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Hello, and welcome back to Paris-Nice. Today we take on 203.5 kilometres from Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines to Contres. It is more flat than not, and we expect a mass sprint at the end.
We had an early escape today. After only 4 km, Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) and Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano) took off. They got away and stayed away, with their lead now at 4:20 minutes.
Who is going to win today? Pick the winner and earn youself a Cervelo musette bag and cap, signed by Heinrich Haussler. All you have to to is predict today's podium. Easy, right? Well, you might be surprised.....
If you are already a member of our forum, just go to this thread http://forum.cyclingnews.com/showthread.php?t=6301 and give it your best shot. If you need to join the forum, go to http://forum.cyclingnews.com/index.php and sign up!
The contest opens in a few minutes, at 14:00 CET.
Feillu and Timmer got away early, and by km 30 the gap was six minutes. That was quite enough for Rabobank, who gave pursuit and started bringing the gap down. The Dutch team picked up the speed enough that some riders were dropped, including today's top favourite for the mass sprint, Andre Greipel of HTC-Columbia. Now that could be interesting....
The first intermediate sprint came at km 66 in Gauden,w ith Feillu taking it ahead of Timmer. Boom took the third place, gaining himself an extra second in bonus time. AT that point the gap was down to 2:40, but it has gone back up since then. In fact, at the feeding zone it was all the way up to 5:15.
It is still pretty nippy today, about 6° Celsius, with a strong tailwind.
Things went “Boom!” in the race on Sunday, with Rabobank' youngster Lars Boom tearing his way to the yellow jersey. He was one of only two riders to break the 11 minute barrier on the 8 km course, and had a “teeth-grinding” wait to see if he would hold on to that first place.
The gap is coming down, and is now 3:35.
Let's take a look at our two escapees today. Romain Feillu, is the older brother of teammate and Tour de France stage winner Brice Feillu. Romain is 25, and turned pro with Agritubel in 2006, before joining Vacansoleil this year.
Feillu has a number of wins in his palmares, including one day ???? in the yellow jersey of the Tour de France 2008. Last year he won the Grand Prix de Fourmies and a stage at the Tour du Limousin. At the Tour de Picardie, he won a stage as well as the points and young rider classifications.
The other rider in the escape is Albert Timmer, a 24-year-old Dutchman. He turned pro with Skil-Shimano in 2007. Timmer rode the Tour de France last year, ending up 130th.
Danilo Naplitano of Katusha has crashed. He also had some problems yesterday, finishing last in the prologue, over 4 minutes down.
Meanwhile, Rabobank and Astana are leading the chase and the gap has now see-sawed back to 3:45.
Napolitano has made his way back to the peloton.
The biggest, and worst news, from yesterday's prologue was Gert Steegmans' crash and injuries. He was apparently caught by something like a mini-tornado, which ripped him from his bike and tumbled him through the air. We all wish him the very best and a speedy recovery. Team spokesman Philippe Martens told Cyclingnews that Steegmans has already undergone surgery this morning, with all going well.
Today's course, from Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines south to Contres, is not entirely pancake flat, but pretty darned close. None of those pesky climbs to bother the sprinters.
Boom will be well-dressed today, or at least have on a lot of layers. He won not only the yellow leader's jersey, but also the green points jersey, the white young rider's jersey and of course the polka dots for best climber.
The wind played a major role in yesterday's time trial, and we can expect it to do so again today. Some observers are even calling for Belgian-classics conditions.
And it did in fact just break the peloton into three groups. But they got back together again fairly quickly.
Let's take a look at the top five in the overall rankings. Boom leads, of course, by three seconds over Saxo Bank's “never say die” man Jens Voigt. Levi Leipheimer of RadioShack is third, at six seconds, and Alberto Contador (Astana) is fourth, also at 6 seconds. Fifth place goes to a less well-known rider, Peter Sagan of Liquigas.
The wind has either blown the peloton up to the escapees, or the escapees back to the peloton -- the gap has shrunk to 55 seconds.
No surprise here, the top five of the points jersey are of course the same as the top five in GC: Boom, followed by Voigt, Leipheimer, Contador and Sagan. That means Voigt will be in the green jersey today.
Boom of course leads the best young rider ranking (as he does everything else). Today, however, the white jersey will be worn by runner-up Sagan. The rest of the top five youngsters: Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Riche Porte (Sky).
And the gap has crept back up to 1:15.
And the best climber going into stage one – you'll never guess! – yes, Lars Boom! We have only three riders in this category so far. Boom leads with 4 points over Alejandro Valverde of Caisse d'Epargne (2 points) and Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun, one point).
The course is so flat today that there are no ranked climbs in it. That means that Boom will hold on to the polka-dot jersey for another day with no problem.
The break is over. After some 145 km in the lead, Feillu and TImmer have been caught again. Will the field stay together for the remaing 50-odd kms, or will we have another group get away?
We had our second intermediate sprint at km 145. Timmer took it ahead of Feillu, with Boom once again taking third place and the last bonus second.
The sun is shining today. We haven't always seen that much of the sun this winter in Europe.
The only title Boom was unable to secure yesterday was the team ranking. That went to RadioShack, which is 13 seconds ahead of Liquigas-Doimo, Saxo Bank and Rabobank.
A crash. Several Eusakltel riders have gone down, as well as one form Bbox.
Two riders have taken off while the field was held up by the crash,one each from Saxo Bank and Skil. They have a slight lead of about 10 seconds now.
Not Saxo Bank, but Omega Pharma-Lotto -- Phillipe Gilbert, to be exact. We need to learn the new jerseys!
The Skil rider is Tom Veelers. We have a handufl of riders working their way up through the team cars, trying to get back to the peloton.
Looks like one of those Euskaltel riders who went down was Samuel Sanchez. That is why we now have six Euskaltel riders doing a mini-team-trial through the team cars.
We are sorry to announce a loss to the world of cycling. Guy Lapebie has died at the age of 93. The Frenchman won two gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, in the 4000 m team pursuit n the track, and the team time trial on the road. He also won a silver medal in the individual road race. Lapebie finished third in the Tour de France in 1948. His older brother Roger won the Tour in 1937.
The gap is up to 44 seconds now. The Euskaltel-led group is now catching on to the end of the peloton.
We have a birthday boy in the peloton today! Happy Birthday to Joost Posthuma of Rabobank, who has turned 29 today. Hartelijk gefeliciteerd!
And speaking of Rabobank, they have firmly taken over control of the peloton.
One of the biggest surprises in yesterday's prologue was Xavier Tondo of Cervelo TestTeam. He finished in sixth place, only ten seconds down. “We knewhat he was really motivated for Paris-Nice,” said DS Philippe Mauduit. “In fact, he asked to start first for the team because he was a bit nervous about it. He started with full gas and did a perfect race.”
Tondo said, “I worked very hard last winter on my time trial skills. I am not really specialist but I know that I can do this very well. But still, the result is a big surprise, because this is only my second race of the season.”
The gap is now up to a mimnute for Gilbert and Veelers.
We have another crash in the middle of the field. About a dozen riders have been involved. It looks like everyone is going to be back up and going, fortunately.
Steegmans was, of course, not the only one to go down yesterday. Omega Pharma-Lotto's Daniel Moreno was also caught by gust of wind, which catapulted him over his bike. He was lucky enough to finish 2:07 down with what the team describes as “spectacular scrapes”.
Rabobank and Astana have said "enough is enough" and have picked up the speed. The gap is now down to 35 seconds.
Levi Leipheimer was caught up in that crash, so now it is RadioShack's turn to fall back and pull him (and everyone else) back up to the front.
The Dutch Professional Continental team Skil-Shimano played what it called “a modest role” in yesterday's prologue. Best finisher was Yann Huguet, in 80th place. “The prologue was not the main objective for the team,” according to team manager Iwan Spekenbrink. “Our goal is for the coming days, to attack and to be more visible.”
Looks like they are succeeding with their goal.
We see an HTC-Columbia jersey for the first time today, as Tony Martin has moved up to the front of the field.
Sharp turn in town for the field. Everyone stays upright, although a few riders decided to jump up on the sidewalk to go around the corner.
There is a large group in front, with smaller groups behind. You can't really say those groups have been dropped yet, the gaps are only a few metres. But if they don't watch out......
And those little gaps are getting bigger and bigger. We now have 4 well-defined groups.
Less than 20 km to go now, and the field is breaking up. Only 25 seconds for the two leaders. And as far we can tell, Leipheimer is un one of the trailing groups.
The entry into the next village has two shartp turns and a very narrow street. It could be a difficult spot for the peloton. It would be good to be at the front going in.
Caisse d'Epargne has moved into the lead work. The first chase group is moving so fast that we can assume that Leiphimer has been dropped, and that they intend for him to stay dropped.
The two leaders are caught. The first group is now actually fairly large, about 40 riders. There is another equally large group some 20 seconds or so behind.
The field is definitely split now. We have those two big groups, followed by a handful of riders. And then waaaaaaay back, we have another large group. We don't know yet who is in which group.
Allen LIm has twittered that Leiphiemer went down in that crash, but is up and going again. We still don't know which group he is in, though.
More wind, and the field has split again. About six rides in front, with Lars Boom pedalling furiously to get up to them.
Caisse d'Epargne had lthe break and is keeping the speed up to prevent a mass sprint.
There are about 10 groups in the lead group. The main field, with HTC-Columbia at the front, isn't that far back.
The gap is 12 seconds.
Garcia Costa, Valverde, Henderson, Boom, Roche are all in teh lead group.
Astana has now moved to the lead of the chase group. Caisse stays in the lead of the head group.
Millar and Martin are also both in the lead group. HTC-Columbia has totally fallen out of the lead work in the chase group.
25 seconds now.
Voigt is also in the lead group.
The lead group is some 15-20 riders. The gap is not that great -- but can the field catch them?
Wind echelon for the lead group. And their lead has defintiely increased.
Boom is safely tucked into the lead group, after having fought his way up to it. So we assume he will retain the yellow jersey for another day.
Another crash! Contador and Heinrich Haussler!
Contador gets a teammate's bike and makes his way furiously back to the front. What a blow for him!
Contador has now caught the large group he was in before.
Caisse continues to turn on the speed.
Ivanov takes off at the 1 km marker. Roche gives chase, and then the others are there, too.
Tony Martin is the next to go.
Martin pulls away!
Tjoo0 much headwind for Martin, he is caught. Henderson takes the sprint!
The first large grolup comes in only 18 seconds later.
Henderson took it by a half-bike length over Lampre's Grega Bole.
Third place went to Jeremy Galland Fra, Saur Sojasun).
Well, that stage certainyl didn't turn out the way we thought it would! The wind did its job, and Caisse d'Epargne helped to pull things apart.
Boom retains the lead, with five seconds ahead of Voigt. Millar is in third place, at .13.
#Another group is now coming over the finish line, some seven minutes down. We see a number of RadioShack jerseys in there.
That's it for today. Thanks for joining us, and be sure to read along with us again tomorrow for stage two.