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Paris-Nice: The race to the sun! The third stage features a finish atop a Category Three climb.
Hello and welcome back to the Race to the Sun! Doesn't look like they have quite yet found the sun, though.....
With 92 km to go, we have a break. Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank), Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun) and Roy Curvers (Project 1t4i) took off at the get-go. They now have a lead of 4:30, which has held pretty steady.
Things got started in the rain today at 11:38, but with two riders missing. Andy Schleck of RadioShack-Nissan, who had been peforming subpar, called it quits with a stomach infection. After throwing up in the bus this morning, his teammates were probably just as happy to see him go somewhere else to get well.
Aldis Kroupis of GreenEdge also did not take to the start today.
After the neutralized section, the race got off officially at 11:58. Only to be promptly stopped at a railroad crossing!
There is one intermediate sprint today, at km 186 in Payrat-le-Chateau. There are two ranked climbs, both category three: Cote de Bourganeuf (km 167) and the closing Lac de Vassivière.
We have a grand total of 27 nations represented in this race! The largest group is, of course, from France. with 40. At the other end of things, we have Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Estonia, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Sweden and Uzbekistan with one each. All according to letour.fr.
In case you are wondering what is happening in the race, it is more of the same. 80 km to go and still a gap of 4:30.
It is an interesting course today. The first third or so is flat. Then comes some gradual climbing, culminating in two cat. 3 climbs.
Let's take a peek at the various rankings. After yesterday's “Gone With the Wind” stage, we have Sky's Bradley Wiggins atop the GC, followed by Levi Leipheimer at six seconds and Tom Boonen at seven seconds, both of Omega Pharma-Quick Step.
In fact, the top 21 riders are within 1:10 of the leader. From there the gap jumps to two and a half minutes.
At the other end of the rankings, “bringing up the cow's tail”, as our Mom used to say, is Christophe Le Mevel of Garmin-Barracuda, who is at 18: 27.
The points ranking, with green jersey, is currently in the hands (or on the shoulders) of Tom Boonen. Wiggins is tied with him on points in second place, with BMC's Tejay Van Garderen in third.
Speaking of Van Garderen, he is sporting the white jersey for best young rider. Taylor Phinney (also of BMC) and John Degenkolb (Project 1t4i).
Only four riders have points in the spotty competition, er, King of the mountains, so let's leist them all. Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) leads things with 6 points, while Olivier Kaisen of Lotto-Belisol has 4 points. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Bart de Clerq (Lotto-Belisol) have two points each.
Perhaps we will see a change here today?
And the last category: best team. Omega Pharma-Quick Step is in front here, with a 2:42 lead over Sky, with BMC third at 2:43.
How is the weather today? "meh" seems to be a pretty good description. Long sleeves, some leggings, and a very gray sky. But dry at the moment, at least.
Yellow jersey Wiggins is being brought back up to the peloton. We don't know why he had dropped back.
Sky is back at the head of the field, and the gap has dropped ever so slightly, to 3:55.
Brad Wiggins is on his way to (he hopes) win the Tour de France, and he is already showing that he can be successful in France in 2012. He put on a strong performance yesterday on his way to taking the race leader's yellow jersey. What did he have to say about it? Check it out here.
Tom Boonen knows how to win. And win. And win. Yesterdays victory was not only his fifth of the season, but also his 100th career win. Or possibly more than that, even he is not sure. But he and team are very sure that this is and will be a very good year for Omega Pharma-Quick Step.
49km to go and the gap is at 3:45.
Morkov is actually the virtual yellow jersey, by the way. He was only 3:06 down on Wiggins.
The bad news is that Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) lost nearly 11 minutes yesterday, but the good news is that he was not seriously injured in the crash which cost the time loss. He came away with the usual assortment of scrapes and bruises, as did teammate Paolo Longo Borghini.
Valverde is the next one who needs to be brought back up to the field. He is being shepherded up by teammates.
The gap continues to fall, down to 3:25. Valverde and his little group are still working their way up through the cars.
Jose Joaquin Rojas of Movistar is very happy with his second place in yesterday's stage. Especially since just a week ago he had to abandon Almeria due to illness, and didn't even start training again until last Thursday. He talks about it here.
38km and 3:15 left. The peloton is playing this nicely.
The gap is down to 3:00, so Morkov has lost the yellow jersey he never actually had.
32km and three minutes. The field should snap up the escapees right on schedule.
AGR's Peraud flatted and it took him a while to get back up to the group, but he is there now.
The other teams are leaving the chase work to Sky. Now we are beginning to wonder if the trio might stay away?
So of course the gap is now at 2:50.
The Rabobank riders were not a happy group last night. Only Dennis van Winden made it into the first group, and he fairly promptly crashed out of it. That means that the team can forget about the GC and will have to look for stage wins. “It's certainly within the possibilities of the team, as we definitely don't have bad riders at the start here,” said team director Nico Verhoeven, putting up a brave front.
Some chitchatting going on between the three leaders. "Are we going to pull this off? And how?"
We're doing a tiny bit of climbing now, it looks like.
And indeed, we are approaching the first ranked climb of the day.
Back in the pack, Movistar starts moving up towards the front.
25 km and 2:55 -- yes or no?
The field snakes its way through a town. Movistar has taken over the lead work and has picked up the speed.
Gutierrez is driving the peloton. Is Movistar hoping to get Valverde as first across the finish line?
The team with the oddest name in the peloton, Project 1t4i, had one of those “good news, bad news” sort of days on Tuesday. The “good” was that John Degenkolb galloped to second place on the stage. The “bad” was that Marcel Kittel missed the cut and probably lost his only chance at a mass sprint in the race.
22km and 2:10......
A deer bounces across a field and disappears into the forest. Better than jumping on to the road!
Now down to two minutes at 21.4km. We think the break will be caught. But it will be a close one.
Flat tyre for Jerome Koppel of Saur. Not good timing!
The leading trio is still working well together, although, oops, we now see the gap is only 1:20.
Looks like Movistar's move has worked and they will catch and pass the three leaders.
Coppel (sorry, we spelled it wrong earlier) and several teammates are weaving their way through the autos in their effort to get back up to the group.
The gap is hovering at the one minute mark now.
The gap is dropping like a stone, now at 0:45. Movistar is still moving things along, with a bit of help now from Omega Pharma-Quick Step.
Is Mario Cipollini bored in retirement or what? He wants to come back to racing and even start in the Giro d'Italia. At least he doesn't plan to sprint himself, but he seems to think he can help Farnese Vini-Sella Italia top sprinter Andrea Guardini beat Mark Cavendish.
Since we are not the youngest ourselves, we don't want to say that 45 is too old, but.......
Crash. And one rider is not jumping back up. Looks like four riders were involved. Let's see if we can't get a name for you. He is from Katusha.
OPQS now in charge at the front. And way in the front, Engoulvent has taken off from the other two leaders, with only a 25 second gap over the field.
The field has caught the other two, while Engoulvant has 22 seconds now.
We think the Katusha rider is Isaichev, but we are not sure and have no further word on him.
10 km and 20 seconds. Right now Engoulvant is on a downhill section, but soon enough he must climb.
Engoulvant takes the day's only intermediate sprint.
A Sky rider and a Movistar jumped in for second and third on that sprint.
Oops, and the end is near for Engoulvant. Five seconds or so? The field has him in sight.
That's it! The escape is over.
Teh first riders are dropping off the back. Taylor Phinney of BMC is one of the first to go, not looking real happy.
Geraint Thomas took second at the sprint, with Rodriguez of Movistar third.
Lots of riders are dropping off the back now. The pace is very high, with 5km to go.
Basso is hanging on at the back of the field. He is still recovering from a nasty crash yesterday.
Boonen did a lot of lead work and now has done his duty. He can fall back and not worry about it.
Is OPQS riding for Leipheimer? Tryng to get some time on Wiggins?
We have an attack from a Vacansoliel rider, Lagutin. They are just starting up the climb.
He peeps back across his shoulder to see that he is building up a tidy little gap.
Sky has moved back to the front to quash OPQS's plans to dump them.
12 seconds for Lagutin.
Basso is out of the peloton now, making his solo way up the climb behind the others.
A Rabobank rider has jumped from the field. They have something to prove after missing out on the fun yesterday.
Taaramae of Cofidis is the next to fade back. Lagutin's lead is shrinking.
The Rabobank rider has been re-absorbed. The field is pretty close now.
So close in fact, that they have caught him.
And we have an uphill sprint!
Westra is the first to go.
Cunego also near the front.
AG2R jumps at 500 metres.
Lulus Sanchez goe for it, as does Valverde, but it is Simon Gerrans who comes from nowhere to take the win!
Well, now, who did win? This must be a photo finish!
It was quite an impressive sprint by Gerrans though, who really came out of nowhere to make it close.
And it is in fact Valverde who is finally pronounced the winner!
Second for Gerrans by half a wheel length or so.
And third place goes to Gianni Meersman of Lotto-Belisol.
Wiggins still has the yellow by six seconds over Leipheimer. Van Garderen is third, at 11 seconds.
The closing sprint turned out to be a very exciting and close one. Let's hope the rest of the race continues the fun and dramatic action.
Thanks for joining us today and catch us again tomorrow, as we tackle the 184 km from Brive-la-Gaillarde to Rodez.
Before we close out, here is the top five for the day:
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 4:36:19
2 Simon Gerrans (Aus) GreenEdge Cycling Team
3 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto-Belisol Team
4 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team
5 Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spa) Katusha Team
And the top five of the GC:
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 9:09:51
2 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:06
3 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:11
4 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:14
5 Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:18