By VeloNews Interactive wire services, Copyright 2001 AFP
Belgian cyclist Nico Eeckhout (Lotto) won the 31st edition of the Etoile de Bessèges by the slimmest of margins on Sunday after a final stage raced on a circuit around Molieres-sur-Ceze and Bessèges.
France’s Florent Brard (Festina) took the stage victory, and his compatriot Damien Nazon (Bonjour), who won the third and fourth stages, came in only 21 seconds behind his Belgian adversary from the Lotto team.
However it was too little too late as Eeckhout put the finishing touches to a campaign which he got off to a perfect start with victory in the first stage.
Eeckhout held on to the leader’s jersey throughout the race thanks to his individual effort, but also thanks to the teamwork of his Lotto teammates who worked tirelessly to contain any threats.
Sunday’s 136.2km final stage around the streets of Bessèges witnessed an intense pursuit. Brard, along with six other riders – Peter Farazijn (Cofidis), Samuel Plouhinec (Delatour), Fabrice Salanchon (Bonjour), Sebastien Talabardon (Big-Mat-Auber), Daniel Schnider (Francaise des Jeux) and Frederic Bessy (Credit Agricole) – pulled away at the 20km mark. The lead reached three minutes by the 100km mark, threatening the leader’s jersey of Eeckhout. But at that point, the Lotto squad worked to get things under control, and by the finish it had caught the breakaways, with the exception of Brard, who held onto a tiny gap to take the stage win.
1. Florent Brard (F), 136.2km in 3:17:04.
2. Jimmy Casper (F)
3. Jan Svorada (Cz)
4. Steffen Radochla (G)
5. Christophe Capelle (F)
6. Nico Mattan (B)
7. Tom Flammang (Lux)
8. Laurent Brochard (F)
9. Thor Hushvod (N)
10. Roger Hammond (GB), all s.t.
1. Nico Eeckhout (B), in 16:48:48.
2. Damien Nazon (F), at 0:21.
3. Jan Svorada (Cz), at 0:34.
4. Rapha‘l Jeune (F), at 0:39.
5. Beno”t Poilvet (F), at 0:41.
6. Jimmy Casper (F), at 0:42.
7. Koen Beeckman (B), at 0:42.
8. Laurent Brochard (F), at 0:44.
9. Ludovic Auger (F), at 0:44.
10. Christophe Moreau (F), at 0:44.