Paris-Nice: The race to the sun! For many this is the real start of the cycling season. Things will be serious here, as top prospects will not only want to do their best, but will want to check out the competition as well.
Hello and welcome to the 2011 Paris-Nice! Today's stage takes us 199km from Montfort l'Amaury to Amilly. It is, let us say, flat. And we expect a mass sprint finish. And we also expect the wind to play a role, so let's keep an eye out for those echelons.
84km remaining from 199km
Three Frenchmen took off early today. Yoann Offredo (FDJ), Maxime Bouet (AG2R) and Tony Gallopin (Cofidis) took off practically from km null and quickly built up a lead of up to five minutes, but then it started dropping.
Martin Velits of HTC-Highroad was not at the start this morning. He was injured enough in a crash yesterday to keep him out of the race. And David Moncoutie has had to abandon today. He was dropped with 25km to go yesterday and finished over 8 minutes down. Cofidis says he is having knee problems.
Team Sky is the one responsible for cutting the gap. They turned on the speed, and in doing so, dropped a number of riders off the back. But they have now caught back up.
There was an intermediate sprint at km 66, which saw Gallopin first over the line to claim 3 seconds and 3 points, Offredo second with 2 seconds and 2 points and Bouet third with – you guessed it – one second and one point.
There were 175 riders at the start for this, the second stage. They represent 35 nations, and no surprise, the largest representatin comes from France, with 47. Then we have Spain with 21, Belgium 17, Italy 12 and so on, trickling down to 17 countrires with only one rider each.
Thomas De Gendt of Vacansoleil-DCM fooled the sprinters yesterday, after opening a three-man break with about 40km to go. Together with Jeremy Roy (FdJ) and Jens Voigt (Leopard Trek), he got away, and he and Roy managed to eke out the top two places on the stage. One in the eye for sprinters' teams.......
One nice thing about this race is that it seems to promise us that Spring will actually arrive! It has been a long hard winter, so we are all ready for some sun and warmth. As Christian Prudhomme, race organiser, put it on the race's website, “Let’s hope that this year the sun shines the whole week through on this 69th edition of the race whose route offers something for every type of rider.”
70km remaining from 199km
Lucas Sebastian Haedo of Saxo Bank-SunGard has crashed and subsequently abandoned. Meanwhile, the two riders in front have caught their second wind and built their lead back up to 3:10.
Ok, so we expected a mass sprint yesterday, too, and well, we sort of got one. De Gendt and Roy were able to take the top two places after their escape at any rate. But I sincerely doubt that the sprinters and their teams will let things get out of hand again today!
De Gendt shared the secret of his success: he is 4 kilos lighter than last year (that's nearly 9 pounds for you non-metric folks). And how did he do it? By giving up his favourite foods, sausages and salami. Ah, the sacrifices a pro rider has to make......
63km remaining from 199km
The gap is now up to nearly 4 minutes. The peloton is just taking its time, but surely won't let them get tooooo much of a lead today!
61km remaining from 199km
The sun is shining today, what joy! But it is still quite nippy, right aroudn the freezing point, we are told.
FDJ's Roy was surprised to finish second yesterday, because in his own words, “My feelings were …. not so great.” He was the one who initiated the last minute escape, but from here on out, he will devote himself to team leaders Sandy Casar and Pierrick Fedrigo.
58km remaining from 199km
The gap continues to fall, and is now down to 2:56.
Happy birthday today to Katusha sprinter Denis Galimzyanov, who turns 24 today.
Christophe Le Mevel of Garmin-Cervelo is happy to be in Paris-Nice. The Frenchman suffered a broken wrist in the Tour of the Med last month. He finished tenth here in 2009, but doesn't have such good memories of the race from last year, crashing twice. Having finished tenth in the Tour de France, as best French rider, in 2009, he is not scheduled to ride it all this year. His goal is to be in the Top Ten of the Giro this year.
54km remaining from 199km
Vacansoleil leads the peloton, and we see some jungle cats up near the front. Oh, we meant to say Leopard Trek. The gap is just over a minute now.
A crash, with a number of riders involved. No one looks to be injured, happily.
Levi Leipheimer was apparently one of those involved, and is now making his way back up to the front. We think we saw the green jersey on Jeremy Roy involved, too.
52km remaining from 199km
The gap is now under a minute, so the two can expect to be caught soon.
And Leipheimer finally catches back up with the tail end of the peloton again.
Richie Porte of Saxo Bank-SunGard was one of the brilliant newcomers of the 2010 season, but he didn't do well at all in Paris-Nice. In fact, afterwards, he had to sit down for a serious talk with team management about losing weight and training..... Must have worked, since he went on to some spectacular results shortly thereafter! So this year he is determined to do well, and win the race as the team's captain.
49km remaining from 199km
Hm, the gap is really yo-yo-ing around here. It has now gone back up to just over a minute, in fact up to 1:19.
46km remaining from 199km
The next intermediate sprint is coming up.
Gallopin takes the sprint, as he did the first one. Bouet second, and we will have to wait a bit for third.
And it is none other than yellow jersey De Gendt who jumps out of the peloton to take the one bonus second for third place.
Tony Martin is going to win Paris-Nice – at least that is what Fränk Schleck says. HTC-Highroad is “the most impressive team on paper”, the Leopard Trek rider said. He also cast an eye towards Astana's Kreuziger and Vinokourov, as well as Sylvain Chavanel. Schleck doesn't even see a top five finish for himself, though.
And another crash, this one involving that very same Fränk Schleck. Did we jinx him? He is up and going but has a way to go to catch up.
And another Leopard has gone down, while looking back to see where Fränk is!
We thought that cats were supposed to always land on their feet when they fall...... Fränk Schleck has ripped open his jersey but hopefully not himself. He now has three teammates at his side, with another moving in, all to help him back up to the front.
Lampre has moved up near the front of the field. Their jerseys seem to be unusually bright this year. Do they perhaps glow in the dark?
Schleck made it back up to the field, only to fall back to the team car for some equipment repair.
And time for a pause! The train is coming through and the road is closed. The two leaders are not real thrilled to lose their momentum, but what can you do?
The field has now moved up to the two leaders and everyone puts a foot down. The two are now brought forward and will be sent on their way, while the others are held back for exactly how ever many seconds it was lead they had.
And now the field eagerly gives chase again.
38km remaining from 199km
Things are moving again!
38km remaining from 199km
The two leaders are pedaling furiously, while the peloton tries to squish its way all together through the narrow village roads.
Alexandre Vinokourov of Astana is looking for a stage win in this, his final Paris-Nice, instead of the overall title. He is concentrating his main energies on winning the Tour de France later on this season. Paris-Nice has been an important race in his career, though, as he has not only won it twice, but lost his dear friend Andrei Kivilev during the race in 2003.
Let's take a quick peek at who did what yesterday and is therefore decked out in a a colourful special jersey today. Thomas De Gendt of Vacansoleil is in yellow, having won the stage. He also, not surprisingly, leads the points classification, but since he can't wear two shirts at once, Jeremy Roy of FDJ will be in green today.
We doubt, however, that De Gendt will still be in yellow tomorrow. Or green, for that matter.
34km remaining from 199km
Looks like Gallopin is giving up. The gap is still at 50 seconds, but he is falling back. Bouet keeps on going.
32km remaining from 199km
And Gallopin is back in the field.
Rabobank and Astana have now moved up to the front of the chase.
The gap is said to be 30 seconds but it looks a lot smaller. And Haussler has crashed into the ditch. He is up but limping a bit and rubbing his knee -- which is NOT a good sign.
And another crash! What is happening here? Is the wind that strong? Oops, someone is not getting up.....
30km remaining from 199km
In the midst of all that Bouet was caught and now Liquigas is at the head of things.
Tony Martin of HTC-HIghroad was one of those involved in the most recent crash, but he is back in the field, as is Haussler.
28km remaining from 199km
Haussler gets some rolling bike repairs and has a helper to bring him back up front.
The two Garmin-Cervelo riders have a way to go to catch up. Haussler would have a good chance to take the overall lead in a sprint, today.
Now they have picked up a Rabo rider -- one of the very few who is not up at the front of the field.
Damien Gaudien was in yesterday's early escape group and took the four points of the day's one-and-only climb. There are no climbs today, so he is guaranteed to wear polka-dots for at least one more stage.
24km remaining from 199km
Katusha's Gusev attaches himself to the Garmin-Cervelo-Rabo mini-chase group.
The pace has picked up dramatically and the field is now long and drawn out.
Haussler and Co. have now rejoined the peloton.
22km remaining from 199km
Things have slowed down a big and the bunch is, well, all bunched up again.
Vacansoleil has moved back into the front. We do see Alexandre Vinokourov peeking around there, too, though.
19km remaining from 199km
Less than 20 km to go now. Will the group stay together until the end and bring about the expected mass sprint? Or will we see some attacks, and possibly another successful one?
They are now riding through a forest -- looks rather eerie with no leaves and no green. (Except for the Liguigas jerseys, that is.)
Looks like the group wil stay together. At least no one has made any kind of a move yet.
Liquigas moves to the front and picks up the speed a bit.
14km remaining from 199km
Now the speed has picked up ore than a bit. Are Vinokourov and a teammate trying to make a break?
The two AStanas are at the head of things, with Movistar right behind them. Lots of people looking back to see where who is.
De Gendt got caught a bit in the back of things and is moving his way up.
12km remaining from 199km
The speed has now picked up enogh to split the field. Those in teh second group are now working hard to catch up. But it looks like a good split.
De Gendt is amontg thos in the lead group -- we also saw Sagan, Gerdemann, Tondo, and of course Vinokourov.
But it's also a very large group, so lots of people are up there.
Leipheimer is at the back of whichever field he is in.
Movistar is driving the field.
Schleck moves back to keep Leipheimer company.
Tony Martin and Matt Goss of HTC-Highroad are up near the front. Goss will be looking to score in the sprint.
Just over 4 km to go. Still no real escape attempts. It will come down to a mass gallop, we think. And we choose Goss to take it.
2km remaining from 199km
CN's Peter Hymas picks 'Sagan, while Stephen Farrand also goes with Goss.
HTC promptly moves into the lead work, as Luis Leon Sanchez has a mechanical.
Two km to go. HTC-Highroad in the lead.
De Gendt attacks! and takes the lead!
HTC-Highroad wasn't having any of that! He is caught just before the flamme rouge....
It is a slightly climbing finish.
It is truly a mass finish, but Gregory Henderson of Sky is the first across the line.
Goss was boxed in and couldn't get to the front.
Goss made it for second place, though, with third going to Katusha's birthday boy Galimzyanov.
That is Henderson's first win this season -- congratulations!
De Gendt finished high enough today to hold on to his yellow jersey. Henderson moved up to second, with Roy third and Goss fourth overall.
Haussler took fourth on the stage, so we assume -- and hope -- that means his knee is ok.
Thanks for joining us today and be sure to read along again tomorrow and the rest of the week.
1 Greg Henderson (NZl) Sky Procycling 5:00:56
2 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad
3 Denis Galimzyanov (Rus) Katusha Team
4 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Team Garmin-Cervelo
5 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
6 Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
7 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
8 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
9 Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu) Pro Team Astana
10 Danilo Wyss (Swi) BMC Racing Team
General classification after stage 2
1 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 9:05:48
2 Greg Henderson (NZl) Sky Procycling 0:00:04
2 Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ 0:00:07
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