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Something must have changed in cycling: long lasting breakaways can now succeed. Kjell Carlström...
Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) has already shown his good form in the early season and should be one to watch in the coming weeks.
Something must have changed in cycling: long lasting breakaways can now succeed. Kjell Carlström (Liquigas) and Clément Lhôtellerie (Skil-Shimano) were well inspired to go clear after only eight kilometres with Bradley McGee (Team CSC). The duo lost the Australian on the day's final climb, and battled for the stage win in Saint-Etienne at the end of another hard day of racing. Lhôtellerie was stuck on the front in the finale and managed to keep 43 seconds lead over the chasing group in which Sylvain Chavanel took the lead over from Thor Hushovd, but could not prevent Carlström from coming past at the line.
The stage win went to the Finnish rider from Liquigas who usually describes himself as a "happy domestique". "When I go into a breakaway, it's always because there is a possibility to win," he said after taking the honours in Saint-Etienne. "So far I had no luck in this kind of things. Two years ago, I came second in a stage of the Tour de France behind Sylvain Calzati. I didn't think anybody would attack where he did it."
"Today I hoped to make a winning breakaway," Carlstöm continued. "But we were not sure at all that it would be the case. We created a big gap quickly then we decided to take it easy for a while." That's where McGee's experience alongside Jacky Durand during his years at Française des Jeux had a positive impact on the running of the breakaway. "I tried to control the distance between us and the bunch," the Australian explained. "If we went too hard, there would have been a reaction from the peloton. I think we did it well."
McGee got dropped with 5km to go to the top of col de la Croix de Chaubouret. "Up there I was empty and frozen," he recalled. It was another stage with difficult climate conditions, but the riders finally found some sun as they reached Saint-Etienne.
Carlström didn't help Lhôtellerie very much and admitted it. "I was informed that my team-mate Roman Kreuziger had attacked from the chasing group so I stayed on the Frenchman's wheel," the Liquigas rider said. "He was strong in the climbs but I didn't know how fast he could sprint. I knew I was fresher than him, but I wasn't sure of anything at the end. I opened my sprint with 175 meters to go. The finale was a little bit uphill, that was ok for me. Paris-Nice is a really big race and this is my biggest win so far."
"Sprinting is my weak point," said Lhôtellerie who took the polka dot jersey over from his companion at Skil-Shimano, Thierry Hupond, who also rode away the day before. "I lost time in stage one and I wanted to reposition myself on GC. I'm confident since I came second at the Ruta del Sol."
Lhôtellerie isn't the only Frenchman with a distinctive jersey now. Chavanel has the most distinguished one, that of overall leader. He's the first Frenchman leading Paris-Nice since Didier Rous, who also took it temporarily in Saint-Etienne in 2002. "My legs were fired up in the climb," Chavanel commented. "I was feeling good when I was away with [Damiano] Cunego but that was too far from the finish." But can he hold the yellow jersey through to the finish? "I'm determined to do so. I don't have many adversaries left. It's mostly [Davide] Rebellin and [Yaroslav] Popovych. The Mont Ventoux will decide. I'm confident because I came fifth up there once during the Dauphiné."
Chavanel might be forgetting Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) who is racing at perfection or Robert Gesink (Rabobank) who is a pure climber and might enjoy the Ventoux a lot. The Spaniard is only three seconds behind, while Karsten Kroon (CSC) would have been second had he not been penalized of 20 seconds for drafting behind the car of his directeur sportif in order to get back in the group. The fight up the "giant of Provence" looks to be very promising.
After eight kilometres in the village of Régnié-Durette, who is famous in the world of cycling for hosting a gathering of former cycling champions every year, three riders broke clear: Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), Clément Lhôtellerie (Skil-Shimano) and Bradley McGee (CSC). 20 kilometres further at the côte de Plantigny, they were 11'30 ahead of the bunch.
The trio's lead went up and down. It was nine minutes at kilometre 75 as the rain was present on the course of Paris-Nice. After 100 kilometres of racing, Rabobank and Caisse d'Epargne, obviously racing for Robert Gesink and Luis Leon Sanchez respectively, took the responsibility of the chase.
In Saint-Chamond, after the intermediate sprint (km 131) dedicated to the memory of Andreï Kivilev who died from a crash there in 2003, a group of big guns comprising yellow jersey holder Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), Christophe Moreau and Geoffroy Lequatre (Agritubel), Alberto Losada (Caisse d'Epargne), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Enrico Franzoi (Liquigas), Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto), Maxime Monfort (Cofidis) and Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) got away from the bunch.
In the main climb of the day, the category one col de la Croix de Chaubouret, Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) attacked from the group of the favourites. He was 2'15 behind the leaders as McGee dropped off. Kreuziger got caught by Cunego and Sylvain Chavanel but they didn't reach the men in front. During the surge up the final climb, the yellow jersey, Hushovd, was dropped. The group of Chavanel were not able to resist the efforts of the Rebellin group on the descent, but the French rider from Cofidis remained the best placed rider in the chasing group, and sent his team-mate Monfort to the front to keep the pace high on the run-in to Saint Étienne.
Carlström beat Lhôtellerie out in the sprint after letting him do most of the work, but the young Frenchman was rewarded with the polka dot jersey of best climber. Another young Frenchman Pierre Rolland (Crédit Agricole) outsprinted Rebellin for third place and Chavanel claimed the yellow jersey.