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Welcome back to the last stage of Paris-Nice, a nice little early afternoon romp of 119 km. If only those three Category One climbs weren't on the route, the riders might have a nice day! Not to mention the fact that our overall leader can't be at all sure of his victory yet. Let's see what happens today!
The first break went at km 2 – talk about an early start! It was Jens Mouris (Vacansoleil) and the prologue winner, Lars Boom of Rabobank
The Boom-Mouris break didn't last long, as Mouris punctured and that was it. Tiago Machado (RadioShack) and Julien El Fares (Cofidis) were the next to try, but were able to stay away only 2.5 km.
The first intermediate sprint is coming up at km 18.5, and remember, they offer bonus seconds to the first three riders. Will we see Valverde, perhaps, try to go for it and pick up a bit more time on Contador?
Short but not so sweet is how we would describe today's stage. The first of the three Cat. One climbs comes at km 51, followed by another at km. 88.5, with the last one at km 103. That gives the riders 16km to gather back together – possibly – for the final showdown on the Promenade de Anglais in Nice.
And here is how that sprint went:
1. Peter Sagan (Liquigas) 3 points, 3 seconds
2. Luis-Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) 2 points, 2 seconds
3. Aleksandr Kuchynski (Liquigas) 1 point, 1 second.
Those few seconds don't sound like much, but they were very important. The two secons for Sanchez were enough to move him up into third place overall, as he had been only one second behind Roman Kreuziger. And Sagan move up to 7th place, ahead of Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha).
Today is your final chance to enter the Paris-Nice podium contest! You can win a Cervelo musette bag and cap, both signed by Heinrich Haussler. All you have to do is guess today's stage podium.
You must be a member of our forum to participate. The contest thread is here.
If you need to join the forum, just click here and do it.
Here are our climbs for the day:
Km 51.0 - Col de la Porte - 7.2 km climb to 7.2 % - Category 1
Km 88.5 - La Turbie - 7.6 km climb to 4.8 % - Category 1
Km 103.0 - Col d'Eze - 4.2 km climb to 6.8 % - Category 1
There has been a crash, involving among others Jerome Pineau (Quick Step), Tony Martin (Columbia) and Chris Sorensen (Saxo Bank).
The crash must have come into the middle of the peloton, because the field split. The first part is now catching up on two escapees, Mirko Lorenzetto (Lampre) and Laurent Didier (Saxo Bank).
And even as we write that, those two are caught and eight others take off.
Three riders have now abandoned because of the crash: Martin, El Fares, and Cervelo's Daniel Lloyd.
Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d’Epargne) is the next to drop out.
It looks as if the peloton is all together again.
Alessandro Spezialetti (Lampre) throw in the towel, as well.
In additioh to all the riders who have abandoned, we had four riders DNS today: Nikolas Maes (Quick Step), Julien Loubel (AG2R), Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) and Greg Henderson of Team Sky, who won the first stage.
Alejandro Valverde saw his chance and went for it, joining a move by Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil). You can imagine what Astana thought of that! They immediately sent out a rider to bring that too-dangerous move back.
We had six abandons yesterday during the stage: Jimmy Casper (Saur-Sojasun), Mikel Nieve and Koldo Fernandez de Larrae (both Euskaltel), Arnoud Gerard (Francaise des Jeux), Jürgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Andre Greipel of Team HTC-Columbia.
Nearing the top of the day's first mountain, we have a five man break with 15 seconds: Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Jean-Christophe Peraud (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Maxime Bouet (AG2R) and Evgeni Petrov (Katusha).
Alberto Contador continues to lead in the race, although his lead was cut to 14 seconds yesterday when Alejandro Valverde got six bonus seconds with his second-place stage finish.
“It was a stage that was hard to control,” Astana manager Yvon Sanquer told Reuters. “We kept the yellow jersey, it was tense but at the end of the day, it was a good stage for us.”
Things are happening fast and furious now. Chavanel and Peraud managed to drop the others and continue on, but Astana gave chase and caught them before the top of the mountain.
The next to go were David Lopez Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne), Amael Moinard and Thomas Voeckler (Bbox).
And Astana's Benjamin Noval has abandoned.
Bernard Hinault had his usual words of wisdom on letour.fr, and praised Caisse d'Epargne's tactics from yesterday. “They did not really expose themselves and yet they are a little bit closer thanks to Valverde, who collected a few seconds with his second place. It’s rather cunningly played as they moved all the pressure to the last stage today. With two riders in contention, they can attack each at a time to try and upset Contador and it’s perhaps the only way to do it. Recent years have shown that Paris-Nice can be won by the slimmest margins. It is not over yet.”
And they are finally over the top. Here is how it went.
1. Thomas Voeckler (Bbox) 10 points
2. Amael Moinard (Cofidfis) 8 points
3. Reine Taaramae (Cofidis) 6 pts
4. Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) 4
5. Alberto Contador (Astana) 3
6. Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) 2
Voeckler and Moinard have a minimal lead over the peloton, about 13 seconds.
Roelandts told the belgian Sportwereld website that he dropped out of the race due to back problems. "I have lower back problems the last two days. . I think it is because of the long transfer by car we had to do Thursday evening,” he said. “I could of course ride Sunday, but for whom and for what?”
Christophe Riblon of AG2R has taken off in pursuit of the two leaders. Voeckler and Moinard now have 30 seconds on him, with the peloton 10 seconds behind Riblon.
Looks like the peloton is content to let these three go. The gaps have picked up, with the two leaders having 1:30 over the field.
RadioShack's Alain Gallopin was satisfied with Saturday's stage, noting they had two riders in the break, Tiago Machado and Levi Leipheimer. “Machado worked hard but Levi is not quite ‘Super Levi’ yet. Still they did a good job,” he said.
The two leaders have now complete the descent of the first mountain and are ready to take on the ascent of the second mountain.
Riblon has realized he won't catch the two in front and has decided to wait for the peloton.
Let's take a final look at who is leading which category. Contador is in the yellow jersey with the overall lead, 14 seconds over Valverde and 25 seconds ahead of Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas).
Voeckler and Moinard are now on their way up Le Turbie.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas) leads the points classification, over Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) and Valverde.
Amael Moinard (Cofidis) has a large lead in the mountain ranking, with 47 points. Second is Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun) with 18 and third is Damiano Cunego with 17 points.
Moinard cemented that lead by coming over the day's first climb as second behind Voeckler.
Voeckler and Moinard approach the second mountain ranking with a 2:42 lead over the peloton.
Kreuziger is best young rider, with Sagan second and Reine Taaramae (Cofidis) third.
Only 28 km to go, and the gap is slowly coming down.
We have beautiful sunshine again today, and our two leaders are really flying along.
The gap continues to fall, and is now under two minutes.
Here's how they came over the second climb:
1. Moinard 10 pts
2. Voeckler 8
3. Mathieu Perget (Caisse d’Epargne) 6
4. Dimitri Foronov (Astana) 4
5. Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) 3
6. Evgeni Petrov (Katusha) 2
7. Reine Taaramae (Cofidis) 1
The peloton is flying along in single file.
Cervelo didn't sign Xavier Tondo until December. Was it worth it? Well, with a stage win like yesterday's, we would have to say yes. So do Tondo and Cervelo.
The peloton turns off the main road and starts heading up the next climb. Up ahead, Voeckler starts to pull away from Moinard.
Voeckler definitely pulls away from the King of the Mountains now.
Voeckler is riding quite easily away. The gap back to the field is now 1.25.
The pace is high enough that the peloton is dropping a number of riders.
Sagan is one of those who has been dropped. A teammate is leading him -- and half a dozen others -- in an attempt to get back in the main group.
Three riders attack out of the peloton. Contador goes after them, as does Valverde.
Voeckler and Moinard are together again.
We now have a chase group of five, led by Contador. Valverde and a Caisse d'Epargne teammate are also in it. They have only a miminal lead over the field.
Contador, Valverde and a third rider have now pulled away. Contador continues to lead, and the gap is down to 50 seconds.
LL Sanchez and Taaramae give chase.
The chase trio is Contador, J. Rodriguez (Katusha) and Valverde.
Contador's group will catch the two leaders very soon now.
Valverde moves into the lead now. Will he try to take off?
Contador didn't like that at all and takes the lead back. He picks up the speed, and Rodriguez falls back slightly.
Sanchez has managed to drop Taaramae on the descent.
Sanchez has now caught the Contador group, and Taarame is trying to get them.
Only 15 seconds now. Taaramae has now caught the Contador group., and a larger group has come up from behind as well.
Rodriguez attacks, but doesn't get away. Now a Caisse rider goes.
We have flurries of attacks, but Contador is keeping hold of things.
Crash. Le Mevel has gone down, and looks to be injured.
Still 15 seconds for our two leaders. The first chase group contains all the favourites, including S. Sanchez and Voigt.
It is a RadioShack rider with a slight lead, maybe Machado?
Thirteen seconds now.
Machado and LL Sanchez have only a slight lead over the Contador group.
Sanchez and Machado have pulled away from the Contador group, as the two leaders hit the last km.
Voeckler and Moinard are determined to save their day and sprint for the win, with the field rapidly approaching.
Moinard noses out Voeckler, with the peloton crossing the finish line two seconds later!
Third place goes to Valverde -- but the time bonuses aren't enough! Alberto Contador of Team Astana has won Paris-Nice.
Nicolas Roche takes fourth on the stage, with Taaramae fifth.
Sorry, the chasing field was three seconds back, not two.
Another large group comes over the finish line, 2:47 down.
Here is our final podium for Paris-Nice 2010:
Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne at .11
3 Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne at .25
Congratulations to Moinard and Contador on their victories today.
And thanks for reading along. We will be back again next weekend with Milano-Sanremo, so join us then!