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Bonjour and bienvenue to Cyclingnews' live coverage of a somewhat shrunken stage three at the 2010 Paris-Nice. Overnight snow saw race organisers snip 53 kilometres off the route of today's stage, so, while we'll still finish in Aurillac, Saint-Junien will have to wait a little while longer before it can host a stage of the race. However, Race Director Christian Prudhomme has promised that this will occur sooner rather than later.
The reduced distance of stage three will sees the peloton tackle a 155 kilometre course, rather than the planned 208 kilometres. It also means we've missed out on the first two category 3 climbs of the day, the côte des Cars and the côte de la Croix de Teulet. Still plenty of climbing to come, though:
Km 70.0 - Côte de la Grande Renaudie - 1.7 km climb to 4.6 % - Category 3
Km 128.0 - Côte de Sainte Fortunade - 5.3 km climb to 4.5 % - Category 2
Km 165.0 - Côte de Sexcles - 4.8 km climb to 6.4 % - Category 2
Km 205.0 - Côte de la Martinie - 1.1 km climb to 7.2 % - Category 2
The race has passed the first climb of the day, with Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun) dusting his lead in the mountains classification with a few more points.
Here are the results from that first climb, the Côte de la Grande Renaudie:
1. Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun) 4 pts
2. Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) 2 pts
3. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 1 pt
That mountains jersey was one of two that race leader Lars Boom (Rabobank) relinquished yesterday. Luis Leon Sanchez's third place finish in the sprint saw him take a narrow, but outright lead in the points classification. Boom's age means he hangs onto both yellow and the young riders classification.
Pick today's podium and win a Cervelo musette bag and cap signed by Heinrich Haussler! All you need to do is pick today's top three – which, so far, has proven a lot harder than expected.
You will find all the rules there. The competition opens at 2 p.m. CET and ends with 20 km to go.
Currently on the road, Yann Huguet (Skil Shimano), Nikolas Maes (Quick Step) and Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma Lotto) have formed an escape group. They got away together after 33 kilometres and have streched their advantage out to 4:50 after 12 kilometres on the attack.
Huguet's teammate Albert Timmer had earlier attempted to join Stephane Auge (Cofidis), but for one reason or another the peloton decided not to let those two get a gap, shutting the move down after just two kilometres (at 24.5km covered).
170 riders took to the start line this afternoon, Lampre's Grega Bole not amongst those. The Slovenian came off worst in yesterday's crash, 400 metres from the finish in Limoges, and has headed home. Bole was the first to come down after touching wheels with JJ Haedo (Saxo Bank) and was hit in the ribs by Jimmy Casper's (Saur-Sojasun) front wheel at around 70 km/h. Thankfully, Bole looks set to make a fairly rapid comeback.
Cervelo’s Joaquin Novoa abandoned after around an hour of racing this afternoon.
While we've been fixed on France over the past few days, Tirreno-Adriatico got underway in Italy this morning. While snow hasn't affected the passage today's stage there, several of the teams look to be running a little short of support after unseasonable snow in Spain prevented team cars reaching Livorno for the start.
However, Rabobank's Robert Gesink did manage to make his way from Girona, Spain....but only just.
One team that will be running a rider short at Tirreno is Androni Giocattoli. Massimo Giunti has tested positive for EPO and has been provisionally suspended by the International Cycling Union.
Back in France, however, we have a breakaway, and yes, it once again includes a Skil-Shimano rider - 25-year-old Yann Huguet.
He's joined Omega Pharma-Lottos's 24-year-old Jurgen Roelandts and Nikolas Maes (Quick Step) whose the youngest in the escape, at 23.
The trio have streched their advantage even further now, 6:10 after 54 kilometres. They got away from the bunch at 33 kilometres.
Yesterday's crash spoiled the best chance the sprinters looked like having at this year's race. German Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia) was raring to unleash, but was held up by the incident, which saw his compatriot and teammate Tony Martin hit the deck.
Young Slovak Peter Sagan slipped past the melee and almost pulled off a win. Unfortunately for the 20-year-old William Bonnet (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) was on song and beat him to the line. Still, Sagan looks the goods and it's unlikely to be long before he nabs his first win for Liquigas.
The team of the race leader, Rabobank, have accepted their duty and are heading up the bunch, with Caisse d'Epargne also pitching in.
Have a scope of the stage profile, the final 50 kilometres looks like a doozy with those two category 2 climbs - the Côte de Sexcles with 55km-to-go and the Côte de la Martinie just three kilometres from the finish.
Especially that last one....'launch' and 'attack' the words that spring to mind.
But before those last two Cat 2's there's another - the Côte de Sainte Fortunade.
Our leaders, Yann Huguet (Skil Shimano), Nikolas Maes (Quick Step) and Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma Lotto), are on that now
Yesterday's finish in Limoges brought the peloton into the home of French porcelain, today's finale in Aurillac will deposit them smack-bang in the centre of France's umbrella industry. The city is responsible for production of half of all the umbrellas produced within the country anually.
Skil-Shimano's Huguet led the breakaway over the summit of the Sainte Fortunade. Belgians Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma Lotto) and Nikolas Maes (Quick Step) allocated themselves second and third, respectively.
The peloton have used the slopes of the Côte de Sainte Fortunade to cut the breakaway's advantage to 5:30. As a Cat 2 climb, there were points distributed down to fifth place, Mangel bagging another two:
1. Yann Huguet (Skil-Shimano) 7 pts
2. Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 5
3. Nikolas Maes (Quick Step) 3
4. Laurent Mangel (Saur Sojasun) 2
5. Koen De Kort (Rabobank) 1
Rabobank have once again spent much of the day on the front of the peloton. The boys in orange, white and blue looked pretty tired by the end of stage two, a lot of them slipping towards the back of the peloton in the final 20 kilometres of Tuesday's race.
With 69 kilometres to go, the breakaway now have a lead of 4:45. It's dropping, but the peloton dont seem overly concerned as they descend towards the start of the Côte de Sexcles.
It won't take too long for them to get there. Caisse d'Epargne is leading the peloton as it snakes its way down some windy, narrow French roads.
The break are also roaring along as they approach Argentat, the town that will mark the start of the penultimate climb.
They're still trading even turns, working well together.
Things have levelled out a bit for the peloton but some big gaps have emerged in the group. Riders are scrambling to get back on. There's two groups of about 20-30 riders behind the main pack.
Caisse d'Epargne were having a look to see what sort of damage had been done. They've obviously decided that there would be no real advantage in forcing the pace and they've adopted a more managable tempo. Everything will come back together at this rate.
The teams are sticking together in the peloton. We've got a line of black jerseys (Caisse d'Epargne) followed by one of orange (Rabobank) and then a bundle of blue and green (Astana and Liquigas).
Jimmy Casper's (Saur-Sojasun) got a bandage on his right knee. It was incredible to see him get up so quickly after yesterday's crash.
He's had terrible luck with crashes in the past, he was knocked unconcious in 2007 at Gent-Wevelgem.
The breakaway's advantage had dropped to around 4:30, but at 50km-to-go its stretched back out towards five minutes.
The peloton has just stopped for a 'nature break', so that likely accounts for the subtle change in situation.
It wont be long before we commence the Côte de Sexcles. It's a 4.8 km climb that peaks at a gradient of 6.4 per cent. That's not an overly brutal climb, but its length is likely to see the peloton pull back a proportion of the breakaway's advantage.
The leaders have started the climb. Behind, several Caisse d'Epargne riders are grabbing musettes from their soigneurs positioned at the side of the road; might have missed out at the feedzone.
The gap's already dropping. 4:18 is the latest time check.
Caisse have really turned the screws. The gap has dropped below four minutes with just over 44 kilometres yet to go.
For those that may have just joined us, Yann Huguet (Skil-Shimano) Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Nikolas Maes (Quick Step) are our three leaders.
They escaped the peloton after 33 kilometres on a Paris-Nice stage three that was reduced by 53 kilometres due to snow.
They built an advantage of over six minutes, but they're gap has been cut considerably on the Côte de Sexcles. It's currently 3:15
The climb has flattened out for the three leaders and they're looking a lot more comfortable as they make their way towards the summit of this Cat 2 climb.
The Caisse d'Epargne-led peloton is now less that three minutes behind.
Caisse d'Epargne have been doing a mountain of work on the ascent. It looks to have softened the peloton, but the question is: Will they still have enough gas for the final climb, three kilometres from the finish?
Lars Boom (Rabobank) didn't enjoy that climb too much, he's sitting a long way back in the peloton. It's the first time we've seen that this week.
Mind you, he still looks pretty relaxed, sitting up to peel his long fingered gloves off.
40km-to-go and the gap is 2:24
Huguet was again the first to the top of the climb. He'll be a heck of a lot closer to the lead in the mountains classification by days end.
Results at the top of the Côte de Sexcles:
1. Yann Huguet (Skil-Shimano) 7 pts
2. Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 5
3. Nikolas Maes (Quick Step) 3
4. Simon Geschke (Skil-Shimano) 2
5. Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun) 1
The climb of the Côte de la Martinie is looking like it could be a cracker. It's only 1.1km, but it's going to suit a rider like Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) or Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).
The peloton still need to catch the breakaway, however. 1:45, 35-to-go.
Huguet (Skil-Shimano) is puffing away as he swings off the front and slips back for a break behind Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Maes (Quick Step).
Caisse d'Epargne are still stretched out in front of the peloton. It appears Rabobank have clocked off for the day, Astana moving into occupy the space left by the Dutch outfit.
The leaders are approaching the second and final sprint of the day, in the town of Montvert. Once they've passed that they'll have 29 kilometres to go.
Roelandts leads Huguet and then Maes across the line. No sprint for those lads as they continue to work in unison.
There's a sense of urgency in the break now as their cadence increases and they each spend less and less time in the wind.
Their efforts aren't in vain, they've steadied the gap at around 1:14.
So far the stages wins have been distributed between a Dutchman (Boom - prologue), a New Zealander (Henderson - stage one) and a Frenchman (Bonnet - stage two). Can another nationality join the Paris-Nice party today?
Huguet attacks the breakaway!
The leaders are on a slight uphill rise, Roelandts and Maes don't react too violently to the Frenchman's move.
The acceleration has now succeeded in dislodging Maes. Roelandts has bridged across to Huguet and the duo are now pressing on.
They've also pushed their lead over the peloton to almost 1:30.
Saur-Sojasun have finally broken Caisse d'Epargne's monopoly at the front of the peloton. The French squad will want to protect Mangel's lead in the mountains classification from Huguet, who's picked up most of the climbers points today.
Maes is back in the peloton, Saur-Sojasun and Cofidis both have a rider at the front.
The race is cranking along the long, straight roads into Aurillac.
Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) appears to have forgiven Yann Huguet (Skil-Shimano) for attacking the break.
He can't really afford to hold a grudge as they're only defending an advantage of around 51 seconds now.
RadioShack, too, have appeared at the front of the peloton.
The water bottles are flying out of the peloton as riders shed any excess weight before the ascent of the Côte de la Martinie. The leaders will hit that climb momentarily.
Roelandts is first onto a small rise in the road. Huguet comes through quickly as their advantage drifts closer to 20 seconds.
We haven't quite reached the climb yet, but the race is punching up a series of energy-sapping rises.
The gap to the leaders has started to yo-yo around 20 seconds, it dipped to 16 but has crept back up.
There's a shake of hands between Roelandts and Huguet...the writing is on the wall.
The duo are re-absorbed by the peloton with a little over 5.5km-to-go.
Caisse d'Epargne are back on the front, Luis Leon Sanchez is sitting second wheel.
Boom is sitting three wheels further back, he has to be careful. Sanchez is only 10 seconds behind his overall lead.
Right. Now we've hit the Côte de la Martinie. HTC-Columbia are on the front and stretching the peloton.
Nicholas Roche (Ag2R La Mondiale) launches a big attack. He takes a Liquigas rider with him.
Roche leads the race over the summit. He took a narrow lead, but that's been snubbed out as a group of six forms at the front.
Less that two to go now. There's too much looking around going on out frout and the peloton is starting to reform behind.
Inside the final kilometre. The lead six are going to decide the stage. Jens Voigt's in there.
There's a terrific sprint for the line and a Liquigas leader at the head of it....Sagan!
Well, we knew it was going to come soon, but Peter Sagan (Liquigas) has secured his first victory as a ProTour rider.
Sagan sprinted in ahead of Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) and Nicholas Roche (Ag2R La Mondiale), who started the late-race move.
There were time gaps in the midst of the six that got away after the Côte de la Martinie. Alberto Contador was in the front six and has pulled a precious few seconds back on the overall.
1 Peter Sagan (Liquigas) 03:44:48
2 Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha)
3 Nicholas Roche (Ag2R-La Mondiale)
4 Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) 00:00:02
5 Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia)
6 Alberto Contador (Astana)
7 Mirco Lorenzetto (Lampre) 00:00:06
8 Samuel Damoulin (Cofidis)
9 Xavier Florencio (Cervelo)
10 Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil)
Wow, that's reshuffled things. Boom's finally been dislodged from yellow after three days. Everyone's favourite Jens Voigt has assumed the race lead! Liquigas have leapt into second (at 6 seconds) and third (at 14 seconds).
Brief General Classification after stage three:
1 Jens Voigt (Ger) Saxo Bank
2 Peter Sagan (Slo) Liquigas
3 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas
Thank you for joining us for Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage three at the 2010 Paris-Nice. Click here for a full report, results and photos of all the action from Peter Sagan's maiden win for Liquigas.
Join us again tomorrow as Cyclingnews' presents live coverage of stage four from Maurs to La montée Laurent Jalabert in Mende.
Until then, au revoir!