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Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) scored his first victory of the season on stage 3 of Etoile de Bessèges, powering to the win in the reduced-group sprint after a tough day of climbing.
The Dane survived the six categorised climbs on the 161.1km route starting and finishing in Bessèges with enough left in the tank to outsprint Milan Menten (Lotto Dstny) and Rasmus Tiller (Uno-X Mobility) after the peloton reeled in a last-ditch attack from Kévin Vauquelin (Arkéa-B&B Hotels).
A strong seven-rider break including the in-form Simon Carr (EF Education-EasyPost) had got up the road in the opening 20km of racing. But they were caught on the final categorised climb where attacks from Benoît Cosnefroy (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) and Rémy Rochas (Groupama-FDJ) weren’t enough to get rid of Pedersen and the remaining fast men.
Pedersen took over the race lead from stage 2 winner Axel Laurance (Alpecin-Deceuninck) thanks to the bonus seconds gained on the line, with the Frenchman now six seconds down heading into the final two stages.
“It’s a really good day for us and nice to give the guys the victory they deserved yesterday. [It] sums up the two good days of racing,” Pedersen said, and noting his win bumped him into the overall lead.
“I’m expecting to get attacked tomorrow, it’s a hard finish and I’m not the strongest climber here so for sure they will try, and they have to, they’re here to win the race also. But now we have what we came for, we came for a stage victory, so we are happy but of course we will try to hang on with these guys tomorrow. The GC would be a bonus because we know how hard it will be tomorrow.”
How it Unfolded
After Etoile de Bessèges got back underway with stage 2’s ramp finale, the third stage proved to be the first full uphill test for the riders with five categorised and two uncategorised climbs lining the 161km route starting and finishing in Bessèges itself.
Just 20km into the day’s action, a very strong seven-man break would get up the road including Carr, Sander De Pestel (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale Team), Alexis Gougeard (Cofidis), Thibault Guernalec (Arkéa – B&B Hotels), Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X Mobility), Thomas Gachignard (TotalEnergies) and Théo Delacroix (St Michel – Mavic – Auber93).
As the leaders built a lead past the four-minute mark, Abrahamsen was the most active in front, working to earn as many King of the Mountains points as possible over the first and second-category climbs that lined the middle phase of racing.
Behind, race leader Laurance’s Alpecin-Deceuninck team worked to keep the time gap manageable alongside Groupama-FDJ and Arkéa-B&B Hotels.
Minor attacks out of the peloton brought the speeds higher at the foot of the Col des Portes (6.7km at 3.6%), bringing the time gap down to under 30 seconds with 15km left in the day and just one climb left to navigate – the Col des Brousses (2.4km at 5.1%)
Lidl-Trek moved to the front with Julien Bernard taking up more work on the front at which point Carr shot out of the break to try and attack away again. He brought Abrahamsen and De Pestel with him, but their advantage was now just a narrow 20 seconds on the peloton.
Cosnefroy was on the attack again behind, lining out the remaining bunch and closing down the slim advantage still held by Carr and his fellow escapees, before it all came back together 12km from the line.
The peloton slowed at the bottom of the final, rapid descent, prompting attacks from Bibgoal-WB and Tudor Pro Cycling’s Marco Brenner, with the German quickly building out a 10-second advantage.
Lidl-Trek retook front position in the peloton for Pedersen’s ambitions, but the 21-year-old was holding position and getting away up the road. The help of Uno-X Mobility and EF Education-EasyPost on the front reeled back Brenner just before the flamme rouge.
Realising he had no chance in the sprint, Vauquelin attacked as the catch was made to Brenner, prompting Lidl-Trek back onto the front to ensure Pedersen had the chance to sprint and end the Frenchman’s hope.
With right-hand man Alex Kirsch still there to lead him out, the Dane hit the front at the perfect time and never looked back as Menten and Tiller battled for the podium places behind.
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