Étoile de Bessèges stage 4: Norwegian sensation Tobias Johannessen storms summit sprint

Overnight race-leader Thomas hangs on to GC lead after suffering on tough summit finish.

Photo: Getty Images

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Tobias Johannessen (Uno-X) lived up to his billing as “next big thing” with victory on the Mont Bouquet hilltop of Étoile de Bessèges.

Johannessen, 22, outkicked Antonio Tiberi (Trek-Segafredo) and Aussie climbing ace Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix) to back up his hot start to the season after he placed third in both the previous stages in France.

Overnight race-leader Benjamin Thomas (Cofidis) suffered on the decisive 4.6km, 9.1 percent climb that decided stage 4 of the race Saturday. The Frenchman finished outside the top-10 but did just enough to take a seven-second lead into the final TT on Sunday.

“My teammates did an exceptional job, especially [teammate] Rémy who was my guardian angel,” Thomas said after hanging on to his GC lead. “I was expecting the attack from Johannessen. I rose to my level without panicking.”

Johannessen’s victory marks a major step in his rapid ascent.

The Scandi star only graduated up to the senior leagues this winter after riding through Uno-X’s devo program in 2021. The young Norweigan had already marked himself out as a rider to watch at last year’s Tour de l’Avenir, where he won two stages and wrapped up the overall in a race that regularly signposts the next stars of the elite peloton.

Also read: Johannessen impresses on stage-race debut

The result also marks a big score for the increasingly ambitious Uno-X squad as it aims at a step to the WorldTour in the coming years.

A bunch of eight had got away early in the hilly 147km stage but weren’t given much room ahead of the decisive summit finish.

The escape broke down in the closing 60km before the final pair of Joel Suter (UAE Emirates) and Georg Zimmermann (Intermarché-Wanty) were reeled in with just 5km to go as Mont Bouquet loomed on the horizon.

The peloton shattered as soon as the climb kicked up as Cofidis and EF Education EasyPost jostled toward the front for Thomas and Alberto Bettiol respectively.

Cofidis climber Rémy Rochas tried to keep the pace high to prevent attacks as the bunch slimmed, but a fierce kick from Vine at around 2km to go saw the French team lose control. Thomas began to blow soon after, finishing the stage out of the top-10.

Young sensation Johannessen marked Vine’s move before Tiberi and Clément Champoussin (Ag2r) bridged across in the final kilometer to set up the hilltop sprint, which the Norweigan neatly nailed.

Champoussin finished fourth before the splintered peloton followed in, 12 seconds back.

The race wraps up with an 11km time trial in Alès on Sunday.

Étoile de Bessèges, stage 4:

  1. Tobias Johannessen (Uno-X): 3:30:22
  2. Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix): S.T.
  3. Antonio Tiberi (Trek-Segafredo): S.T

Étoile de Bessèges GC after stage 4

  1. Benjamin Thomas (Cofidis): 14:23:50
  2. Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost): +0:07
  3. Tobias Johannessen (Uno-X): +0:08

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