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GRANADA, Spain (VN) – Is there something strange going on or have the French started to win a lot of races lately?
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) won the Tour du Haut Var over the weekend and Jimmy Engoulvent (Sojasun-Saur) surprised the likes of Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) in Sunday’s 6.8km prologue to open the Ruta del Sol.
Other French wins include David Moncoutie (Cofidis) taking the flowers at the Tour Mediterranéen and Anthony Ravard (Ag2r) winning the Étoile de Bèsseges
The French wave continued Monday as Jonathan Hivert delivered Sojasun-Saur its second consecutive win in a bunch sprint when he out-kicked the fastest of the Spanish armada in the second stage at the Ruta del Sol.
“I knew if I could make it with the bunch there wouldn’t be a lot of sprinters left,” Hivert said. “I like sprints like that, a little crooked, with a chicane in the end, it was a real mess. I know if I did 20 sprints with Freire, I’d lose 19, but today I won.”
Five riders peeled away early and made a good shove for the finish line. Fabio Duarte (Geox-TMC), the former U23 world champion, made a brave run for victory but was reeled in with about 10km to go. Only 43 riders made it over the climbs to barrel into the finish line to contest for the sprint.
Hivert got on Oscar Freire’s wheel and surprised the three-time world champion when he came barreling past. Fran Ventoso (Movistar) was second in a photo-finish with Freire trailing across third.
“I have a bittersweet taste after the stage,” Ventoso said. “I am happy because I feel strong, but frustrated because I was so close to the victory. Second is the first loser. It’s too bad to lose like that after suffering so much in the stage.”
Engoulvent ceded his jersey to Markel Irizar (RadioShack) after he lost contact over two challenging climbs in the spectacular mountains of southern Spain in the 161km stage from Almuñecar to Adra. Engoulvent lost 20 minutes on the stage while Irizar, who just missed the win Sunday, slipped into the overall lead, one second ahead of Van den Broeck and two seconds ahead of teammate Leipheimer.
“It’s nice to be in the lead, especially after such a hard stage, with three climbs and 3,300 meters of climbing,” Irizar said. “I really suffered, but it’s worth it. The team really worked hard for me, with Muravyev, Rovny and Zubeldia staying with me all day. They kept me motivated and I managed to come back after a horrible climb.”
Irizar will have to have some kick in his legs to keep his jersey in Tuesday’s 175km, rolling stage from Otura to Jaén. The stage features four third-category climbs as the route pushes north into Jaén’s famous olive growing region. The final 3km, which rise toward the historic city center of Jaén, will be ideal for a puncheur of the likes of Voeckler.
Too bad he’s not racing here, perhaps he could give France another win.