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2021 Étoile de Bessèges stage 1: Christophe Laporte takes win from Nacer Bouhanni in late uphill dash

Multiple crashes complicated the final 5 kilometers of the race which saw top teams take to the start.

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Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) attacked from the field on a punchy climb to the finish, and then held off Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) to win Wednesday’s opening stage of the Étoile de Bessèges. Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) rolled through in third.

The two French riders broke from the chaos in the final 1km, as the bunch stormed through the winding final, emerging into an uphill slope to the line.

The victory is Laporte’s first pro victory since 2019, and it comes against an all-star field of heavy hitters. This year the French race has attracted three former Tour de France winners in Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas, and Vincnezo Nibali, among other star riders. The presence of the strong field is due, in part, to the cancelation of Spanish races due to COVID-19.

Groupama-FDJ, Trek-Segafredo, Bora-Hansgrohe, Lotto-Soudal, Cofidis, EF Education-Nippo, Israel Start-Up Nation, and Qhubeka-Assos all brought strong squads to test early season legs.

The start list included Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen (AG2R-Citroën), Michał Kwiatkowski and Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Albero Bettiol (EF Eduction-Nippo), Philippe Gilbert and John Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal), and Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation).

An early break of three managed to stay away until 12km to go. They were nearly caught when the maximum five minutes advantage was narrowed to just 30 seconds outside of 35km to go. The three manage to get another 30 seconds back and hold this advantage for 20km.

With 20km remaining, Thomas and Ganna came to the front, while teammate Bernal was at the back of the group. Two crashes marred the final 6km, with one just outside of 5km, and the second at 2.5km to go.

Stage 2 will take riders from Saint-Geniès to La Calmette on a 154km route.

Étoile de Bessèges stage 1 results

1. Christophe Laporte (Cofidis), at 3:14:32
2. Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic), at s.t.
3. Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), at 0:02
4. Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka Assos), at s.t.
5. Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers), at s.t.
6. Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe), at s.t.
7. Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels), at s.t.
8. John Degenkolb (Lotto Soudal), at s.t.
9. Jake Steweart (Groupama-FDJ), at s.t.
10. Danny Van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), at s.t.