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After coming in second twice (in 2004 and 2007) and third once (in 2003), Gerolsteiner rider Davide...
Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) takes the final stage
After coming in second twice (in 2004 and 2007) and third once (in 2003), Gerolsteiner rider Davide Rebellin has finally won at the age of 36 the race that suits him the best. 24 hours after Sylvain Chavanel's win, the other favourite who was very frustrated on the Mont Ventoux, Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) got his consolation price with a stage win in Nice.
This was one of the most beautiful Paris-Nice ever held, with a lot of battles and suspense. "It was a very hard and very nice race," Rebellin explained. "After losing to Alberto Contador last year on the final day, I was a bit nervous today. Especially because I know [Rinaldo] Nocentini very well. We've done the world championships together and we're very good friends. I only had three seconds advantage. That's nothing. I was afraid of crashing in the finale and lose everything. Even 45 seconds over [Yaroslav] Popovych wasn't much. He attacked strongly in the last climb. It was a highly contested race till the end."
Half way into the final stage, runner up Nocentini crashed in a descent. "It wasn't fair to drop, I asked the other riders to wait," Rebellin confirmed what was suggested by the images on TV.
At the end of the day, Rebellin lost Paris-Nice up the Ventoux and won it in the downhill of the Tanneron. "I said before the race that the Ventoux was a bit too hard for me," the Italian said. "Climbs of five to six kilometers suit me, but 12, 13 or 14 kilometres, it's too much for my characteristics. I gave the maximum I could. I finished with limiting the damage. I didn't lose much time.
"This race has revealed Robert Gesink, who is a very good rider," Rebellin added. "He lost the yellow jersey because of a lack of experience but he was the strongest on the Ventoux and he was very strong again today. He's got a bright future ahead of him." Compared to last year when he lost Paris-Nice to Contador on the final day, Rebellin had a better Gerolsteiner team at his service and Nocentini's Ag2r setup wasn't as powerful as Discovery Channel.
A group of 35 riders took off after 11 kilometers of racing: Anthony Charteau, Alberto Losada (Caisse d'Epargne), Mirko Lorenzetto (Lampre), Michael Albasini, Claudio Corioni, Ivan Santaromita (Liquigas), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence-Lotto), Bobby Julich, Alexander Kolobnev, Karsten Kroon, Chris Anker Sørensen, Jens Voigt (CSC), Rémi Pauriol (Crédit Agricole), Philippe Gilbert, Lilian Jégou (Française des Jeux), José Alberto Benítez, Juan José Cobo Acebo, Aurélien Passeron (Saunier Duval), Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Morris Possoni (High Road), Yann Huguet (Cofidis), Marc De Maar, Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), José Luis Arrieta, Hubert Dupont (Ag2r), Wilfried Cretskens, Matteo Tosatto (Quick Step), Geoffroy Lequatre (Agritubel), Ralf Grabsch, Bjorn Schroeder (Milram), Lucas Euser, Trent Lowe, Danny Pate, Thomas Peterson (Slipstream), Floris Goesinnen and Thierry Hupond (Skil-Shimano).
At km 39, four of these riders broke clear: Charteau, Albasini, Van den Broeck and Possoni. By himself, Clément Lhôtellerie (Skil-Shimano) surged from the peloton and bridged the gap to the leaders. At km 50, Pauriol and Possoni escaped from the front group. They passed in first and second positions at the top of col de la Porte (km 51) with the main bunch just over one minute behind them.
Rinaldo Nocentini and Robert Gesink both crashed in the descent of the col de la Porte. Race leader Davide Rebellin asked everybody to slow down and wait for them to come back. Benítez joined Pauriol and Possoni in the lead. After a regrouping of 15 riders in the front, Lhôtellerie attacked at the bottom of the climb of La Turbie (km 79). Damiano Cunego was the first man to try to go with him, but he couldn't make it.
The Frenchman got a 35-second gap over the chasers and 1'35 over the bunch at the top of the climb (km 88). He kept going over the col d'Eze and was joined in the descent by Benítez. The duo got caught with only eight kilometres to go. Cunego and Sánchez were the most active and the fastest going downhill.
Sánchez managed to avoid the return of the group that included all the favorites and from which Maxime Monfort and Carlos Barredo had jumped away. Crossing the line in 16th position, Rebellin secured the overall win.