On the last stage of the Région Pays de la Loire Tour this Friday around Le Mans, Sam Watson went all in. Aiming to create action and make the race harder for some teams, the British rider attacked with three laps to go. Off the front for a few minutes, he was however caught fifteen kilometres from the finish and therefore couldn’t join in the final battle. Marijn van den Berg took the stage and the general.

Like last season, the Région Pays de la Loire Tour was set to be decided in Le Mans, on a quite explosive ten-kilometre circuit, to be covered six times, and which the peloton reached after 120 kilometres of racing. After the start of the stage was blocked due to the bonus sprint located after fifteen kilometres, a breakaway of five men then managed to establish with Mark Stewart (Corratec-Vini Fantini), Clément Alleno (Burgos-BH), Paul Hennequin (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur), Norman Vahtra (Van Rysel-Roubaix) and Julien Matisse (CIC U Nantes Atlantique). Throughout the first half of the course, their lead was maintained around four minutes, and they entered the final circuit including the famous Côte de Gazonfier (300 metres at 15%) with a similar gap. Within the peloton, Matt Walls led the way with Sam Watson right away. “For us, nothing was done overall, and so we had the plan to race for GC and we wanted to make the race hard on the circuit,” explained William Green. “We didn’t want to wait until the last lap, so in the first two, we raced aggressively with both Matt then Ronan [Augé].” In the first lap, the rider from “La Conti” followed a move, and he did it again a lap further.

“We had to race aggressively”, William Green

The peloton eventually caught the riders in-between with three laps to go, while the breakaway was still one minute in front. A few moments later, Sam Watson then really opened up the race, 26 kilometres from the finish. The British rider was first followed by some fifteen men on the côte de Gazonfier, but he attacked again on a less steep climb to join Johannes Kulset in chase. “They took a little gap, and once Sam made the effort to get a gap, he was committed”, added William. “This course is quite technical, it is not easy to close the gap, but EF Education-EasyPost controlled and had a very strong team, so kudos to them. We knew we had to race aggressively to try to win the general classification. Sam had very good legs again, but unfortunately not many other teams wanted to race aggressively. We still tried to, but it didn’t work out in the end.” After almost a lap in the lead, Sam Watson was caught on the penultimate time up the côte de Gazonfier, fifteen kilometres from the line. A lap later, the final selection took place, and he was unable to join the party. “After being on the front, he couldn’t follow,” William added.

Victory was decided within a group of nine riders, and Marijn van den Berg completed his teammates’ work winning the stage and the overall. “Obviously we’re disappointed not to come away with a result this week, but we cannot be disappointed with the way we rode,” concluded William. “The team was very motivated, functioned very well, and rode well as a unit. After the first stage, we were down to five riders after losing Jens to a wrist injury. This makes the way the team rode throughout the week even more impressive. Ronan, in particular, made an impression. He not only fulfilled his role, but did more.” On Friday, the young man was also the first rider from Groupama-FDJ to cross the line, about thirty seconds behind the winner.

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