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34th Etoile des Bessèges - 2.3

France, February 4-8, 2004

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Stage 1 - February 4: GP de Marseille, Marseille circuit, 139 km

Steels is back

Tom Steels (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago)
Photo ©: AFP

Tom Steels (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) returned to his winning ways by taking the opening stage of the Etoile de Bessèges stage race on a circuit around the French port city of Marseille. Steels won the stage as he does best, in a bunch sprint, ahead of fellow Belgian Jo Planckaert and Norwegian Thor Hushovd. The stage was marked by many of the same protagonists as yesterday's Grand Prix de l'Ouverture, which although not part of the Etoile de Bessèges is considered informally as the 'prologue' to the event.

Australian Stuart O'Grady, riding this year in the colours of Cofidis, was once more on the attack throughout the 139km stage. The in-form O'Grady jumped clear on the climb of the Petit Galiban after just 30km of racing. He was joined by Euskaltel's Gorka Gonzalez, who together with O'Grady and several others figured in the chase of Fabien Sanchez during yesterday's GP Marseillaise.

The duo built a lead which climbed to eight minutes before the chasing began from behind, notably from rival French teams Crédit Agricole and Ag2r-Prévoyance, working primarily for their sprinters Thor Hushovd and Jaan Kirsipuu, respectively.

A group of chasers moved clear of the rest of the bunch, including Marseillaise winner Baden Cooke (, Laurent Brochard (Ag2r), Lorenzo Bernucci (Landbouwkrediet), René Jorgensen (Alessio-Bianchi), Peter Farazijn and Janek Tombak (Cofidis), and Yannick Talabardon (Auber 93). The chase took time, but O'Grady and Gonzalez were eventually caught on the Carpiagne climb.

Former world champion Brochard launched his own daredevil attack on the following descent, almost staying clear to the line but like Sanchez the day before, was overpowered by the peloton in the closing moments of the race. The sprinters' teams had done their job, and in the bunch sprint that followed it was multiple Tour de France stage winner Steels who took the top honours and the first leader's jersey of the race.


Images by Boris Horvat-STF/AFP Photo


1 Tom Steels (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago        3.43.03
2 Jo Planckaert (Bel) Mr Bookmaker-Palmans
3 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole
4 Saulius Ruskys (Lit) Oktos-Saint Quentin
5 Stefan Van Dijk (Ned) Lotto-Domo
6 Josu Silloniz (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
7 Paolo Bossoni (Ita) Lampre
8 Jan Kuyckz (Bel) Vlaanderen-T Interim
9 Franck Renier (Fra) Brioches La Boulangère
10 Jimmy Casper (Fra) Cofidis
General classification after stage 1
1 Tom Steels (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago        3.33.53
2 Jo Planckaert (Bel) Mr               0.04
3 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis
4 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole                 0.06
5 Jimmy Casper (Fra) Cofidis                         0.09
6 Laurent Brochard (Fra) AG2R
7 Saulius Ruskys (Ltu) Oktos                         0.10
8 Stefan van Dijk (Ned) Lotto-Domo
9 Josu Silloniz Aresti (Spa) Euskaltel
10 Paolo Bossoni (Ita) Lampre