Russian rider Alexandr Kolobnev delivered a fantastic performance, winning for the first time for his new team CSC on Wednesday. The former Rabobank rider was part of a break for 213 of the 216 kilometres from Limoges to Maurs, which made up the third stage of Paris-Nice, and finished by crossing the line solo with about 15 seconds to the main peloton.
Kolobnev broke away from his escape group with 10 kilometres to go before the finish. At that point they only had about 40 seconds to the peloton, but the hilly terrain towards the end worked in Kolobnev's favour. "I actually didn't think I'd make it all the way home, but I had to give it a go because I still felt strong even though it was late in the stage. Luckily there was a descent, which was just steep enough so the main peloton couldn't catch me," he said after the stage.
Kolobnev didn't make a secret of the fact that this was the biggest victory in his career so far, as the peloton only managed to gain about 25 seconds on him during the final 10 kilometres.
"I'm so proud of this. It's a great feeling and it means a lot to me to prove to myself that I have what it takes, but it means just as much to be able to give something back to the team, because they believed in me right from the start," continued Kolobnev.
"It was world class what Alexandr did today," commented a happy sports director Alain Gallopin. "We're all so happy about this. But we'd had a serious word with all the guys this morning, because we weren't one hundred percent at the end of Tuesday's stage - but hey, what a comeback!"
Meanwhile, due to misinformation, bunch sprint favourite Tom Boonen thought he was the lucky winner of the stage just behind Kolobnev, and raised his arms as he crossed the line in Maurs. "I really thought I had won," Boonen told Sporza after the race. Obviously, team Quick-Step hadn't counted the breakaway riders they had reeled in with just a few kilometres to go, and prepared their sprint as usual. "I didn't know that there was still a rider in front of the peloton. Shit, after two unlucky days I thought I finally had the win in my pocket. But when I lowered my arms, I saw that CSC was celebrating, too."
Even though the Belgian was disappointed not having scored a single victory at this year's Paris-Nice ( he won two in 2005, and three in 2006), he was also glad that the sprint stages are over. "A stage victory in Paris-Nice is not a necessity," he continued. "Besides, this was one of the most dangerous sprints of my life. We were riding at 80 km/h; I will never forget this sprint!"
In view of Milano-Sanremo, only nine days away, Boonen is not concerned, either. "I don't need a victory before Milano-Sanremo to know where I stand," he told L'Equipe. "I'm right where I want to be... Besides, last year, I won three stages using the energy that I needed for the Classics. In Paris-Roubiax, I was already past my peak of form."
On Thursday, Paris-Nice continues with the first mountain stage of the week, up the "Montée Laurent Jalabert" to the Mende airport. Stay tuned for Cyclingnews' Live coverage, starting 14.30 CET.