It’s never easy to win as a favourite, but Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) managed to triumph in Bretagne Classic - Ouest-France with a perfect finale. The Australian broke free from the front on the last descent and then took the reduced sprint group ahead of Slovenian Luka Mezgec (Mitchelton-Scott) and Frenchman Florian Sénéchal (Deceuninck-Quick Step).
“Luka had to go early in the sprint so I could wait. I just timed my sprint to perfection, I guess,” said Matthews just after his celebration. “After my crash in Milano-Sanremo it was difficult for my head. I knew that I had really good shape but to come back here, for my second race after lockdown, I'm really happy.”
Usually the Bretagne Classic-Ouest-France is raced shortly after the Tour de France, but due to COVID-19 and the calendar reshuffle the 2020 edition was scheduled four days before the Grand Départ in Nice and in the middle of the European Championships week, hosted this year in Plouay. In the morning rain, Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) won her third Grand-prix de Plouay - Lorient-Agglomération - Trophée Ceratizit after a duel with another Lizzie, her British compatriot Elizabeth Banks (Équipe Paule Ka).
Nine ascents and over 3000 meters altitude gain
The 84th edition of the historical Brittany race – and the fifth under the name of Bretagne Classic - Ouest-France – crossed 37 municipalities going through the Morbihan and the Côtes d'Armor departments, heading north-east and reaching the Saint-Brieuc bay before finishing in Plouay. The organisers changed several parts of the original route, including the lap circuit at the finale. After the 235km loop to Saint-Brieuc the group went back south-west for the last part of the race, the punchy 13.65km Circuit de Plouay.
The route featured nine ascents starting with the Mûr-de-Bretagne (1.5km at an 8.1% gradient) after 49km, then the Porpair (1.6km,6.1%) at the 126.5km mark, the Kerdoret (1.7km, 6.3%) at 141.5km then the Côtes the bon Repos (1.7, 7.7%) at 168km and the Botcoët (1.7km, 5.2%) at 196.5km. In the demanding finale, the riders climbed the Kerhoat (1.4km at 5.8%) at 22km to go, Restergal (1km at 4.6%) at 16km to go, the Côte du Lezot (900 meters at 4.9%) with 12km to go then the Côte the Pont-Neuf (1km at 5.1%) with just 3km remaining. All the climbs were short but the total altitude gain was over 3000 meters.
Historically, French riders have won the most editions (62), but in the last ten years the only ‘home’ victory was thanks to Sylvain Chavanel in 2014, while Belgium claimed three of the last four editions, twice with Oliver Naesen (2016 and 2018, one of 10 riders who got the double) and with Sep Vanmarcke last year.
Exciting final on the Circuit de Plouay
Three teams didn’t start: Bora-Hansgrohe, after a rider tested positive for COVID-19 in the morning, while Team Ineos and Team Jumbo-Visma elected not to participate in the race. When the action did start, the main breakaway included Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Floris De Tier (Alpecin-Fenix), Joey Rosskopf (CCC Team), Will Clarke (Trek-Segafredo), Zhandos Bizhigitov (Astana), Alexander Cataford (Israel Start-Up Nation), Julien Morice and Maxime Cam (both B&B Hotels-Vital Concept).
After the morning’s rain, the sun and clouds took turns over this race. Morice was the first rider to lose contact at 122km to go, followed shortly after by his team-mate Cam, until Cavagna was the last man out alone from the original attack. The Frenchman went solo just after the feed zone but was eventually caught by the peloton after around 200km of racing. The gruppo compatto lasted for a short time until the trio of Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal), Robert Stannard (Mitchelton-Scott) and Albert Torres (Movistar Team) attacked at 41km to go but their gap never extended beyond one minute and the peloton caught them 22km from Plouay.
As widely expected, all the best riders were in the 50-man peloton in the final part of the race, the punchy 13.65km Circuit de Plouay. There were several attacks in the finale, first from Scott Thwaites (Alpecin-Fenix) and then Frenchman Victor Lafay (Cofidis) who was caught on the last climb of Côte the Pont-Neuf. As Stan Dewulf (Lotto-Soudal) counter-attacked the group stretched into a very long line, but on the final descent the number one race favourite, Michael Matthews, managed to cut a gap at the front thanks to the precious work of his team-mate Nils Eekhoff, and then quite easily won the uphill sprint from Luka Mezgec and Florian Sénéchal.
It’s another important one-day race win for the Australian after the GP de Québec (2018, 2019) and GP de Montreal (2018) in Canada and the Clásica de Almería (2012) in Spain. During his career, he can also count three stage wins in both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España and two in Giro d'Italia – along with two Team Time Trials.