Paul Penhoët is knocking at the door. Since his return to racing earlier this month, the French sprinter keeps on coming close to victory. This happened again this Friday on the first road stage of the Boucles de la Mayenne. On the slightly uphill finish to Ernée, he was only beaten by Emilien Jeannière, and therefore scored his fourth second place in just over ten days. He moved up to eleventh place overall while Sam Watson is fourth on the eve of the “queen” stage.

Despite an elevation gain of about 1,500 metres towards Ernée on Friday, everything suggested that a fight between sprinters would conclude the first stage of the Boucles de la Mayenne. Yet, in the aftermath of Sam Watson’s excellent third place in the prologue, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team had a dual goal. “Sam arrived here in very good form, the general classification was certainly a target for the team, and it was actually our first priority today,” explained William Green. “If the opportunity presented to take bonus seconds, we were going to focus on this with Sam at the start of the race and as we came onto the finishing circuit. However, the breakaway went clear early and went far, so they took all the bonuses. Then, we put all of our focus on Paul to win the stage in the process of defending Sam’s position in the general classification.” The early breakaway made up of Jérémy Leveau, David Martin Romero, Antoine Hue and Petr Kelemen however put on a brave fight against the peloton.

“We couldn’t have changed anything”, William Green

The bunch really had to work hard in the last twenty kilometres. “Before entering the finishing circuit, Jens [Verbrugghe] did a great job to position the whole team and to take back some time back on the breakaway which had quite a nice gap,” said Paul Penhoët. “Then on the finishing circuit we were all in a good position, we all found each other well. On the last lap, Sam and Matt did a great job to get as close as possible to the breakaway, then I had only Marc left for the last three kilometres. He managed to keep us in front really well and I didn’t really need to fight for position.” The last men standing from the breakaway were eventually caught shortly before the last, uphill 300 metres, and the sprint began in a strange way. “It was a bit of a mess at the foot of the climb, but I saw that there was a nice gap on the right so I went for it when the Bingoal rider opened up,” explained Paul. “When I got next to him to overtake him, I went up a gear, and I think it was too much, because it was even steeper right after. I’m a little bit with that, but Jeannière came from behind with the slipstream and quite a bit of speed so I’m not sure it would have really changed the result.” 

In the lead until the last 30 metres, Paul Penhoët therefore had to settle for another second place. “We rode really well, but it wasn’t enough to win,” William said. “He was simply beaten by a better rider. We couldn’t have changed anything, and we are really satisfied with our race. The team is functioning very well, and we have some good momentum.”It’s still a good day,” added Paul. “Sam didn’t crash, which is perfect. It gives confidence to the whole team and to me too for the next two days. It’s great”. Slightly delayed by a crash in the sprint, Sam Watson was given the winner’s time and now sits in fourth position in the general classification, three seconds behind Benoît Cosnefroy, while Paul Penhoët is in eleventh place, ten seconds off. “Sam feels very good for the queen stage tomorrow,” concluded William. “The finishing circuit will be hard, and it will be a challenging day. It’s going to be all to play for tomorrow, but we are ready and we showed today that we have a solid team.”