After many good results, Paul Penhoët finally returned to the top step of the podium on Wednesday, on stage 2 of the Tour Poitou-Charentes en Nouvelle Aquitaine. The Groupama-FDJ’s sprinter took advantage of a demanding final and let his punch do the talking in the uphill finish in Bressuire. After an excellent positioning by Fabian Lienhard and Bram Welten, the 21-year-old man left no chance to his competitors in the last 300 meters to claim his second win of the season, bringing the team’s total to seventeen. As a consequence, he also took the leader’s jersey.
When he took the start of the second stage of the Tour Poitou-Charentes en Nouvelle Aquitaine in Aulnay de Saintonge, on Wednesday morning, Paul Penhoët knew that he would get a great opportunity, 187 kilometres further, in Bressuire. A bunch finish was again anticipated, but the last 400 meters uphill surely suited the Groupama-FDJ’s young man. That said, the French team did not immediately take the chase in hands behind the day’s breakaway including Lucas Beneteau (St-Michel-Mavic-Auber 93), Tom Mainguenaud (Van Rysel-Roubaix Lille Métropole), David Martin Romero (Eolo-Kometa), James Fouché (Bolton Equities-Black Spoke), Damien Girard (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur) and Rick Ottema (Allinq Continental CT). “There was a team with the race leader today, so they had to defend their jersey, which they did rather well,” said Thierry Bricaud. The Uno-X team of Søren Wærenskjold let a gap of around 3/4 minutes during the first two thirds of the race, but the fugitives’ lead was still quite important with thirty kilometres to go. “They still needed a hand to have a sprint in the end, Matthieu went to help them, and it all came back together quite quickly,” added Thierry. “We organized quite fast with other teams”, added Paul. “It also allowed us, Fabian, Bram and me, to always be in a good position in the last thirty kilometres”.
“Just like in a textbook”, Paul Penhoët
Following the acceleration of the peloton, the last man standing was caught even before the last ten kilometres then the fight for positions intensified. “We lost Enzo in a crash, but we had studied the final closely and we knew exactly what we wanted to do and how we wanted to be positioned”, added Thierry. “We wanted to be in the top positions in the tortuous last 7-8 kilometres so as to be one step ahead. It’s easy to say at the briefing, it’s less obvious on the ground, but Fabian and Bram did it very well.” In the front row to see it all, Paul Penhoët also recounted this straightforward finish: “Like yesterday, there was a strategic point with six kilometres to go and Fabian did what he had to do. It was just like in a textbook, as we said at the briefing. The second strategic point was 1.6 km from the finish and Fabian dropped us off perfectly with Bram”. Thanks to the work of the Swiss rider, the last two men of Groupama-FDJ were able to start the uphill final in Bressuire in an ideal position. “There was a first small steep hill before the last kilometre, a rider attacked, but we had agreed with Bram that we shouldn’t panic if such a scenario happened because it was still far from the finish”, said Paul. “Bram set a good pace and managed to hold on until the last 400 metres. A runner then passed me on the left and that’s about when I wanted to start my effort”.
“We imagined it, but doing it is another story”, Thierry Bricaud
Ideally placed at the start of the final climb, the young man followed his competitor, and his explosiveness then did the rest. “I didn’t hesitate, I launched, and I knew that on such an effort uphill, the strongest would normally win”, he said. “I went for it to have no regrets, and it was enough”. Paul Penhoët first overtook Romain Cardis then Léo Danès, the last kilometre attacker, before flying away to the win. With a big margin on the rest of the competition, he therefore took victory in an undisputed way. “Paul was in an excellent position to finish the job and he did it brilliantly,” noted Thierry. “We imagined and considered it, but doing it is another story. He was really confident, the stage suited him, and he knew it. He wanted to take the initiative and start from a bit far. That’s what he did, and he was right because he had the legs to make the difference. He’s been regularly up there for a while, but when you are a sprinter, you want to win. It’s good for his confidence because he never gives up.” “It’s great, it’s my second victory this season, and that’s really what I came here for”, added the day’s winner. “It feels good to win. In addition, I am taking the leader’s jersey, and with the confidence I gained today, it’s also possible to get some good results over the next few days. I want to thank everyone again for their work today.”
At the finish, Paul Penhoët also had a thought for Thibaut Pinot, who was forced to abandon earlier in the day following a crash. “He was more scared than hurt”, said Thierry. “In the end, he mostly suffers abrasions and there is nothing broken by the looks of things”. The Groupama-FDJ squad will anyway be reduced to six units on Thursday, for the traditional day made of two stages: road stage in the morning, time trial in the afternoon. “Having the leader’s jersey will not change a lot of things”, insisted Thierry. “We expect a sprint tomorrow morning and we want to fight for the stage again, so leader’s jersey or not, it doesn’t change much. In the afternoon, we will aim for victory on the time trial with Bruno, then we will see for the overall”.