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Bouet’s Tour Down Under podium hopes sit on Willunga Hill

ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — The final 100 meters of stage 4 at the Santos Tour Down Under ended in a crash-marred bunch sprint involving more than two dozen riders, including newly signed Etixx-Quick-Step rider Maxime Bouet of France.

Bouet suffered only minor abrasions to his knee, elbow, and back in the mass pileup.

Reigning two-time Australian national criterium champion and former Garmin-Sharp rider Steele von Hoff (UniSA) sprinted to victory over the remnants of the field, including Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge) and Wouter Wippert (Drapac).

“I feel OK,” Bouet told VeloNews two hours following the crash. “I think I will know more tomorrow, but so far there are no problems.”

The past two years have not been kind to the former Agritubel and Ag2r-La Mondiale rider from Belley, who has suffered a fractured collarbone, broken arm, and appendicitis. He’s had a few crashes, including one last year on stage 3 of the Tour Down Under that dashed his general classification aspirations after finishing fifth on stage 1.

However, the 28-year-old Frenchman and 2013 Giro del Trentino stage winner is hoping a change in scenery will make a positive difference in 2015. His new sport director Rik van Slycke shares in Bouet’s intentions to get his career back on track.

“Tomorrow there is not that much regarding strategy,” said van Slycke, referring to Bouet targeting the infamous Willunga Hill as a possible stage win and an opportunity to gain valuable time in the general classification.

“We just have to bring him to the bottom of Willunga Hill on the last lap and then legs will talk,” he added. “If the legs are like stage 3, then we can think about something nice and see if he can take a few seconds somewhere to get on the podium.”

On Thursday’s 143.2-kilometer stage 3 from Norwood to Paracombe, Bouet finished a strong fourth behind Tom Dumoulin (Garmin-Alpecin), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), and Evans’ teammate and race leader Rohan Dennis just meters after a brutal 1.6km king of the mountains sprint to the finish. The result came one year removed from the 2014 crash that sent him from ninth to 20th in the GC. Bouet battled back to finish the race 15th overall.

This year, Bouet is currently eighth overall. Along with Richie Porte (Sky), Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jack Haig (UniSA), Ruben Fernandez (Movistar), and former teammate Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r), Bouet is just 15 seconds behind Dennis and 6 seconds off Dumoulin and a podium spot. With the 90km sprinter’s stage 6 on Sunday, only the 151.5km stage 5 from McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill remains for Bouet to climb the GC for a top-5 or potential podium finish.

“Anything is possible,” said Bouet, who has spent much of his offseason learning English, Italian, and even Flemish in an effort to better communicate with teammates, media, race officials, and rider support.

“I don’t know, maybe a crash like today or cross winds,” Bouet said regarding Friday’s crash at the finish. “Today was about recovery and it’s the same for the first part of tomorrow’s ride so that I have something in the legs for a good result on Willunga.”

“To show on Willunga is difficult but not very hard, I just stay on the wheels and take my shot.”

The other half of the Etixx team is racing the seven-stage Tour de San Luis in Argentina, with decorated sprinter Mark Cavendish finishing second on stages 1 and 3.

“It is kind of a stimulation for the guys over here and maybe also there,” van Slycke said. “We each want to win the first race and it heightens the team spirit and it’s fantastic.

“We always try to win every race we start, and we have full confidence in knowing the team will work for Maxime. If we can bring him to a top 5 it will be very great.”

Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.

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