Race leader Contador faces close call
In a frantic finale, Cervélo's Heinrich Haussler timed his sprint to perfection and reaped the rewards on a tough day to La Chapelle-Saint-Ursin. The young German fired down the right-hand side of the road with 200 metres remaining, gapping rivals Mark Renshaw (Columbia-Highroad) and Mirco Lorenzetto (Lampre-NGC) and forcing them to second and third respectively.
Alberto Contador had a close call in the final two kilometres due to a crash immediately in front of him. Astana's leader at this event unclipped and avoided the fallen riders. He lost no time on the classification as the incident occurred within the final three kilometres and hence maintained his overall lead.
"It's pretty much a dream come true," said Haussler. "We knew there were going to be crosswinds, and there were splits, but the boys did a great job."
Cervélo TestTeam has six wins so far this season. Haussler accounts for three of those, with two stages of the Volta ao Algarve last month and today's win. Roger Hammond won a stage in the Tour of Qatar and Thor Hushovd took out a stage in the Tour of California and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
"This is definitely a great season. Even if it ended now, it's already unbelievable. But there are so many great races coming up like Flanders and Roubaix, which are my main goals this season," said Haussler.
Two crashes marked the day, but it was the one at two kilometres out that had many concerned for some for moments. Spaniard Contador, winner of yesterday's time trial and the race leader, appeared to be one of the victims until he gave television cameras the thumbs up to signal all was fine. The winner of three Grand Tours and the 2008 Paris-Nice skirted around the crash while Columbia drove the peloton ahead.
Four men go free
Four men made the early portion of the race. Piet Rooijakkers (Skil-Shimano) took off immediately after the start of the stage in Saint-Brisson-sur-Loire. Aitor Hernández (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas) and Christophe Laurent (Agritubel) joined him later.
The escape worked to build up a lead of 7:15 over the Astana-led peloton. However, the sprinters wanted to have their glory on what was a sunny day in northern France. Française des Jeux, Columbia and Rabobank worked to bring the gap down. The last man, France's Laurent, faced doom as he was caught with 22 kilometres remaining.
The second crash of the day occurred with 51 kilometres to go. Kevin de Weert (Quick Step), Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale) and Haussler's teammate José Angel Gomez Marchante were the worst off in that crash.
It caught some riders out and forced a split with Cervélo on the front of the main group. Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), who had been at the back of the peloton at the time, and David Moncoutié (Cofidis) spent some time in the chase group. The two groups reunited at the start of the closing 39-kilometre circuit, where the escape had 4:15.
Columbia-Highroad drove the pace from six kilometres out to set up Australian Renshaw for the sprint while Française des Jeux and Lampre-NGC were also placing their men at the front for Sébastien Chavanel and Mirco Lorenzetto respectively.
Then a surge came from Silence-Lotto's men. The Belgian team appeared to be positioning Belgian Champion Jürgen Roelandts for the sprint, but something different happened. As the race approached 200 metres from the finish line in La Chapelle-Saint-Ursin, Roelandts himself fired with teammate Philippe Gilbert in tow. Without Haussler's response Gilbert may have bagged the stage win.
The riders will face three category three climbs over 178 kilometres on the way to Vichy on Tuesday. Contador is likely to keep his overall lead as the sprinters should rule the day, although the 10-second bonus for the stage win may come into play.
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