No holidays for Voigt
By Hedwig Kröner in Toulon
Experience is what counts on irregular climbs like Mont Faron in coastal Toulon. With steep ramps up to 15% gradients following the usual 5, 7 or 9%, the hill that looks down on the port is 508 m high and can be accessed only by one circular road, about 3m wide and just at the edge into nowhere. Jens Voigt is a man of such experience, having excelled at this climb just a few weeks ago to win the Tour Méditerranéen. But today, Voigt was not the man to dominate the peloton - and maybe he had felt that this morning when he told Cyclingnews at the start, "At the only mountain finish of this race, everybody plays his cards - there is nowhere to hide, and GC will get a close-to-final cut. What's really important is that one of our team takes the jersey. Of course, I would like that to be me, but if Bobby makes it then that'd be great too."
CSC is now in a good position to win the overall classification with Bobby Julich taking the lead after an impressive effort up the narrow slopes of Faron. Although he said after the finish that this hill isn't his favourite climb, "I'm feeling confident now, but not cocky." Especially since the route of the next two stages will take him (almost) straight towards his home town, Nice. "This is my territory," he said. "And I have the best team to control the race."
Bjarne Riis, his directeur sportif, confirmed that the Danish squad has one goal now: take the American to Nice victoriously. "The biggest threat to Bobby's victory is Alejandro Valverde," Riis said.
What of Voigt? Before the stage, he told Cyclingnews that after several victories in smaller races (Tour Med, Critérium International, Bayern-Rundfahrt), winning an important event like Paris-Nice would save his season altogether. "If I win it, I could almost say 'my season is complete', and I could go on holidays immediately," he said, joking of course. The fact that it is Julich, a good friend, who took over his stage one jersey, should ease his disappointment a little bit.
Back to the key word, experience. Gilberto Simoni is also very familiar with 'Le Faron', having placed second here in 2003 against Vinokourov, raging with pain over his loss of his best friend, Andrei Kivilev. Simoni grinned at the start in Rognes this morning, and was all smiles later at the finish, when he rolled over the line straight into the arms of one of Lampre-Caffita's soigneurs. "I wanted to win this morning, but I didn't believe my legs would do it," he told Cyclingnews after the podium ceremony, still incredulous. "This victory makes me really happy," he added. "I attacked at the exact same spot where Vino attacked two years ago, when I placed second. This is a good sign for this year, which could be my last. But I seem to be lucky in France, and I want to do well at the Tour de France later this season."
Meanwhile, two riders weren't as lucky: Davitamon-Lotto's Axel Merckx and Johan Van Summeren took off their helmets on the final ascent, thinking the same rules applied as last season. But the UCI's ProTour doesn't allow for helmetless riding anymore, even on a mountain finish. This is despite what riders were told before the Genting Highlands stage at the recent Tour de Langkawi. The UCI commissaire there said that because the TdL wasn't a ProTour race, then helmets had to be worn. But in ProTour races, they could take their helmets off. The latest communiqué by the race officials in Paris-Nice was final. It stated that both riders were out of the race, saying that a simple fine would not prevent the riders from doing it again.
"I didn't know anything of the rule change," said Axel Merckx to VRT. "I'll accept the decision. The irony is that I always wear my helmet, even in training. But today the bus driver called me to give him my helmet at the start of the climb, and that I did without thinking any more of it."