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Axel Laurance (Alpecin-Deceuninck) took the win on the second stage of the Etoile des Bessèges. The U23 world champion outlasted Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) on the uphill finish in Rousson to take his second pro victory.
The 22-year-old Frenchman takes the first leader’s jersey of the race following the cancellation of Wednesday’s opening stage due to disruption caused by the protests of local farmers. Kévin Vauquelin (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) rounded out the podium ahead of Kevin Geniets (Groupama-FDJ) a second further back.
Laurance hit the front of the race 300 metres from the line on the closing climb of the Plateau du Castellas (900m at 9.1%), following an attack by Rémy Rochas (Groupama-FDJ). This drew out Pedersen, Vauquelin, and Geniets from behind, though none of the men could fully match the leader’s burst of power.
Pedersen came closest, looking to pull alongside Laurance on the steep inclines, but the Dane couldn’t quite push himself to the front and would be forced to settle for second place.
Laurance’s Alpecin-Deceuninck team had been among the squads working at the front throughout the 163.6km day, which included the first-category Col de la Baraque and second-category Côte du Pradel before a rolling route over the final 50km to the finishing climb.
They and Lotto-Dstny worked to control the advantage of the breakaway, which consisted of Continental-level riders Jean-Louis Le Ny (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur), Maximilien Juillard (Van Rysel-Roubaix), and Matisse Julien (CIC U Nantes Atlantique).
The trio were held around four minutes ahead of the peloton for much of the day, while Le Ny and Juillard traded blows on the two mid-stage climbs. Both ended up on 14 mountain points, with Le Ny taking on the climber’s jersey as a result.
They’d hold out until the 6km to go mark, by which point the peloton was in full flight towards the closing ascent.