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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage from Paris-Nice. Today's stage is from Onet-le-Chateau to Mende.
Just to bring you up to date. We've 85 kilometers remaining in the stage, and the final, climb up to Mende. We should see fireworks today.
I'm on Twitter, so ping me your thoughts and questions throughout the stage and I'll do my best to answer them. twitter.com/dnlbenson
Right now the peloton are on the Cote de la Malene and there's a break up the road with an advantage of over 6 minutes. We'll bring you the names in just a second.
We've climbed up to Mende twice in recent years. In 2009 and 2007. On both occasions Alberto Contador danced away from the competition, winning both stages and both editions of the race.
So to the break and we've got Simon Clarke (GreenEdge), Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar) and David Le Lay (Saur-Sojasun) and they've got 6:40 on the bunch.
GreenEdge of course won the TTT in Tirreno yesterday with a sumptuous performance against the clock.
The four leaders broke free after just two kilometers of racing.
And apologies it was 2010 and 2007, the years Contador won in Mende.
Valverde was second on the last occasion and he's a strong bet for today's finish. I'm not quite sure, he looked sluggish yesterday, on a stage finish that should have suited him. He's of course already won a stage in the race so he has form.
Le Lay is virtual yellow jersey on the road but I don't think this will last. Race approaching the feedzone in Le Pas de Soucy.
@inrng Thu, 8th Mar 2012 12:04:33
Veuchelen led over the climb, collecting 10 points. Le Lay was next over with Arashiro and Clarke following.
Thomas De Gendt, who lost his lead in the KOM yesterday, led the peloton over the top, 6 minutes back.
Mate (Cofidis) still leads the KOM competition with 20 points but it's far from over, with four more climbs today we could easily see the jersey change hands for the third day in a row.
And here's where we stand on GC at present.
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 13:30:52
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
6 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
7 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:20
8 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:29
9 Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team 0:00:33
10 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana Pro Team 0:00:36
And the leaders are cresting the top of the Cote du Cayla, a third category climb. From there they'll sweep down towards the 1st cat climb of the Cote de l'Estrade.
We can expect the teams like Omega, Sky, Movistar to use that as key moment in the race - either to throw riders up the road or to set the pace and position their leaders. they'll still have two more climbs to come but it will be a decisive moment in the race.
Watch out for Alexandre Geniez (Project 1T4i) today. The race started near his home and he could be an outside bet for the finish in Mende.
And what of BMC? They also have two riders in the top ten with Monfort and Van Garderen. Both riders can climb so it will be interesting to see how they handle the final climb. Perhaps they lack the acceleration of Valverde but both are capable of riding with the best today.
And Veuchelen led over the top on the last climb, picking up another 4 points. Lelay was next over but Veuchelen is just one point behind Mate in the KOM classifications.
Not only do I habitually get Monfort's nationality incorrect (whenever I interview him I think he's French) I've now gone one step further and got his team wrong.
And so you all know, Inrng's latest CN blog will appear on the site after today's stage. It's a cracker.
The gap is down, slightly, to 5:50
Gavazzi has great form, his results this week speak for themselves, I think he's had 3 top 10 finishes. Mende is a different type of finish so Kiserlovski may fair better. He's not won a race for a couple of years though but his top 20 performance in last year's Vuelta shows he has talent.
Last winners in Mende: Contador in 2010 (Paris-Nice), Rodriguez in 2011 (Tour) #parisnice
@julienpretotRTR Thu, 8th Mar 2012 13:45:53
50km to go and the lead is down to 5:15 as the peloton begin to slowly take charge the race.
Wiggins is comfortably sitting behind his train from Sky, who have raced so well this week. Their job will be to keep the race together for as long as possible. Wiggins, depending on how strong he is, will need to pay attention to the likes of Valverde.
Last year in the Dauphine we saw that he often let riders attack but would then slowly grind his way back up to them. That could be the tactic for today.
The gap is plummeting. It's down to 4:40 now, with BMC on the front, working for Van Garderen.
The break have responded with a bit more urgency, but BMC is setting a furious pace.
Movistar and BMC sharing the pace. This is perfect for Sky, huddled around Wiggins near the front of the bunch, but not having to do much of the work.
It will be a huge challenge for the bunch as they fly down the final descent and then quickly throw their legs into the small ring and then start climbing. Positioning and acceleration will be key, before the climb kicks up severely with 3km to go.
A number of riders being dropped from the main field, including Thor Hushovd.
Our friends over at Eurosport have just announced that Sandy Casar (FDJ) didn't start this morning.
And it looks like Ten Dam is leading a small group of the front of the bunch, with the gap now at 2:35.
More and more riders dropped from the back of the bunch. Sep Vanmarcke one of them. Thomas Dekker dropped with him.
Seeldrayers is the man with Ten Dam.
Gerrans also dropped.
Movistar has shredded the bunch and we're down to maybe 50 riders on this penultimate climb.
José Ivan Gutierrez is doing most of the damage.
The lead to the four man break is down to just 2:15
Gerrans and a few more riders have made it back to the bunch, De Gendt is near the front, presumably to try and snaffle up a few points in the KOM.
Seeldrayers and Ten Dam are still together but they've only got around 150 meters on the Movistar-led bunch.
Mate is watching De Gendt near the front of the field, he clearly wants to remaining contention.
And De Gendt attacks. Mate tries to go with him and then gives up, allowing De Gendt to some of the remaining points.
Kadri crashed earlier and has been taken to hospital. We're hearing that his injuries are not serious.
Movistar still plugging away on the front but Lampre are also moving up, Cunego must fancy his chances for today.
The Ten Dam group have 50 seconds on the bunch but a number of Movistar riders have moved up since we're on the flat roads heading to Mende. 26km to go.
Valverde, in green is sitting 5th in line, Rojas infront of him. RadioShack are mustering their challenge, grouping together on the left and inching forward. Sky give them a stare and up their pedal speed.
Gerrans is at the back of the bunch. I still think he could be in the mix today. He was dropped on the last climb but he may have been saving his legs, hoping that it would come together.
Unlike previous stages, we've not seen anything from Omega so far. Chavanel and Leipheimer are both in the top ten and will be looking for strong rides today. Leipheimer the better climber of the two.
Yesterday Movistar did too much work too soon but they're on the front again, Valverde looking for vital time bonuses on offer at the finish.
Wonderful scenery here on the road to Mende but there's no rest of the bunch or the break for that matter. The leading four riders are still together, and still working. They've got 1:35 on the peloton with 19km to go.
Gutierrez has been on the front for nearly 20km. Surely he'll swing off soon, his job done for the day
Here come Astana and Chavanel with his Omega team. RadioShack also moving up.
Monfort is very near the front, Frank Schleck is two wheels back, Cunego is there too. Valverde of course, and Wiggins, who is about 20 riders back.
Wiggins, in yellow, is a lot closer to the front now, with three teammates in front of him.
The gap to the leading break is at 1:28. Wiggins wont mind that one bit. If they stay away it means the likes of Valverde can't pick up time bonuses on the line.
12km to go and the gap is 1:28
-11km to go and the gap is under a minute. 55 seconds to be exact.
Movistar are still on the the front but the pace has eased slightly with the peloton spread across the road. Gerrans still right at the back.
Gerrans of course crashed yesterday so maybe today is all about survival for him.
Around 50-60 riders in the main peloton, once we hit the final climb. Up ahead and the four leaders are still together.
Seeldrayers and Ten Dam are about to make contact with the four leaders. That's good riding from those two as they've had to work very hard to close that gap.
Ten Dam leads Seeldrayers and now we've got six at the front at 4o seconds. Movistar still on the front. If they want those bonus seconds they'll need to close that gap soon.
The road begins to point upwards and Katusha make an appearance on the front for the first time.
Mate, meanwhile, has been dropped. A little wave to the camera on his way out the back.
And it's all coming back together with 8km to go.
It's a very fast descent into Mende before the final 3km climb. Movistar, back on the front again, with 7.5km remaining.
The peloton flex in two directions as they sweep through some road furniture,just 3.km to go. Veuchelen is still out there but on his own.
He's on the lower slopes but he's only got a few seconds. Astana setting the pace.
Veuchelen out of the saddle, trying everything to hold on but the bunch are just behind him. It's almost all over.
Caught with 3km to go and Porte on the front, Leipheimer is near the front and looking good at the moment.
Porte still setting the pace for Wiggins who is about 10th wheel. The Australian has really strung them out.
Porte looks very, very strong and he's making it very hard, Levi is third wheel a Rojas blows.
Taaramae is dropped.
Wiggins and Van Garderen move up, with Levi.
Wiggins right onto Porte's wheel. Perfect for Sky so far. Martin has now been dropped.
2km to go and Wiggins is in second wheel. Porte, Wiggins, Levi, TJ.
Around one of the steepest corners and still no major attacks. Has Porte done enough? He's still on the front, riders popping off the back one by one. Le Mevel, the next one to go.
As Porte pushes on the pedals again. Cunego is up there. Valverde around 10th wheel.
Kloden has been dropped now.
Westra is still up there but Chavanel isn't. He's been dropped. And Anton too.
Porte looks back , and again gets out of the saddle. He looks so strong and so does Wiggins. Still plenty of time for attacks those.
Luis Leon has also gone, Menchov as well.
Porte has reduced the lead group to around 15 riders. He's Wiggins' last man with 1km to go.
And Monfort dropped as an FDJ rider attacks.
He gains just a few bike lengths. Wiggins has two men with him. Porte and I think that's Uran.
Jeannesson is the rider on the attack but Wiggins accelerates and Van Garderen is dropped. Levi gets right on the Sky rider's wheel as Porte pulls off.
Westra is clear
As Wiggins has to chase. There's a gap and Wiggins has to close that.
Westra is looking very strong and I think he's going to win the stage. Wiggins has to lead the chase Cunego dropped, Levi and Valverde still there.
Westra takes the win.
Valverde second Wiggins third. Westra was 6 seconds clear at the line. He was 18 seconds down at the start of the stage so he's moved right up into second place.
Perhaps some hesitation from Sky but Wiggins gave it everything in the last 1km as Westra moved clear. Van Garderen was dropped, Monfort too so the top 10 will look very different after today's stage.
That was a very impressive move from Westra who looked very, very strong.
Leipheimer took 4th.
Westra was practically free-wheeling over the line. He could have taken the jersey if he'd carried on racing.
So Wiggins leads Westra by 6 seconds, Leipheimer is at 10 and Valverde at 18. Westra is well and truly in the race now.
1 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM 4:52:46
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:06
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
5 Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team
6 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:00:16
7 Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ-Bigmat
8 Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:24
9 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling
10 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:30
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 18:23:40
2 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM 0:00:06
3 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:10
4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:18
5 Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team 0:00:37
6 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:39
7 Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:46
8 Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ-Bigmat 0:01:06
9 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:01:16
10 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana Pro Team 0:01:21
That's the end of today's action. Thanks for joining us. We're back tomorrow for stage 6 from Suze-la-Rousse to Sisteron.