By Hedwig Kröner in Nice
The last stage of Paris-Nice did not go according to plans for the organisers or for Italian Rinaldo Nocentini. On Saturday evening, the organizer informed teams that the parcours around Nice on Sunday had to be modified because of a small landslide on the Col de la Turbie (Cat.1). With 33 kilometres to go before the finish, the climb was shortened slightly before leading the riders directly to the next difficulty of the day, the Col d'Eze.
This seemed like good news for Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), who sat in second place on general classification behind Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) by only three seconds. "The parcours of the last stage will be slightly different," he explained to Cyclingnews the night before the ultimate battle would play out. "They will cut off a bit of the Turbie climb because of a small landslide. For me, that's better, because shorter climbs suit me more."
After a hard penultimate stage, where he and fellow countryman Rebellin dropped the former race leader Robert Gesink (Rabobank) in a wild descent from the Col du Tanneron to the Meditteranean coast, Nocentini admitted he felt a bit tired. "You know, it wasn't that hard a stage on paper, but then…," he sighed, albeit smiling. "In the finale, when we started the descent, I saw that Gesink hit the brakes earlier and earlier. So I went flat out in two or three curves, and that created a gap. Then I just thought to myself: Go for it… And I went as fast as I could."
With the help of other riders, the 30 year-old took 1'23" from the Dutchman and moved up second on GC. With only three seconds between him and the yellow jersey, Nocentini was determined to do everything in his power to turn the situation around, but also knew that it would be difficult against Rebellin.
"Maybe I can try to win against him by taking the sprint points at the finish," Nocentini mused, but that scenario never played out. A breakaway went clear, mopping up any possible bonus seconds on the course, and when Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) stayed away to the end, it was clear that the two Italians would let the standings lie. Rebellin strode in safely in 16th place, while Nocentini finished further back in the bunch at 27th.
Still, the Italian was satisfied with his performance, as he and Rebellin have been in a close battle ever since the start of the season, and showed the same level of fitness. "On one occasion I win, and on the next it's him," he added. Rebellin won the Tour du Haut Var in front of Nocentini, while the AG2R rider took the honours in the GP Lugano.
Now, the standings after Paris Nice are 2-1 in favour of the Gerlosteiner leader. "I'm still happy to have gotten this second placing. Neither my team nor I had thought about this outcome when we came to Paris-Nice. It's a prestigious race," he said, adding that the season was far from over yet.
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