Jake Stewart might have found his favourite place. For the second year in a row, the young Briton indeed won on the Tour de l’Ain. After getting his very first pro victory in Val-Revermont in 2022, the Groupama-FDJ rider also conquered the opening stage of the 2023 edition at La Plaine Tonique on Monday. After a superb lead-out from Fabian Lienhard, he launched the final sprint himself and was never caught. He will take the start on Tuesday with the yellow jersey on his shoulders.
Without any difficulty along the way, the Tour de l’Ain was supposed to crown a fast man in La Plaine Tonique on its first day of racing. “It was all flat and there was no wind, so we knew it was going to be a sprint finish today”, explained Benoît Vaugrenard. “We just had to be careful at the start because it’s always difficult to manage with teams of six riders over 150 kilometres. We planned not to let more than 3-4 riders go in the breakaway. If there were more, we could also put Enzo in front, which would have allowed us to be a step ahead and not have to chase”. Aloïs Charrin (Tudor) and Julian Lino (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur), Mads Ostegaard Kristensen (Leopard TOGT) eventually established the “good” move, but the peloton never felt threatened. “The favorite was Jason Tesson, so we let TotalEnergies lead the chase,” explained Benoît. Halfway through, Charrin and Lino suffered a crash at the front of the race, leaving Kristensen alone for the second half of the stage. The Dane kept on going on his own but was easily reeled in more than twenty kilometres from the finish. A few attacks then occurred in the bunch. “There were a few small hills, nothing too serious, but we had to be careful”, insisted Benoît. “We had to follow the moves, especially since there are not many sprinters’ teams here. The guys did it well, especially Reuben. Then, in the last flat ten kilometres, we needed to focus on Jake”.
“We had to gamble a bit and wait”, Benoît Vaugrenard
The bunch sprint then slowly started to set up, but not without trouble. “It was a pretty easy day, but as always in these cases, the last ten kilometres were very hectic because everyone was still fresh”, explained Fabian Lienhard. “It was a bit messy, but we know each other very well with Jake because we ride together very often, so we managed to stay together”. “The last ten kilometres were in a straight line on a large road, with a 3/4 head wind. We had to gamble a bit and wait as long as possible to produce our effort”, explained Benoît. “We needed to bring Fabian as far as possible so that he did not make an effort before the last 500 metres”. In a very good position at the flamme rouge, the duo however got suddenly blocked and had to brake. Still, Fabian Lienhard found the space and the strength to move back up and start the sprint with 500 metres to go. “I launched quite early so we wouldn’t get boxed in”, explained the Swiss man. “I also saw at the briefing that there was a small curve in the last 400 metres. I knew that if I took it in the lead, it could put Jake in a good position to go for the victory”. Right at the front entering the home stretch, the Briton did not hesitate for a second and immediately kept on pushing after the lead-out. “The boys executed perfectly,” Jake said. “It was a bit different from last year, where it was harder, and it suited me more. Today was pan flat, and we knew it would be a chaotic sprint. Fabian did a perfect lead-out, opened up 500 meters to go, then I just went at 250 metres, and I held on until the line”.
“It’s great to finish it off”, Jake Stewart
Thanks to a sharp kick, the 23-year-old took two-bike lengths lead which allowed him to stay away from his competitors until the finish. For the second in a row, Jake Stewart then took the opening stage of the Tour de l’Ain. “Many are returning to racing here, but Fabian and Jake took part in the Tour de Wallonie”, noted Benoît. “We know they have this slight advantage. We felt it today, we felt they were both powerful and Fabian did a great job. The sprint didn’t suit Jake 100%, but I am not surprised, because we know that he’s going well at the moment. This period suits him well and he worked well in July. He is also coming out from the Tour de Wallonie where he was fifth twice, and where he gained confidence. We also know that he likes to start sprints, and he was able to do so today. He was very strong because he launched from far and was able to resist. Chapeau to him. There is nothing like winning for confidence. It’s his first victory of the season and it promises a good end to the season with races that suit him. We are very satisfied and happy for him”. “It’s great to take a win,” said Fabian. “We tried in Wallonia, but it wasn’t perfect. It’s really great to start the second part of the season like this and I hope we can get more.”
A winner for the second time in his young career, Jake Stewart also brought the season’s eleventh victory to Groupama-FDJ on Monday. But most importantly, he made the most of his current shape. “I think it’s clear that I like this race”, he smiled at the finish. “It’s my second year here, and it’s my second victory, which is very special. I am very happy with my feelings. Coming out of the Tour de Wallonie, I was quite confident with my form, and I knew I was sprinting pretty well. It’s great to come here, to actually finish it off and to come away with another victory.” The Briton also took the yellow jersey on Monday and will try to defend it while supporting Rudy Molard and Michael Storer on a much more demanding course Tuesday. Stage 2 will especially include the Col de Portes before the finish in Lagnieu.