Around Villaines-la-Juhel, on a particularly demanding circuit, the general classification of the Boucles de la Mayenne was to be decided this Saturday. After a long day on the saddle, Alberto Bettiol took the yellow jersey, while Paul Penhoët fought well to take fifth place on the stage in a reduced peloton, nineteen seconds behind the Italian. The Frenchman is now ninth overall, his British mate Sam Watson fourth, and a sprint should conclude the race on Sunday in Laval. 

With more than 3,000 metres of elevation gain on the menu, the third day of racing on the Boucles de la Mayenne promised action. After a very challenging first part of the race, the final battle was set to take place on the Villaines-la-Juhel finishing circuit, approximately twenty kilometres long and including the Côte des Egoulettes (2.3 km at 5.7%), to pass five times. “The main objective was all around Sam and for him to follow in the key moments towards the final,” said William Green. However, the race got harder much earlier, while a breakaway of six men hit the front at the start. “We expected UAE Team Emirates would take it up,” William added. “However, they did it forty kilometers earlier than we expected and it was very hard through the middle.”We knew that this was the stage for the overall because it was long and without any resting moment,” said Paul Penhoët. “This is what happened. With 120 kilometres to go, UAE already made it hard and that quickly got us into the swing of things. Personally, I woke up this morning with stomach pain, but I still took the start, hoping that it would go away. This didn’t happen straight away. I was really hesitant about giving up but I didn’t do it because I was really thinking about tomorrow’s sprint. It finally went away 100 kilometres from the finish, I was able to get back into it and refocus.”

“We don’t have big regrets”, Paul Penhoët

The peloton continued to set a strong pace, then everything really got crazier entering the last hour of racing. “With 50 kilometres to go, the race was on,” added William. “We came with a team more focused on the sprint, so we came into difficulty. We didn’t have enough numbers at the front to cover some moves and a group got away. It was really some really good work from Thibaud to bring this move back, but it wasn’t a great situation.” A few men were still able to join the breakaway, but the bunch then reorganized behind the leading group. The gap gradually reduced, and the attackers were eventually caught on the first slopes of the final ascent of the Côte des Egoulettes, nine kilometres from the line. “Bettiol went, then Cosnefroy, Hirschi and Delettre as well, and Sam unfortunately couldn’t follow,” said William. “Kudos to Bettiol and his team. They took control in the lap before, brought back the breakaway and Bettiol was very powerful.” “For me, the goal was to hold on to the climbs and be able to sprint if it came together in the end”, added Paul. “I had really good legs at the end, so I was happy. I was confident then for my sprint.”

However, it was not a sprint for victory, as the four men previously mentioned managed to reach the line in front of a 30-man peloton. Bettiol won solo and took the yellow jersey. “We were in a complicated situation after the final climb,” added William. “We wanted to reduce the gap so that Hirschi did not move in front of Sam on GC but at the same time we did not want Jeannière or Van den Berg to take bonus seconds. We couldn’t have changed the outcome, and in the end, it went quite well. The three chasers finished only two seconds ahead. We couldn’t have done anything better.” Paul Penhoët therefore won the sprint for fifth place, nineteen seconds behind Bettiol. “We knew that the stage was going to be very difficult, more difficult than Cassel last week in Dunkirk,” said William. “But Paul showed again that he could be there, and he got a very nice fifth place.” “Bettiol was really the strongest,” concluded the French sprinter. “There was nothing we could do when he went. I think we don’t have big regrets about the stage victory. Sam is still in the white jersey; we are both positioned overall. We still limited our losses and that bodes well for tomorrow. There is another sprint to go for and some bonus seconds during the stage to try to move up on GC.”

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