Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) won the overall classification at the Etoile de Bessèges in the south of France, going deep in the final time trial to hold off Kévin Vauquelin (Arkéa-B&B Hotels).
The French rider won the 10.6km time trial around the village or Arles, impressing on the climb up to the finish.
Vauquelin set a time of 15:02 but started the time trial 12 seconds behind Pedersen in the GC. The Dane set a time of 15:12 and so won overall by just two seconds.
EF Education-Easypost packed the top ten in the time trial and Alberto Bettiol finished third in a time of 15:11 and so third overall at 32 seconds.
Ben Healy was fourth on the stage and so fourth overall, at 43 seconds. Sean Quinn, Simon Carr and Stefan Bissegger completed EF Education-Easypost dominance of the stage.
Pedersen pulled on the orange race winner’s jersey in central Arles. He won stage 2 in Rousson, was second the day after in Besseges and then second in the final time trial. He is the first Dane to win the overall classification of the early-season stage race. He will now target the four-day Tour de la Provence that starts in the same area of France on February 8 with a five-kilometre time trial around Marseille.
Pedersen pushed his limits during the time trial, so much so that he came close to crashing when he lost grip with his front wheel in a corner. He kept his bike upright and quickly got going again but it cost him precious seconds.
With Vauquelin setting the fastest time by a significant margin, Pedersen needed to give his all on the climb to the finish line. Pedersen stopped the clock and seemed to have won overall but race officials carefully checked the times before confirming Pedersen’s slim winning margin.
“It was a good day, it’s nice to have a GC victory this early in the season and the perfect way to end a week like this,” he said.
“The team rode super nice the whole week and it’s great to finish it off with a strong time trial. It was a difficult situation to lose the front wheel in that corner but in the end we managed to make up for it and keep the GC within reach.
“Of course, two seconds is close, but last year we lost by just one second and this year we won with two, so we knew it would be a tight result.
All in all, we’re pretty happy with this start to the season. The shape is where it should be and we’re looking forward to racing in Provence next week.”
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