The race seemed quite open towards Antibes on Saturday, for the opening stage of the Tour des Alpes-Maritimes. Yet, although a few moves livened up the final, including an attack from Romain Grégoire, the bunch sprint couldn’t be avoided. In these circumstances, Ethan Vernon took the victory while Fabian Lienhard managed to slip into the sprint to grab a solid sixth place. The race’s general classification will be decided tomorrow in Vence.

In the aftermath of Lenny Martinez’s nice victory in the Classic Var, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team was at the start of the first – and penultimate – stage of the Tour des Alpes-Maritimes on Sunday. 165 kilometres on a slightly hilly profile made up this opening day of racing, and Lenny Martinez while David Gaudu left their spots in the squad to Quentin Pacher and Cyril Barthe. “It’s a difficult race to read,” first explained Benoît Vaugrenard. “You really need to pay attention and ride very smart because we know that this race is decided by little margins. First, there was a strong start, very difficult for an hour, with a lot of attacks.” With several climbs featuring in the first sixty kilometres, the peloton even split up for a moment before everything calmed down after the day’s first intermediate. Morne Van Niekerk (St-Michel-Mavic-Auber 93) and Andrea Mifsud (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur) then took the lead, and the peloton remained around 2’30 behind. One hundred kilometres from the finish, the riders entered the Antibes circuit, which they had to cover five times. The pack remained careful for three laps and really accelerated with just a lap and a half to go. “We knew that the final was less hard,” Benoît added. “It was still a bit lively because few teams could control for the sprint.”

“I saw an opportunity, and I went for it”, Romain Grégoire

Twenty-four kilometres from the finish, the peloton tackled the last lap 1’30 after the breakaway duo, and shortly after the second intermediate sprint, the road started to rise again. Romain Grégoire tried to make the most of it. “It wasn’t part of the plan, but I saw an opportunity at that moment, and I went for it, without thinking too much about what would happen afterwards,” explained the young Frenchman. “Initially, I was there to be positioned, to control the attacks, but when Costiou asked for a turn, I thought “there are 500 metres of climbing left, let’s go full gas and we’ll see at the top.” I found myself with Romain Bardet, so we gave it a try, but the peloton was still quite big and controlled straight away, so there was no point in keeping going.” The duo caught one of the day’s two fugitives, but the bunch eventually came back after a five-kilometre chase. “We would have needed a larger group, and it was too far from the finish,” said Benoît. In the last slopes of the course, Kevin Geniets and Quentin Pacher also followed the various counterattacks, but no move went away, and Andrea Mifsud was swallowed three kilometres from the finish by a bunch well-organized for the final sprint.

“We hope to do much better tomorrow”, Benoît Vaugrenard

The pack then stretched out and Israel-Premier Tech was able to lead Ethan Vernon out to victory. “With Kevin, we wanted to make the best sprint possible to grab some bonus seconds, but the final was quite tortuous and nervous, and we didn’t manage to find a space,” said Romain. Conversely, Fabian Lienhard was able to slip into the sprint. “We were going for Romain,” said the Swiss man, “but he lost my wheel and he had attacked before. I was there, so I did my sprint. A top-10 is always good. When you work all the time for your leaders, it’s nice to get that feeling of being at the front.” Fabian Lienhard grabbed sixth place on the line, but the second and final stage on Sunday should be much more decisive towards Vence. “The balance is not great this evening, let’s be honest,” concluded Benoît. “The race will be decided by seconds, and we have not collected any bonuses. It’s a mixed day and we hope to do much better tomorrow.”We didn’t get a result today, but we already have our eyes on tomorrow’s stage,” Romain said.

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