Floyd Landis has moved himself up to the top of General Classification in stage three of the French 'race to the sun'. After winning the Tour of California, the Phonak leader might well be headed for his second stage race victory this season - that is, if his reduced team is strong enough to protect him until the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.
"Paris-Nice is a great objective for the year," Landis said in the finish in Saint-Etienne. "We'll do our best but it's not easy. We don't necessarily have the strongest team. It was a little bit out of control today. Fortunately we had guys in the breakaways. We'll take it one day at a time." Phonak will now try to defend the yellow jersey with only six riders remaining in the race: Robert Hunter abandoned today because of a sinus infection, and Aurélien Clerc didn't make the time cut.
Landis had repeatedly announced that Paris-Nice was his first objective this season, and he has now proven his ability to put plans into practice. When asked if this yellow jersey was a good sign before the Tour de France, he said "I hope so" with a big smile on his face.
Today's stage victory went to Spaniard 'Patxi' Vila of Lampre-Fondital, who was the only one able to keep up with Landis in the final climb, the col de Croix de Chaubouret, where the decisive attack was made. Last year's winner, Bobby Julich (Team CSC) and overall aspirant Andrei Kashechkin (Liberty Seguros) both lost close to nine minutes in today's cold and misty stage, but many teams with riders in the GC top ten might still put some pressure on Landis and his teammates before his goal is set in stone, for example Team CSC, whose Fränk Schleck finished fourth in today's stage, improving to fifth on GC.
"Fränk lost a bit of momentum at the final part of the climb, and he wasn't able to bridge up to the two leaders on the descent towards Saint Etienne," said team director Bjarne Riis. "It was a very hard stage and Bobby Julich lost a lot of time. Now we will try to support Fränk the best we can in order for him to improve in GC. Generally speaking we are back to where we started this race. We didn't think we would have a rider for the overall win, but still we'll try to make a good result in this race."
Cyclingnews will cover the final four stages of Paris-Nice live, beginning at 14:30 local time (CET)/08:30 (USA East)/05:30 (USA West)/00:30 (Australia East).