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Welcome back to our live coverage of Paris-Nice. We have mountains today! You want climbs? We got 'em! Eight in all, finishing off with a long Category One climb near the end of the stage. Jump aboard and let's see what happens today.
We have a group of 23 riders in th lead right now: Amael Moinard (Cofidis), Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Sebastien Turgot (Bbox), Cyril Gautier (Bbox), Dimitri Champion (AG2R), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha), Mathieu Perget (Caisse d’Epargne), Chris Sorensen (Saxo Bank), Dimitri Fofonov (Astana), Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step), Tony Martin (Columbia), Sandy Casar (FDJeux), Tiago Machado (RadioShack), Mikael Cherel (FDJeux), Cyril Dessel (AG2R), Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Maxime Monfort (Columbia), Xavier Tondo (Omega Pharma Lotto), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma Lotto), Romain Sicard (Euskaltel), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Steve Cummings (Sky), Simon Geschke (Skil Shimano). They have 1:50 over the peloton.
This group got away at km 40, and includes some mighty big names: Leipheimer, Cunego, T. Martin, Casar.....
Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel) had decided to abandon and call it a day.
Today we see the longest stage of the whole race, 220 km, and have we mentioned there are lots of climbs along the way? We still have eight riders all within a minute of each other at the top of the GC rankings, including some mighty good climbers. Who will stand atop the podium this evening?
The gap is now down to 1:05. This seems like too large a group to really stay away.
Three riders were not at the start this morning: Tom Veelers (Skil-Shimano), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel) and Yaroslov Popovych (RadioShack).
And remember, we are still running our contest. Is it really so hard to predict the top three in a stage in this race? Well, apparently it is. But we keep on trying and you all keep on trying, and one day someone will get it right.
Oh, and what's in it for you? A Cervelo musette bag and cap, both signed by Heinrich Haussler, that's what!
Here is a run-down of our climbs today:
Km 33.5 - Côte de Val-Rose - 1.9 km climb to 4.3 % - Category 3
Km 38.0 - Côte de Barjols - 1.7 km climb to 4.2 % - Category 3
Km 85.5 - Côte des Tuillières - 2.2 km climb to 8.2 % - Category 2
Km 101.0 - Côte du Mont Méaulx - 1.7 km climb to 5.1 % - Category 3
Km 131.5 - Côte de Tignet - 2.8 km climb to 5.1 % - Category 3
Km 147.0 - Côte de Plascassier - 3.7 km climb to 2.1 % - Category 3
Km 156.5 - Côte de Châteauneuf (D.3-D.2210) - 1.3 km climb to 9.5 % - Category 2
Km 187.5 - Col de Vence - 9.7 km climb to 6.6 % - Category 1
Turgot has fallen back out of the break group and is now with Brice Feillu (Vacansoliel) who has attacked out of the peloton. The lead group is on its way up the Cote des Tuilieres.
We already have the first two climbs behind us. Here's the points for the first one:
Cote de Val Rose (3rd cat, km 38):
1. Yannick Talabardon (Saur Sojasun) 4 points
2. Daniele Righi (Lampre) 2
3. Craig Lewis (Columbia) 1
And the second one:
Cote de Barjols (3rd cat, km 38)
1. Tony Martin (Columbia) 4 points
2. Simon Geschke (Skil Shimano) 2
3. Damiano Cunego (Lampre) 1
The gap is now back up to 1:58. That means that the "virtual" yellow jersey is now with Sylvain Chavanel of Quick Step. He came into this stage 1:27 behind leader Alberto Contador.
The intermediate sprint at km 74 went this way:
1. Chavanel 3 points, 3 secs
2. Machado 2 pt, 2 secs
3. Tondo 1 pt, 1 sec.
And the third climb of the day went this way:
Cote des Tuilieres (2nd cat, km 85.5)
1. Moinard 7 points
2. Chavanel 5
3. Perget 3
4. Monfort 2
5. Gautier 1
What a stage yesterday. Now let's be honest – would anyone really be surprised if Peter Sagan wins again today?
Caisse d'Epargne wants very much to win this race, and has really done everything they can to accomplish that goal. At the moment they have two riders near the top: Valverde as second and Luis-Leon Sanchez as fourth.
They have only one problem: Alberto Contador. “I think he has really good chances of winning now,” Sanchez told Cyclingnews.
The gap is down to 1:35 now.
Going into today's stage, 18 riders have left the race, from 14 different teams. That means four teams have lost two riders each: HTC-Columbia, Cervelo TestTeam, RadioShack and Lampre-Farnese.
Christophe Le Mevel of Francaise des Jeux is using Paris-Nice to measure himself against Alberto Contador, especially in the mountains. "I knew it might be a bit suicidal to do this with Contador, but this way I was able to understand his accelerations and what I have to do to keep up," he told Cyclingnews. You can read the rest of the story here.
Half of today's climbs have now been conquered. Here's how number four went:
Cote du Mont Meaulx (3rd cat, km 101)
1. Moinard 4 points
2. Leipheimer 2
3. Gautier 1
We have two birthday boys in the peloton today. Tom Danielson of Garmin runs 32, and Simon Geschke of Skil is now 24.
Let's take a look at all the rankings. Alberto Contador of Astana leads the GC, 20 seconds ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), with Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas another five seconds back. Two Sanchezes are right behind, Luis-Leon of Caisse d'Epargne in fourth and Samuel of Euskaltel fifth.
The points ranking and green jersey go of course to double stage winner Peter Sagan of Liquigas, followed by Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) and Contador.
A Frenchman has the polka dots today. Amael Moinard of Cofidis leads that competition narrowly over two other Frenchmen, Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun) and Yann Huguet (Skil-Shimano).
Just to remind you Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) is the best placed rider in the lead group. The Frenchman was 1:27 down on Contador at the start of today's stage. He's picked up a few bonus seconds during the stage though. last year he was on fire in this year. This time around he's strong but is perhaps saving himself for the Spring Classics.
Maxime Monfort (Columbia) is also in the lead group. Just so you know he's Belgian and not French and not matter how many times our editor goes up to him at Tour and asks, "What's it like to be best placed Frenchman?" his nationality isn't going to change.
Machado has a cheeky little dig but the lead group are back together again. Still 1:20 clear of the Contador bunch.
Three or four Garmin riders are now at the front of the bunch. Caisse and Astana are still leading the chase but the gap has gone out by a few more seconds.
Away from the racing and we're seeing some fantastic views of lac de saint cassien. Picture-postcard stuff. Lovely.
Anyone remember Rik Verbrugghe? Well he's just said on tv that Chavanel is up the road for a stage win, not for gc, but his presence in the front makes a few teams work, not only Astana.
Amael Moinard (Cofidis) is leading the mountains competition and he's on the front now as the leaders climb the Côte du Mont Méaulx. He started with 21 points this morning.
The leaders were in fact on the Côte de Tignet and Moinard took four points ahead of Machado (2) and Van den Broeck (1)
The gap is now hovering at just under two minutes now.
Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) has come in for a bit of criticism for his form in this race but his aims will come later in the year, when he'll aim to win his fourth Tour of California.
Astana are still leading the chase but the lead is still holding at around two minutes.
The lead group coming up to the Côte de Plascassier. It's a 3.7 km climb and Tiago Machado is pretty much doing all the work right now.
Moinard is sitting pretty in second wheel, ready to pounce and hoover up those points on offer for this third category climb
Moinard took the four points, Chavanel (2), Cunego (1) for that last climb.
Astana wont be too worried the break just yet but there are some very capable riders in the lead group and a lot of strong climbers. Some with a point to prove you could say.
The gap is now 2:16 and for now Astana aren't getting too much help.
Just to keep you updated we have a group of 23 riders up the road and two more climbs in the stage:
Km 156.5 - Côte de Châteauneuf (D.3-D.2210) - 1.3 km climb to 9.5 % - Category 2
Km 187.5 - Col de Vence - 9.7 km climb to 6.6 % - Category 1
Thanks to Dan Benson for taking over the live report for an hour.
Andre Greipel is back among the team cars. Back for a visit or has he fallen off the back of the field?
Rein Taaramae of Cofidis is the French team's captain here in the race. His DS says the 23-year-old is on the right track but keeps making some youthful mistakes.
We have had yet another mountain, and the results were Moinard, Cunego, Machado, Casar, and Leipheimer.
Who is leading the chase? Who else but Caisse d'Epargne?
Remember Lars Boom? Young Rabobank neo-pro who wore the leader's jersey for three days? Yes, that Lars Boom. He's still around, you know, and in fact was the best Rabo finisher yesterday, finishing two seconds down in 16th place. He is down in 73rd place overall, 11:41 down.
Today's Tirreno-Adriatico stage has been shortened from 243km to 216km, due to road problems following rain.
Or is that tomorrow's stage which has been shortened in T-A? We will find out.
RadioShack is leading the break group now. The gap has fallen to 1:49
It is indeed tomorrow's stage which will be 216km. Today's is still 243km. We are glad we are not riding in that race.
It won't be long now until we have our category one mountain.
Some beautiful scenery here, and more importantly, sunshine and no snow!
Seems strange to see the riders without long sleeves and leggings. Can it be that spring is really arriving?
The front line of the chasing peloton is black (Caisse d'Epargne), followed by a wave of blue (Astana).
Tony Martin leads the way over the finish line for the first time. Unfortunately for him, they still have a lap of the circuit course to go.
And that lap includes the Category One climb, Col de Vence.
AStana leads the pack over the finish line, 1:53 later.
The peloton is strung out single file as they fly along in chase.
Crash. Four or five runners down, including several who are very slow to get up. Sky's Cioni is lying in the middle of the road.
Le Mevel is also slow to get going. At least Cioni is up again.
Anthony Geslin and Christian Vande Velde were the other two who went down.
Contador is currently in sixth place in the chasing field, which is being led by -- you guessed it, Caisse d'Epargne.
Two RadioShacks and a Cervelo at the front of the break gropu. Still hanging in there at 1:40.
By the way, it looks like all the riders who were in that crash are up and going again. FdJ is now doing its best to bring Le Mevel back up to the peloton.
The lead group has split. A cervelo rider, a Lampre and someone in blue are now pulling away. A number of riders have dropped off, including Tony Martin.
Kolobnev and Chavanel are chasing the three in front.
Moinard, the King of the MOuntains, is not only out of the lead group but also off the back of the peloton.
The peloton is now gathering in the riders from the former break group, one by one. Machado is the next to be gobbled up.
Our three leaders are Xavier Tondo (Cervelo), Cyril Gautier (BBox) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre).
Contador is now up out of the saddle as they all climb.
It looks like Tondo is pulling away from his two companions.
He only has 5 or 6 metres at the moment, but still......
The former break group is really splittered now. The last and largest group of it is about to be taken over by the peloton.
Tondo keeps on going on his own. He has definitely shed his two former companions now.
The group with Monfort and Leipheimer is about to be caught.
A mechanical for Sagan is quickly fixed.
Euskaltel now leads the peloton as they absorb the next group of former break riders.
Leipheimer has fallen off the back of the peloton now.
They are nearing the top of the mountain now.
Actually, they have already gone over the top -- so to speak. And in this order: Tondo, Cunego, Gautier, Intxauti, and S. Sanchez.
Defending Tirreno-Adriatico winner Michele Scarponi (Androni Giocattoli) won today's stage in Italy and has taken the overall lead.
Tondo has a comfrotable 15 second lead over Cunego. Is that enough? Can he hold on to that for another 26 km?
The Garmin rider who went down was Christian Meier, not Christian Vande Velde. The rider is fine, but the bike may not recover.
We suspect that the time gaps we have been given are not right. Tondo is waaaaaaaay ahead of Cunego, and Gautier is now in the peloton.
Tondo is hunched over the handlebars in an aerodynamic tuck as he descends.
A Sky rider, Cummings, has stocked up on water bottles and is working his way back to the peloton.
We don't usually comment on the kit, but must say we must still get used to the skin-coloured shorts for AG2R.
And Chavanel drops off the back of the peloton.
Tondo still has those alleged 15 seconds on Cungeo, with the peloton at 1:20.
Now the whole field is flying down this narrow road on the descent.
And they all successfully negotiate a series of steep and difficult curves.
17 km to go, and a gap of 1:00 from Tondo to the field.
A mechanical for Millar. Hope that doesn't jeopardize his top placing.
Tondo was second overall in the Vuelta a Burgos last year, finishing behind Valverde.
Tondo also won a stage of the Tour de San Luis last year. He was on that La MSS team that imploded after the Portuguese authorities raided their storage facility and allegedly found illegal substances. Last year he was with Andalucia Cajasur.
His lead has now fallen to only 45 seconds.
The climb was too far away from the finish. It doesn't look as if Tondo will be able stay away.
Tondo has 27 seconds over Cunego, with the peloton at 0:40.
The lead is shrinking, and Cunego will be caught any second now.
van den Broek has fallen off the back as Cunego is passed by the field.
Cunego lets them go and doesn't try to stay with them now.
When we say "peloton", we are speaking comparatively, of course. It is now the whole peloton, but 40-50 riders or so.
And still Caisse d'Epargne leading the chse, with Contador tucked in fifth position.
Tondo's lead is melting away, down to 20 seconds now.
Chris Horner of Radio Shack and someone from AG2R have pulled slightly away from the group. Now they are caught again.
Attack! But who?
Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) take off in pursuit of Tondo.
They are joined by a handful of other riders, and now an Astana rider and a Bbox rider are next to go.
They are cuaght again. We have a group of five riders, then two, then the Yellow Jersey group. All reasonably close together.
The group of seven has come together to give chase.
Chavnael, Fofonov -- those are two of the seven.
Tondo hangs to to a 14 second lead, with the Contador group at 25 seconds.
The chase group is not organized and doesn't work togehter. The Contador group is really not far behind.
The chase group is caught.
Three more riders try to get away, but spend too much time looking back over their shoulders. Things are looking good for Tondo....
Taaramae is the next to attack.
It looks like it is enough for Tondo!
He raises his arm in victory as he crosses the finish line five seconds ahead of the onrushing field.
Valverde was second across the line.
Who was third? None other than Peter Sagan!
Samuel Sanchez was fourth,with J. Rodriguez fifth. All in the same time, five seconds down.
Our top five on the stage:
1. Xavier Tondo (Spain, Cervelo)
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spain, Caisse d’Epargne)
3. Peter Sagan (Slovakia, Liquigas)
4. Samuel Sanchez (Spain, Euskaltel)
5. Joaqsuin Rodriguez (Spain, Katusha)
Looks like no changes at the top of the GC: Contador still leads over Valverde and Kreuziger.
Well, this race is proving to be one of those where you never know what is going to happen! Tondo got away nicely, but it was nip and tuck as to whether he would be able to hold that lead to the end.
Congratulations to him and his team. That's it for today. Join us again tomorrow for the closing stage, when we see who we will crown as the new Paris-Nice champion.