the peloton is chasing the early break.  

At the moment AG2R are leading the chase.

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The five-day Étoile de Bessèges kicks off with what is arguably its strongest field ever, featuring no fewer than three Tour de France winners in Geraint ThomasEgan Bernal and Vincenzo Nibali, as well as Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet, who will be making his first racing appearance for his new AG2R-Citroën team. 

There are 11 WorldTeams among the 22 squads participating in the 51st edition of France’s traditional season-opening stage race. It’s the first edition of Bessèges to be organised since race founder and long-time director Roland Fangille died after contracting COVID-19 last November. 

His daughter Claudine has taken over his role and she is determined to keep the race going in her father’s memory, a task that has been eased in the short term at least by the quality of this year’s field and the consequent sale of TV rights by the race organisation.

Taking place entirely in the Gard department in southern France, with Nîmes and Alès as its focal points, Bessèges is usually dominated by the sprinters, and there are several notables on the startlist. They include 2019 world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), John Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos).

Groupama-FDJ’s Arnaud Démare apart, the pick of the French sprinters are also set to start. Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels p/b KTM), Christophe Laporte (Cofidis), Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) and Marc Sarreau (AG2R-Citroën) have all done well here in the past, Laporte taking the overall title in 2019, while Coquard has bagged eight Bessèges stage wins over seven previous appearances.

The race begins with a 143.5km stage starting and finishing in Bellegarde that features a sharp ramp up to the line. 

Groupama-FDJ puncheur Alexys Brunel won here last year, beating AG2R’s Benoît Cosnefroy, who went on to win the overall title.

Click here to see the full start list. 

One team missing is Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise. They pulled out before the start after a suspect COVID-19 case. 

The Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise team in action

(Image credit: Getty Images)

58km to go

The peloton is lined out as it blasts through the French countryside.  The weather is dry and warm, perfect to open up the legs with some early racing.

The three riders in the break are Loius Louvet (St Michel-Auber 93), Alexandre Delettre (Delko) and Tom Paquot (Bingoal-WB).

Their lead touched 7:40 but is down to 2:40 now as the WorldTour teams flex their muscles and put riders on the front of the peloton.

This is the view from inside the Israel team car.

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With Ineos back in action in the south of France, their riders have also been revealing their goals for 2021. 

Giro d'Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart has revealed he will not defend his maglia rosa but instead makes his Tour de France  debut, with the goal of doing well overall. 

Click below to read more on Cyclingnews.

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With 50km to go the break's lead is down to 2:30. riders are taking a final natural break and taking a late bidon before the speed rises for the dash to Bellegarde.

The road rises to the line, making it a tough finish for the pure sprinters and so more suited to the puncheur such as Greg van Avermaet, Pascal Ackermann and perhaps the likes of Bryan Coquard. 

The race will pass through the finish with 35km or so to go, so they will soon realise what they face. 

50km to go

To understand the riders to watch this week, check out our '10 riders to watch' feature.

Click below to learn about the GC contenders, sprinters, breakaway specialists, and up-and-coming riders to keep an eye on.

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The riders have covered 100km now and will soon hit the short but steep climb that takes them from near sea level up to 107m. 

The road through Bellegarde is narrow and twisting. There will be a fight for position before the climb so that team leader's are up front and ready for any problems and any splits over the top.  

Trek and Groupama move up fast through the middle of the pack.

Ufffff the speed is up! 

The break is only 1:00 ahead as they start the short climb to the finish area. 

This is a nasty little climb, perfect for the puncheur riders when they return after a final 40km of fast racing. 

After the narrow roads through the village and a steep hairpin, the road flattens and widens in sight of the line, suiting whoever has a fast finish.   

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This is another view of the climb to the finish.

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The pace has eased after the short descent, the peloton is happy to let the three breakaways stay off the front at about 1:00.

These are the three attackers of the day.

BELLEGARDE FRANCE FEBRUARY 03 Louis Louvet of France and Team St Michel Auber93 Tom Paquot of Belgium and Team Bingoal WB Alexandre Delettre of France and Team DELKO during the 51st toile de Bessges Tour du Gard 2021 Stage 1 a 14355km stage from Bellegarde to Bellegarde 57m Breakaway EDB2020 on February 03 2021 in Bellegarde France Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

And here are AG2R leading the peloton.

BELLEGARDE FRANCE FEBRUARY 03 Alexis Gougeard of France Lawrence Naesen of Belgium and AG2R Citroen Team during the 51st toile de Bessges Tour du Gard 2021 Stage 1 a 14355km stage from Bellegarde to Bellegarde 57m Peloton EDB2020 on February 03 2021 in Bellegarde France Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Egan Bernal seemed happy to be back racing. 

Egan Bernal was back in action at the Étoile de Bessèges

(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

30km to go

There is very little wind today and so little possibility of echelons. However the AG2R team is lining out the peloton and is stuck to the right of the road.

Arkea Samsic are also gathering near the front to protect Nacer Bouhanni.

He had a quiet 2020 season and was not selected for the Tour de France but has the support of Britons Dan McLay and Connor Swift. 

If he is on form, it could be a day for him despite the short climb to the finish. 

25km to go

The riders make a U turn at a roundabout with 25km to go. 

The three attackers lead by just 35 seconds now. 

Here's the peloton as it chases the break.

BELLEGARDE FRANCE FEBRUARY 03 Alexis Gougeard of France and AG2R Citroen Team during the 51st toile de Bessges Tour du Gard 2021 Stage 1 a 14355km stage from Bellegarde to Bellegarde 57m Peloton Landscape Bridge EDB2020 on February 03 2021 in Bellegarde France Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The 25km turn point seems to have marked a change in the peloton. 

Lotto Soudal has now moved up to the front, perhaps riding for John Degenkolb. 

Qhubeka is also up front and pushing the speed.

The trio up front are working together to try to stay away but they face a near impossible task. 

There gap is at 35 seconds but the peloton can see them on the open roads of southern France. 

A shuffle in the pack means Bernal and Thomas are up near the front, trying to stay out of trouble. 

They will no doubt try to limit any loses on the climb. 

This shows the speed and risk in the peloton.

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Christophe Laporte won Besseges in 2019 and the Cofidis fast finisher could be a contender today.  

15km to go

Indeed the Cofidis team is also gathering at the front.

Positioning will be vital in the final kilometres because as these photos from Israel Start-Up nation show, there is little room to move up when the climb to the finish kicks up.  

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Gruppo compatto! 

The break has been swept up. 

10km to go

The riders swing right into the final 10km.  Qhubeka take over.  

Egan Bernal wisely slips to the back to avoid any high-speed crashes.

Some stopped traffic on the road makes for a scary moment but the race is on and the speed is high.  

The rest of the Ineos team is up front, riding to set up fast finishers Owain Doull and Ethan Hayter. 

It helps having Geraint Thomas and World TT champion Filippo Ganna in your team. 

Crash!

A squeeze sparked by cars stopped on the road lead to a touch of wheels and several riders went down. 

Bernal avoid the crash but was delayed.

Felix Großschartner of Bora was one of the riders involved. He has lost a chance to go for victory today and his overall hopes.

Ineos are lined out down the right side of the road, Cofidis are on the left, with others in the middle.  

Now Total move up, riding for Edvald Boasson Hagen perhaps. 

3km to go

It's a sprint to the foot of the climb.

Another crash! 

Bettiol is one of the riders slowed by the first crash. His GHC hopes have gone this year.

Mads Pedersen is there, Coquard too. 

The climb to the finish is about to start. 

Final km! 

Allez les gars!

Trek take over for Pedersen.

Nizzolo is there, Bouhanni too. 

Bouhanni attacks first! 

Laporte joins him and hits the front. 

Laporte  lead it out and held off Bouhanni with power and speed.

Cofidis seem happy. 

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Pedersen tried to go after Laporte and Bouhanni after the first surge but Laporte was super strong and accelerated again as the climb eased. 

The Dane finished third with Nizzolo fourth. 

This is the top ten for the stage. 

1 Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis 3:14:32
2 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic
3 Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo 0:00:02
4 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Team Qhubeka Assos
5 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Ineos Grenadiers
6 Jordi Meeus (Bel) Bora-Hansgrohe
7 Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM
8 John Degenkolb (Ger) Lotto Soudal
9 Jake Stewart (GBr) Groupama-FDJ
10 Danny van Poppel (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux

An impressive fifth place by Kwiatkowski, making all the work from Ineos worth while. 

Laporte and Cofidis are happy to land an early-season win. 

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The Etoile de Bessèges will be a close battle and the time bonuses will no doubt play a factor. 

This is the  General Classification after stage 1:



1 Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis 3:14:22
2 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic 0:00:04
3 Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo 0:00:08
4 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Team Qhubeka Assos 0:00:12
5 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Ineos Grenadiers
6 Jordi Meeus (Bel) Bora-Hansgrohe
7 Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM
8 John Degenkolb (Ger) Lotto Soudal
9 Jake Stewart (GBr) Groupama-FDJ
10 Danny van Poppel (Ned) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux. 

Here's the first image of Laporte celebrating his win. 

Christophe Laporte

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Laporte had not won a race since 2019 but this was the 18th success of his career. He was bumped down the sprinting heirachy  at Cofidis after the arrival of Elia Viviani but looked good today. 

He is fast on testing finishes likes today's stage and will wear the race leader's jersey on stage 2 on Thursday. 

Such was Laporte's surge that he and Bouhanni finished two seconds clear of Pedersen and the rest of the chasers. 

This is the finale of the stage. Watch for Bouhanni's attack and how Laporte responds with even more watts. 

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Click here to read our growing photo gallery, full stage report and results from stage 1 of the Etoile de Bessèges.  

Christophe Laporte

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Here Laporte on the podium, yet again masks and social distancing are obligatory. 

Etoile de Besseges 2021

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This shot shows howe Laporte blasted to the finish line, making it difficult for Bouhanni to come off his wheel.  

Everyone else is much further behind.

Etoile de Besseges 2021

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This shot from Arkea shows how Bouhanni  was able to get on Laporte's wheel over the top of the climb but was then unable to get around him.

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Egan Bernal was slowed by a late crash and so lost time but seemed happy to back racing after five months away to treat the back injury that wrecked his Tour de France.

Etoile de Besseges 2021

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Egan Bernal spoke about his comeback from injury and his return to racing today. 

Our man at the Etoile des Besseges Pete Cossins, was there to capture what he said.  

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AG2R worked hard all day for Greg van Avermaet but the Belgian admitted he got blocked on the climb and only finished 15th. 

Etoile de Besseges 2021

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Thanks for joining us for live coverage from stage 1 of the Etoile des Besseges. 

Click here to read our full report.

Christophe Laporte

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Join us on Thursday for full live coverage of stage 2 from Saint-Geniès to La Calmette.

It looks like a day for the pure sprinters.   

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