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Jens Voigt's final pro bike – complete with 'shut up legs' mantra
What happens in Vegas… we share
Aero-vent balance, MIPS and bright shells all trending updwards
Patriotic paint, progressive features and prototype Zipp wheels
The race has now covered over 80 kilometres already, with a breakaway around 3.50 minutes ahead of the bunch. Today's escapists are: Jérôme Pineau (Quickstep), Julien Loubet (AG2R), Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel), Amaël Moinard (Cofidis), Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil), Jean-Marc Marino (Saur Sojasun) and Albert Timmer (Skil). They are now tackling the second categorized climb of the day, the Côte de Lassouts (cat. 3).
The move went early during the stage, as expected. After only 10 kilometres raced, Albert Timmer from Shimano initiated the break after having tried to jump away earlier already. This time, the Dutch rider succeeded, and the 7-men group quickly gained momentum, reaching a maximum advantage of 4.30 minutes on the top of the first climb, the Côte de Montsalvy (cat. 2).
As usual in this race so far, Skil-Shimano and Vacansoleil are both represented in the break in an effort to attract the race organiser's approval for the coming Tour de France. Timmer has been a bold attacker in this Paris-Nice. He was in a breakaway on stage one with Vacansoleil's Romain Feillu, and also tried an escape on Wednesday. Now he's doing it again!
Back in the bunch, Jens Voigt is sitting comfortably protected by his Saxo Bank teammates, who nevertheless have a tight grip on the gap to the escape. The break doesn't stand much chances of staying away, as the final climb in Mende will see some GC fireworks later on. Overall favourites are eager to take control of the race lead today, and possibly build the foundation for the overall victory in Nice this Sunday.
Earlier in the stage, two riders already paid the price of a nervous race taking place in cold weather conditions. Just after the breakaway was established, Kevin Van Impe (Quickstep) abandoned, leaving his leader Chavanel with one man down.
Later, after about 25 kilometres raced, Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo) also dropped out. We don't know for which reason yet, but will keep you informed as soon as we find out. He might possibly be paying the bill for his stage 2 crash when he went down together with overall favourite Alberto Contador (Astana).
The break is now on the descent off the Côte de Lassouts (km 94.5), where Marino took the points ahead of Moinard and Nieve in that order.
Today's stage is fairly fast again, with an average speed of 40.3 km/h in the first two hours of racing. The riders can't wait to get to warmer temperatures!
The weather forecast for the coming three days in Provence and Côte d'Azur predicts sunshine at last, but continuously chilly temperatures around 8-10 degrees Celsius. At least, the sun will be out!
The Italian Marco Marcato in the breakaway seems to have a lot of ambition in this race, too. In stage one to Contres, he remained in the lead group and finished eighth. And yesterday, he was able to follow the best riders in the last climb before the finish and finally placed 10th. Not bad at all for the Vacansoleil rider.
The escape has passed the intermediate sprint in Saint-Geniez-d’Holt (km 106) with Timmer crossing the line first. The gap is still around 3.45, unchanged.
We're still looking to give away a Cervelo musette bag and cap signed by Heinrich Haussler! All you need to do is pick today's top three. How will that podium be this afternoon?
If you are already a member of our forum, just go to this thread and give it your best shot. If you need to join the forum, click here to sign up.
You will find all the rules there. The competition ends with 20 km to go.
On the côte de la Crouzette (km 113,5), Cofidis' Moinard took all the KOM points. It could be Cofidis' strategy to aim at the polkadot jersey but they'll have to work towards this on a daily basis.
The gap is down to 3 minutes now, and it's actually started snowing, but only very lightly... no, you can't really call this snow. But it's cold, and there's still snow on the edges of the road now and again. Contador is riding with a scarf around his neck and mouth!
The peloton is taking a collective break on the roadside now.
Astana is helping out at the front of the bunch now as the Saxo Bank riders have also stopped for urgent matters.
The break has gained a bit more time now becuse of the pee break in the peloton. Astana is also taking things a bit easier, even though their lead men decided to take off their thermo coats. But with 44 kilometres to go, they are probably just getting prepared to pull.
The break is still giving it everything. With four minutes over the bunch, they can still hope. All will depend on how well the Astana train will perform now, as it's clear Saxo Bank have handed the reigns over to them now.
They are racing alongside a river now, the water looks icy cold... The sky is still grey and this doen't look like it will change any time soon.
The leaders' advantage is shrinking.
Contador has pulled his scarf over his nose, even. You wouldn't recognize him if it wasn't for his back number!
France always shines with big manors and small chateaux also in this region - no time to look at them, of course.
They are riding through a valley, still alongside the river Lot. The gap is under three minutes now - no chance for the break in our opinion.
About the last climb in Mende: again, its' only short but very steep. 3.1 km averaging 10.1 percent gradient. It will be hard for anyone to follow Contador on this hill if he puts his mind to winning and if he feels good.
Ah - and now he's taken off his scarf and coat. The battle is on!
Everybody is getting ready now. Olympic champion Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel) also handed his coat over to a teammate.
Liquigas riders are now in second position behind Astana riders in driving the bunch. Kreuziger and Sagan will also be trying to keep or improve their overall standings in the "Montée Jalabert" to the aérodrome in Mende.
The break is at 2.03 minutes now, with 24 kms to go. They will be caught in the climb or even before that if the pace continues as it is.
Garmin-Transitions manager Jonathan Vaughters thinks that David Millar will be able to defend his fourth overall placing today. "Well... He is climbing well, but Mende is a bit steep for him. He'll defend well, but he'll need to just ride his own rythm and not try to accelerate with Contador," Vaughters told Cyclingnews.
This hard on the breakawau riders. They continue their job but know it won't be long before it's over. Some of them might want to help their leaders in the climb, but will they still have the legs?
Still, you never know what aill happen. Race leader Jens Voigt is in great shape and will give everything he has to retain his jersey. The two Caisse d'Epargne leaders Luis Leon Sanchez and Alejandro Valverde will also try to stick with Contador. Not to speak of other great climbers that might not be GC contenders but could still shine on this hill.
Susan Westemeyer taking over now, just in time for all the fun and games. The gamp is under a minute now, only 46 seconds.
The field turns off the main road and goes into a village, with the gap down to 14 seconds and falling rapidly.
HTC-Columbia's Andre Greipel leads the field as they chase the escapees and prepare for the day's penultimate climb.
HTC--columbia continues to lead and the gap is only a question of seconds now. A long, hard flight, but to no avail.
A handful of Rabobank riders have gathered at the back of the field. Or have they already been dropped? Among them was former race leader Lars Boom.
We see Cofidis and Bbox leading the way up.
We have an interesting ending here. With 7.5 km to go, we have the Category 2 Cote de Chabrits. It is a 2.4 km long climb with a maximum gradient of 6.8%. Then with 3 km to go, we have an intermediate sprint right at the foot of the final climb.
That final climb, and our mountaintop finish, is the Category One Mende – La Croix Neuve. Also known as the Montee Laurent Jalabert.
Cofidis' Dumoulin is the next to fall back.
And he won't be alone for long. Many are dropping back to keep him company.
A Bbox rider takes off, quickly builds up a small lead.
It is Pierre Rolland of Bbox.
Astana and Cervelo move into the lead. Voigt and Contador are now riding up side by side.
Polka-dot jersey wearer Mangel is in the main field, but at the end of it. Oops, and falling off the back...
Rolland is caught and a Vacansoleil rider takes off, hoping for the mountain points. Or does he want to keep on going? It is Brice Feillu.
Feillu made it alone to the mountain ranking and is then promptly caught by the Astana-led peloton.
It is still a fairly large group, about 60 riders.
But we doubt that such a large group will come in to the finish together.
The flying field swoops around a traffic circle. They are all spread out now, really flying along. Contador is still near the front, yellow-jersey Voigt is still in the group, but further back.
A Euskaltel rider, Martinez, is at the front as they approach the intermediate sprint. He pulls slightly away.
And they immediately start going up!
Lampre leads with two riders. Contador in about fourth.
The field is splitting rapidly, with many riders appearing to ride backwards.
Lampre continues to lead. Voigt and Caontador together again.
They all go slowly around a very steep hairpin turn.
Amongst those dropped are Tony Martin and Tom Danielson.
Sagan was in the lead group but having trouble keeping up as FdJ ups the tempo.
Contador attacks. He doesn't get away but is in the lead.
THe leading group is breaking up. Cotador has a slight lead now. Sagan falls back for sure.
Christophe Le Mevel was the FdJ rider who made the first break.
Voigt is clenching his teetch and giving his all, but can only watch Contador pull away.
Contador has a minimal lead, maybe 20 metres over a Caisse rider, with the small group now catching Rodriguez.
Contador pulls away easily now. Luis Leon Sanchez is at the back of the group with Voigt.
Rodriguez and Valverde follow Contador but have no hope of catching him. Voigt has been dropped.
Contador is riding up this steep climb easily and fluidly.
It is about 25 secons back to Voigt -- looks bad for his yellow jersey.
Only 250 metres left for Contador.
Samuel Sanchez has moved up ahead of Valverde as Rodriguez has dropped back.
The final curves now for Contador. He points proudly to his Astana sun as he crosses the finish line.
Valverde manages to pull ahead of Sanchez to take second, with the Euskaltel rider third, both about 10 seconds back.
Voigt comes across at 46 seconds, Sagan about a minute, Schleck at 1:10.
Leipheimer and Horner came across the finish line together with Schleck.
That turns the GC topsy turvy. Alberto Contador of Astana takes over the yellow leader's jersey.
Contador now leads by 24 seconds in the GC over Valverde, with Kreuziger one second back in third place.
Mangel, in the polka-dot jersey of the best climber, finally crosses the finish line over five minues behind the winner.
That was it! Another impressive display by Alberto Contador.
Thanks for joining us and be sure to read along again tomorrow.