Team Europcar made sure that they did not come on the 2013 Tour of Flanders merely to make up the numbers. After Jerome Cousin's eighth place during the opening stage of the Three Days of La Panne, Sebastien Turgot recorded the same result in the prestigious cobblestone classic in Flanders.
Turgot nevertheless finished far behind the winner of the day, the Swiss Fabian Cancellara, who dropped Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol) on the final climb of the Paterberg to solo to his second Tour of Flanders crown.
Runner-up in last year's Paris-Roubaix, Turgot played his card in the final bunch sprint for fourth place but had to settle for eighth when the main chasing group crossed the line 1:39 down on the in-form Cancellara.
"I tried to anticipate how it would play out before the last lap," Turgot told Eurosport after the finish in Oudenaarde. "On the Kwaremont climb I told myself that I was going to attack in order to take the gap needed to be able to follow Cancellara and Sagan. But when they passed, I was left isolated and I waited for another group to join ahead of playing my final card."
Finishing eighth was "a small satisfaction" for Turgot and not something to be baulked at. "In a race like the Tour of Flanders it's a good thing to make the top ten," he said.
Turgot's result crowned what was a good day of attacking racing from Team Europcar. During a crucial phase of the 256 kilometre race the peloton was being led by the dark green riders of Europcar after Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's men made their presence known on the first climb of the day, the Taaienberg, some 142km from the finish.
It was Team Europcar who pushed the pace of the main pack in pursuit of a break of seven riders who held a three-minute gap having attacked early in the race following the withdrawal of reigning champion Tom Boonen, who crashed inside the opening 20km.
"We took to the front to make sure that we were not caught short in a split in the peloton," explained directeur sportif Dominique Arnould.
Six riders from Europcar – with the large figure of Damien Gaudin ever-present – strung out the peloton through the village of Kerkem, and it was Europcar who still controlled the chase 20km later as the race hit the Molenberg climb, with the gap now reduced to just 35 seconds.
Following an attack by the German Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), a five-man group formed in pursuit of the leaders with both Yohann Gene and Vincent Jerome present. The two leading groups soon came together before Gene saw his hopes dashed with an untimely puncture, which meant Jerome was left isolated in a group heavy with Lotto and Blanco riders.
"It's a real shame that Yohann punctured there because all of a sudden Vincent found himself trapped in a group where the understanding was not very good and which very quickly fragmented," said Arnould.
Back with the pack, Jerome Cousin – after some stellar work alongside Gaudin to ensure Thomas Voeckler and Jerome had been ushered onto the Eikenberg climb in a strong position – was caught up in a crash with Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco) and Gabriel Rasche (Sky) and was forced to abandon the race.
Voeckler, who was spotted near the front of the race frequently during this animated period, was showing fine legs and managed to keep up with the favourites over the vast majority of the 17 cobbled climbs on the agenda.
But the last of three ascents of the Oude Kwaremont around 20km from the finish saw Cancellara and Sagan ride off the front in pursuit of lone leader Roelandts, and Voeckler – like Turgot – was not able to follow the pre-race favourites.
Heads now turn towards next Sunday's Paris-Roubaix, the third monument of the classics season, where Team Europcar will hope to build on Turgot's impressive second place from 2012.
"Roubaix is a big objective of ours but it will be difficult to beat Cancellara," said Turgot. "Our advantage is that we have a great team who all work hard for one another. What we saw today was a great sign for the future."
With defending Roubaix champion Boonen out injured and Sagan taking a rest ahead of the Amstel Gold race, many people have Cancellara down as the only man who can triumph in the velodrome of Roubaix. But Turgot has the pedigree and will be keen to make a second successive podium for Europcar.
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