ALEX Dowsett opened his 2014 winner’s account in France.

The 25-year-old Movistar cyclist, from Cock Clarks, set a course record for the 6.8km time trial stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe, the four-day, five-stage race in the Pays de la Loire region of France.

Having kept himself up with the leaders going into the time trial stage, Dowsett blasted round the tight course in eight minutes and five seconds to beat the previous record by eight seconds and put himself into the coveted leader’s jersey.

Dowsett said: “I’d thought about this race at the first training camp in November, and I said to the team ‘I think I can maybe win this race’.

“The stage was quite similar to the Giro time trial that I won last year – obviously much shorter, but it was hilly and technical.

“I took some risks on the corners and I really thought I had made a good job of it after the finish.

“It doesn't matter if it’s a big win or a small win, it’s nice to see your name at the top of the list. It’s also nice for me to pay back the team, they’re always supporting me.”

Although leading the race by five seconds at the start of stage four after his time trial exploits, Dowsett and his team weren’t able to keep that lead.

The stage finished with five laps of a 10.5km finishing circuit, each one climbing to the highest point in the area and that proved to be a climb too far.

Dowsett said: “As my focus was on the time trial I hadn’t looked at the profile of the last two stages. And it was a hard, hard finishing circuit on the stage.

“I gave it my all and a bit more but the finishing circuit was just too much.”

And having lost the leader’s jersey, Dowsett was pulled from the rest of the race as his and his team’s focus moved to last Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix Classic, the 257km one-day cobbled ‘Hell of the North’. He was with the main peloton until more than 100 riders hit the notorious Forest of Arenberg and the arrow-straight road that has seen many a rider’s dreams of reaching the finishing velodrome in Roubaix come to an end.

Although Dowsett got through the Arenberg, he unshipped his chain and lost valuable time and placings, and was not to see the famous concrete showers at the end of the race.