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Hello, and welcome back again to Paris-Nice. Stage two today takes us further south, 201 km from Contres to Limoges. What will we see today – a mass sprint, an escape group or something else? The way things have been going lately, it is really hard to predict!
Once again, an escape group got away only 4km into the race. Mauro Finetto (Liquigas), Jens Mouris (Vacansoleil), Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun) and Koen de Koert (Skil Shimano) have a lead of 3:10.
We are down three more riders today. Simone Ponzi (Lampre) and Danilo Napolitano (Katusha) did not start this morning, and Fredrik Kessiakoff of Garmin Transitions was DNF yesterday.
De Koert initiated today's break group, which reached a maximum of 4:15.
It's lunchtime in the race, and our four leaders have gone into the feed zone with a 3:30 lead.
Today's route takes us more or less straight south, with a few little bumps along the way – three category three climbs. Actually the whole thing starts climbing about halfway through. Not major altitude, but defnitely no longer pancake-flat, either.
Todays's three climbs come at km 15, km 156 and km. 190, only 11 km before the finish.
The first Category 3 climb came at km 15, the Cote de Saint-Aignan. It is a two km long climb with a maximum gradient of 3&. The points went to Mangel ahead of De Koert and Finetto.
The course is starting to go slightly more uphill now, more rolling, shall we say, and the gap is down to 2:40.
By the way, those mountain points gave Mangel the virtual polka-dot jersey, with a total of five points.
French cycling legend Bernard Hinault had some interesting comments on yesterday's happenings, saying he thought Caisse d'Epargne left their move a little late. Had they gone earlier, they might have had a break of three or four minutes, enough to really make a difference in the GC.
He also pointed out that Contador showed that he has a problem with the wind. “It’s probably his only weak spot. In this respect, his team must learn to protect him because we could find ourselves in the same situation on the Tour, especially in Holland where it could be even more windy. In the first three days, there could be splits any time.”
A quick look at the GC shows us that not much changed yesterday at the very top. Lars Boom of Rabobank continutes to lead over Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) and David Millar (Garmin-Transitions). Boom picked up two bonus seconds underway, so he now leads Voigt by five seconds.
Further down in the GC, however, Alberto Contador (Astana) dropped from fourth to eighth, while stage winner Greg Henderson (Sky) jumped from 28th to sixth. There were a few other changes in the top group, but considering the top 35 are all within 30 seconds of leader Boom, it doesn't make that much difference at this point.
Tony Martin of HTC-Columbia launched a last-minute attack yesterday in the finale. It didn't pay off, but he is still happy that things are looking up for him again after his less than optimal performance in the prologue.
The gap is going up and down, within 20 seconds either way of three minutes. As a matter of fact, it is at exactly three minutes right now.
In other news Lance Armstrong has been talking about Contador and the Tour, and his future. And even admits “I'm old”!
This is known as the “race to the sun”, but this year it may be considered “the race of the wind”. The peloton split yesterday, and while most of the peloton was able to finish within 17 seconds of the lead group, 11 riders dropped nearly five minutes, and 47 riders lost over seven minutes. Big name losers include Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions), Wouter Weylandt (Quick Step), Oscar Pereiro (Astana), Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack), Daminao Cunego (Lampre), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions) and Christopher Horner (RadioShack).
Just before the second of today's category 3 climbs, the gap is 3:10. Rabobank is leading the chase, hoping to keep Boom in yellow for another day.
Boom continues to lead the points ranking, ahead of Voigt who now has the same number of points. Henderson used his stage victory to move up to third.
Andre Greipel didn't have a chance at the sprint yesterday, and HTC-Columbia wants to get him another win. So that is most likely why they have moved up to help with the chase work. The gap is now down to 2:30.
No changes in the mountain ranking, since we had no ranked climbs yesterday. Boom ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun). However, he has now lost the lead to Mangel – but with two more climbs to go today, we will wait and see who wears the polka-dots at the end of the day.
And who else but Boom is leading the young rider ranking? Second is Liquigas' Roman Kreuziger and third is Peter Sagan, also of Liquigas.
We did see a major change in the team rankings. Caisse d'Epargne now leads things there, five seconds ahead of Liquigas, Saxo Bank and Rabobank. RadioShack, which had previously lead, went from 14 seconds up to eight seconds down.
There was a scary moment yesterday when Alberto Contador (Astana) and Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo) went down near the end. Contador took a real blow to his leg, he said, coming out with a very nasty bruise. The crash occurred just outside of the 3 km zone, but both riders were still given the time of the group they were in.
Fortunately, he was at the start this morning.
The lead is dropping rapidly now, down to 1:25.
It takes more than a nervous, windy stage to get a rise out of veteran Voigt. ”It was a rather crazy stage with riders crashing all around me but I knew it was all about staying in the front of the peloton to avoid going down. At the end of the stage most riders simply exploded and when I saw Boom launch away to the front group I grit my teeth, shut out the pain and went after him. He is very strong but I feel good as well and I am now looking forward to the mountains where I'll try to find a way of gaining the seconds I need to catch up with him,” he said on the Saxo Bank website.
The second ranked climb of the day is at km. 156, the Cote de Maison Neuve, 1.1 km long and a maximum gradient of 6.1%. Points went to Mangel, de Koert and Mouris, so Mangel has built up his lead in the mountain ranking.
Just over a minute now, 1.05. We have a nixce sunny day, although still quite cold.
Lars Boom saw the yellow jersey slipping off his shoulders yesterday when Caisse d'Epargne took off with 15 km to go. But the young Rabo rider soloed across the gap to join the lead group. “It might have looked easy, but it really did hurt,” he told Cyclingnews.
We see lots of Astana at the head of the field. Lots and lots of Astana, actually.
Philippe Gilbert is at the end of the ploton. He has a bandage on his left lower leg. We don't think he is having problems, though, more likely he was back paying a visit to the team car.
Mouris outsprints Finetto at the final intermediate sprint of the day, with the gap down to 0:45.
There's a race within the race at Paris-Nice, although everyone denies it. Dutch teams Vacansoliel and Skil-Shimano both want one of the wild car invitations to the Tour de France this summer, which, of course, starts in the Netherlands. So it's no surprise that the two Professional Continental teams are prominently represented in escape groups.
Rabobank has moved up to share the lead work with Astana. The sun is shining, but the wind is blowing and the temperature is just barely over the freezing point.
Greg Henderson of Sky was strong enough to take on the wind and win, even thought he admitted the sprint into a strong headwind felt like “slow motion”. The New Zealander took the first win this season for Team Sky at the Down Under Classic in Australia, “but it's even more beautiful to win for Sky in France. Paris-Nice is such a prestigious race.”
Only half a minute now. Will we see a counter attack when the leading quartet is caught, or will the sprinter teams be able to hold things together today?
The field is taking things easy. We have a variety of teams at the front, and no one is really pushing things. They have the escapees exactly where they want them right now.
Today's stage ends in Limoges, famous for its porcelain, enamel and stained-glass goods.
The final autos that were between the field and the escapees have now passed the leaders. With only 16 seconds, the group is about to be caught.
Mangel isn't about to give up and takes off.
Astana again leads the chase.
Mangel hopes to win the final mountain ranking. Will the field let him stay away for it?
No, Mangel won't make it to the climb alone. He is caught.
Caisse4 d'Epargne again at the head of the filed. Will they try to take off again?
Meanwhile a Cervelo rider is falling of the back.
Rabobank, Astana and Caisse all at the front.
The pace is high on the way up the final climb. Kjell Carlström of Sky can't hold the pace and has fallen back.
All the big names are at the front: Valverde, Boom, Contador, Voigt, ...
Three riders take off to gather the moutain points, one each from Bbox, Quick Step and Saur-Sojasun.
They take the points too, so Mangel ought to be wearing polka-dots tomorrow. The Bbox rider has stayed in the lead and looks like he intends to keep on going.
It is Cyril Gauthier, of Bbox.
The peloton looks content to let Gautier take a slight lead.
Two riders came close together, but didn't go down. Maxime Monfort of HTC was one of them, and gets thrown back a bit.
Monfort is working his way up through the team cars and is nearly on the peloton again.
Gautier looks determined to make his way to the finish line alone. We assume the peloton is equally determined not to allow him to do that. But they don't yet appear to really be giving serious chase. On the other hand, he has only a 12 second lead.
So much for Gautier. His break is over.
HTC-Columbia is up at the front now, hoping to set things up for Greipel.
Martin leads the way, while Vacansoliel rides for Bozic.
They are charging uphill now towards the finish line.
The wind is not as strong as it was earlier, but still there. Last km!
Columbia, AStana, several othersl
The crash destroyed all the sprint trains, and six riders went on to to sprint for the win. William Bonet of Bbox takes the win!
Peter Sagan of Liquigas was second and third place went to Luis Leon Sanchez.
Tony Martin and Dan Martin both went down in that crash.
Another wild finish and unexpected winner. It looks as if it will be one of those seasons!
AS far as we can tell, all the riders who were involved in that crash have crossed the finish line. We hope they are all ok.
The top three in GC is now Boom five seconds ahead of Voigt, with LL Sanchez moving up into third place.
That's it for today. Thanks for joining us, and be sure to read along again tomorrow.