The race for the yellow jersey is frequently decided on the slopes of France's daunting peaks, but rarely is it lost on the downhill side. Nevertheless, Saturday's stage of Paris-Nice saw race leader Robert Gesink lose the overall on the descent of the col de Tanneron. The Rabobank rider who flew up to the finish of Thursday's stage on the Mont Ventoux demonstrated that his climbing skills far outpace his ability to ride downhill quickly.
An attack by the second placed Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) on the final climb of the day distanced the 21-year-old, and opened a gap he could not close on the technical descent. At the end of the stage, Gesink would hand his yellow tunic over to the Italian. "Right at the top of the Tanneron, Rebellin went so fast that I couldn't stay on his wheel. The few meters I lost there made the downhill terrible," Gesink admitted.
White-knuckled on the steep, twisty roads, Gesink quickly found out that an intimate familiarity with the local roads and years of experience, which Rebellin and his breakaway companions Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne), Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) all possessed, make a huge difference when it comes to descending. "When I saw Fränk Schleck crashing in front of me, I was even more afraid and I could see the gap between Thor Hushovd's group and myself going bigger and bigger."
The young Dutchman lost more than a minute by the finish in Cannes, and was devastated. "I'm very disappointed to lose Paris-Nice downhill," he concluded. "I don't know how much I can do in the final stage but my chances are very small now."
Rabobank director Erik Dekker was sympathetic to his young charge's misery. "He has to be disappointed. Obviously, it is very tough to lose your jersey in the final descent of the second to last stage. There are people who experience bad nights of sleep because of things that are less worse."
The rest of the Rabobank riders were nowhere near their leader when he had his moment of failure, but Dekker explained that they had done all they could. "We basically did not make a lot of mistakes," he said on the team's web site rabobank.nl. "Nobody could have helped him during the descent. It is a terrible descent; I can tell that from my own experience. Robert stood no chance after they had found each other in the front ranks on the flat roads."
Additional reporting Jean-François Quénet in Cannes