By Hedwig Kröner in Saint Péray
The sun was out for the first time in this year's Paris-Nice at the start of the fourth - again, shortened - stage, and the riders could finally "race towards the sun" as the name of the event suggested. The spirits of the participants rose significantly thanks to the more tolerable weather conditions at an almost mild 10° Celsius. Before embarking on the 101 km journey to Montélimar, last year's winner Jörg Jaksche, who had been involved in a crash on stage 1, even smiled when asked how he felt after these short, fast and definitely cold first stages.
"Actually, not too bad," he told Cyclingnews. "The crash was bad and cost me about a minute, but I feel quite well now. I still have a chance of doing something here. Today will be a difficult stage because it's short and there's a lot of wind, but the final three stages will be the hardest."
The day proved Jaksche right: it was a nervous stage with breakaways and wind echelons, where the German had to be very watchful not to get trapped. "I still have a lot of possibilities open," he said just before the start, and then showed he meant it: He made up about 25 seconds at the finish on the main GC contenders Jens Voigt, Erik Dekker and Alejandro Valverde.
Jaksche is now looking forward to stage five to Toulon/Mont Faron. "I hope that tomorrow will be one of the good days, yes!" he said, laughing. "I still do want to contend for the overall win, and there are a couple of guys also in my position: Vinokourov, Rebellin... I hope I'll have the legs for it tomorrow, as it's still early season, and your shape is just not as stable as further down the season. The cold affects many people. There are days where everything works well, and other days where you just feel really bad."
Jaksche didn't think that tomorrow's stage will be the only decisive ones. "On Mont Faron there will be differences because it is the only hill-top finish, but the last two stages will be the key. It is a mistake to think that everything will have finished at Mont Faron."
The German was strong in Stage 3, when he bridged up to a break on the côte de Lavet, then attacked again late in the stage. And he definitely had a good day today, when he rode hard on the second climb to close a gap to the front group, and jumped into a breakaway again with only a few kilometres to go. At the finish in Montélimar, 'JJ' was exhausted, but happy about the way the stage went for him. "It was short, fast and very windy - here in the Rhône valley, the wind always blows this hard," he sighed. "I had to close this gap on the climb, and when the others attacked in the finale, I just had to follow. Now, everything is possible," he smiled, referring to his chances of placing high on general classification of this Paris-Nice again.
Finally, Jaksche detailed his upcoming program: "My next race will be Milan-San Remo and I will continue with the Critérium International, La Flèche Wallonne, Amstel [Gold], Liège [Bastogne - Liège] and the Tour de Romandie. From there, I will take a rest before doing the Dauphiné Libéré to prepare for the Tour de France.
After a nine man break went clear at the foot of the final descent, the fourth stage was won spectacularly by Fassa Bortolo's rouleur Fabian Cancellara against a Jaan Kirsipuu who had been drained by the previous climbs on the parcours.