Road

Route d’Occitanie stage 4: Benoît Cosnefroy wins final stage

Egan Bernal seals overall victory in his return to racing after the COVID-19 lockdown.

Benoît Cosnefroy gave the French something to cheer about Tuesday after winning the fourth and final stage at the Route d’Occitanie in France.

The Ag2r-La Mondiale rider out-kicked Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) in the rising finale in what was a surprisingly active final stage in the four-day Occitanie.

Overall winner Egan Bernal (Ineos) dashed to fourth in the stage to secure his first stage race title since winning last year’s Tour de France.

“Before the start, I checked this stage. I knew it was a perfect fit for me,” Cosnefroy said. “Today, the team took control to put me in the best possible position. I just had to finish the job. It was chalkboard stuff, you couldn’t imagine it going better. I’m happy to win on this type of course which suits me.”

The Colombian rode the coattails of Team Ineos’s dominance in Monday’s “queen’s stage” in the French Pryénées to win the stage and carry the overall leader’s jersey into Tuesday’s 195km stage from Lectoure to Rocamadour, a Medieval city northwest of Toulouse.

The final steep ramps to the finish line put the GC riders back on the rivet, with Consefroy slipping clear with 500m to go to secure the win.

Bernal came in safely to win the 44th edition of the race (formerly called the Route du Sud), with teammate Pavel Sivakov finishing second overall. Russian neo-pro Alexsandr Vlasov (Astana) defended third overall. The 24-year-old was the only rider who could stay close to Bernal and Sivakov in Monday’s mountaintop finale, and Astana officials confirmed that Vlasov will make his grand tour debut with the Giro d’Italia in October.

“I was really happy with the result, I think it’s important to win the race, for the team and the morale after the lockdown,” Bernal said. “The main thing is that I’m feeling really good. I think my preparation is going well and that is the most important thing for me at this race.”

The race marked the return to racing in France for the first time since the coronavirus put the brakes on racing in March. Many of the top Tour de France-bound riders squared off for the first time since Paris-Nice.

Bernal said accepting the new regulations and protocols is simply part of the new reality of racing during the world pandemic.

“It’s part of our life now,” Bernal said. “You know if you want to go to races, you have to take some tests and be careful about the COVID. It’s better that we are all doing it, and we are sure that everyone is doing the same. For me, it’s not boring, it’s the new, normal life.”

All eyes were on Chris Froome, racing for just the second time since his career-threatening crash last year at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Froome took on a domestique role this week to help Bernal and Sivakov lead the way, and hopes to ease into better form. Froome is slated to race next at the Tour de l’Ain and the Critérium du Dauphiné before the Tour.

“I was really really happy to get another race in the legs this season, it was the first time for me doing real work in the climbs, so it was nice to have a little hit out, a nice little test and good to be in and amongst the team this week and come away with a fantastic result as well, first and second with Egan and Pavel,” Froome said.
“It’s great to see after a long break from racing to come back and to have done that,” he continued. “I’m happy to have this race finished and I feel this racing will really help bring my level up as we head towards the Tour de France.”

Stage 4 results
1. Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R – La Mondiale), 4:23:26
2. Bauke Mollema (Trek – Segafredo), at 0:02
3. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama – FDJ), at s.t.
4. Egan Bernal (Team Ineos), at s.t.
5. Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana Pro Team), at s.t.
6. Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R – La Mondiale), at 0:07
7. Pavel Sivakov (Team Ineos), at s.t.
8. Richie Gate (Trek – Segafredo), at s.t.
9. Rafael Valls (Bahrain – McLaren), at 0:10
10. Warren Barguil (Team Arkéa Samsic) at s.t.