The prospects of Maximilien Juillard (Van Rysel-Roubaix) remaining in a three-rider breakaway on stage 2 of Étoile de Bessèges for his first UCI stage win almost vanished completely as he avoided colliding with spectators, trees and then race vehicles.
A video from race broadcaster Eurosport caught the moment with 62.2km to go when Juillard could not reduce his speed for a sharp right-hand turn after the summit of the first KOM. Riding between two breakaway companions, he carried his speed in a forward direction off the tarmac, riding up a small dirt hill as a dozen spectators jumped aside to avoid his path. From among some large trees, he was able to stop his bike at the top of a steep, dirt embankment and carry his bike back onto the course.
Rather than remount his bike on the side of the road, he moved to the centre of the narrow paved road, one team car swerving on his right and a race motorcycle swerving on his left as he clipped back into his pedals to chase down his breakaway partners. His own team car sped up quickly from behind but was able to slow down and allow him to accelerate back into on-road action.
It was a lot of drama packed into less than a minute of racing action, and just one day after no racing took place at all. The opening stage of Étoile de Bessèges, scheduled for Wednesday, was cancelled completely due to nationwide protests against EU regulations by farmers. Many roads have been blocked using farm tractors and barricades of tyres.
Along with Jean-Louis Le Ny (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur) and Matisse Julien (CIC U Nantes Atlantique), Juillard was part of an all-Continental trio of riders who escaped the peloton after the first 16km of racing on Thursday. They stretched out their advantage to four minutes and scooped up top mountain classification points.
As the trio crested the category 1 Col de la Baraque (13.2km at 3.6%) together, it was just across the line that Juillard demonstrated his off-road talents and good luck. It took the 22-year-old Frenchman a few kilometres to compose himself and reconnect with his breakaway companions, who were together for the category 2 KOM at Côte du Pradel, 5km from his detour exhibition.
The trio’s escape was over with just 6km to go, though they would have a mountain classification lead to be decided. Both Le Ny and Juillard ended with 14 mountain points each, and Le Ny took the climber’s jersey.
Juillard did not go away empty-handed, as he was awarded the prize as most…