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Paris - Nice 2011: Stage 3

Paris-Nice, Stage 3: Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire - Nuits-Saint-Georges - 202km

We pick up the action at the midway point of the stage, and a five-man break has a lead of just under 4 minutes on the peloton. Cédric Pineau (FDJ), Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Jussi Veikkanen (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and Romain Hardy (Bretagne-Schuller) are the men at the head of affairs.

The break formed as soon as the flag was dropped this morning, when Cédric Pineau (FDJ) accelerated and he soon found four willing accomplices. By the 5km point the quintet already had a lead of 2:00 and this stretched out gradually to four minutes over the first hour of racing.

Shortly after the 50km mark, their lead reached 4:35, but soon afterwards Vacansoleil-DCM came to the front in defence of race leader Thomas De Gendt.

After 74.5km at the first sprint in Cervon, the lead was 3:50. Pineau took the bonus seconds there ahead of Gautier and Hardy, but Vacansoleil began to warm to their task.

97km remaining from 202km

The lead is now down to just 2:15 as the pace begins to pick up in the peloton. The summit of the 2nd category climb of the Cote de Becoup comes just 12km from the finish, and the bunch will be aiming to have the five escapees swallowed up before then.

There was one non-starter on today's stage. French talent Romain Sicard (Euskaltel-Euskadi) didn't take the start in Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire as he is suffering with a new injury.

David Moncoutie (Cofidis) was another man who was forced out of the race yesterday with knee trouble. Reports suggest that his problems arose when he changed his cleats incorrectly on the Thursday before the race. The slight modification to his riding position is thought to have had a knock-on effect on his knees, and the Tour of the Mediterranean winner has been forced out of a race in which he was expected to shine.

After 3 hours of racing, the average speed is 35.3kph. The wind is again a factor on today's stage, although so far it hasn't wreaked the same chaos on the peloton as it did yesterday.

Simone Ponzi (Liquigas-Cannondale) abandoned the race 35km into today's stage, but otherwise the peloton behind is fully intact. Vacansoleil-DCM continue to keep tabs on affairs at the front of the race in defence of the yellow jersey Thomas De Gendt. The five men in the break were all within 14 seconds of the Belgian this morning, although at this point one would imagine that the sprinters lined up just behind him on the overall standings will pose a greater threat to his lead.

Yesterday's stage winner Greg Henderson (Sky) is just 4 seconds behind, while Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad) is at 8 seconds. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) and Denis Galimzyanov (Rus) are 10 seconds down, while the in-form Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) is at 0:14.

Of course, the tricky 3km climb of the Côte de Bécoup could well upset the sprinters' trains, but they can take heart from the fact that a sprinter triumphed the last time Nuits-Saint-Georges hosted Paris-Nice. He won the third of his four stages there in 1977.

85km remaining from 202km

The pace has relented again on the front end of the peloton and the gap to the five leaders has grown accordingly. Their advantage is now back up to 3:30.

Bretagne-Schuller directeur sportif Emmanuel Hubert told letour.fr that his squad had targeted this stage and that Romain Hardy is well-suited to this kind of rolling terrain.

"He's fond of the regions of France where the route is a little up and down, like today, and if they were to manage to finish together he could have his chance in a little sprint," he said.

75km remaining from 202km

Vacansoleil-DCM are riding at the front of the bunch. Belgian champion Stijn Devolder is very prominent as he rides in support of his teammate and countryman De Gendt.

Nonetheless the gap is continuing to grow again, the break's lead is back up to 3:45.

The pace is still relatively calm back in the main field as they ride through some quiet tree-lined roads.

Meanwhile, the five in front are still collaborating well with one another. FDJ's Cédric Pineau in particular is looking comfortable, but they'll have their work cut out to hold off the peloton in the finale.

70km remaining from 202km

Blel Kadri puts in a massive turn on the front of the break now, but the pace appears to be picking up behind once more. The gap is now 3:10 with 70km to go.

Romain Hardy is putting in a fine afternoon's work in the break. His Bretagne-Schuller team will be delighted to have been invited to Paris-Nice and will be hoping it might be a springboard to bigger things to come. They're the only team at Paris-Nice who haven't been invited to the Tour, however. Saur-Sojasun, who aren't here, will be at La Grande Boucle, and their star man Jerome Coppel delivered an impressive display in Murcia at the weekend.

Damien Gaudin (Europcar) is near the front of the peloton now in the king of the mountains jersey. He will be looking to defend those polka dots on the day's sole climb, though he might have his work cut out for him.

Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) had dropped back to his team car but has safely made his way back up to the peloton. The pace is still quite manageable.

60km remaining from 202km

The quintet up front are sticking resolutely to their task and the gap is now at 3:35. Vacansoleil-DCM are continuing to lead the peloton.

Pineau is again on the front driving the break. FDJ have been very aggressive in this Paris-Nice so far, without any reward. Jeremy Roy was second on Sunday and Yoann Offredo gave further notice of his fine form with a sortie off the front yesterday, while we can doubtless expect to see more of Sandy Casar and Pierrick Fedrigo later in the week.

Vacansoleil-DCM are taking full responsibility for the chase here. After receiving so much negative publicity for their contentious decision to hire both Riccardo Ricco' and Ezequiel Mosquera, the Dutch team will doubtless be glad of the timing of De Gendt's spell in yellow.

54km remaining from 202km

Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) is sitting at the back of the peloton for now, but he is looking very comfortable. The Australian was in ominous form at the Tour of Qatar and he looks to have put his knee problems of last year behind him. He was 4th yesterday and is building his form with a view to a rematch with Mark Cavendish at Milan-San Remo....

Breaking news reaching us from the Court of Arbitration for Sport - Franco Pellizotti has been handed a two-year suspension. The Italian fell foul of the biological passport system in May of last year.

More to follow on this story.

Pellizotti was cleared to race by the Italian Tribunale Nazionale Anti-doping in October, but that decision has now been overturned by CAS, an important victory for the UCI's biological passport programme.

Pietro Caucchioli has also had his two-year suspension upheld by CAS.

48km remaining from 202km

Back on the race, the break's lead is now down to 3:00.

The leading quintet are now approaching the second sprint at Essey.

Gautier picks up the 3 seconds ahead of Kadri, although the sprint was not contested.

46km remaining from 202km

Correction. Gautier finished ahead of Pineau at the sprint, with Kadri in third.

Vacansoleil-DCM are beginning to pick up the pace slightly at the front of the peloton. Their teammate Ezequeil Mosquera is of course still waiting to hear if he will be able to return to the peloton. The Spaniard tested positive for Hydroxyethyl starch at last year's Vuelta a Espana, and has been sidelined by his team pending a resolution to the matter.

42km remaining from 202km

After bowling through some beautiful, budding woodland, the peloton is now racing through open fields under clear blue skies. The gap is still 3 minutes.

Read more on the Pellizotti suspension here. Send your reactions and comments on the case to twitter.com/cyclingnewsfeed.

The peloton rumbles through Meilly-sur-Rouvres and the pace is beginning to rise as we draw closer to the finish. After negotiating this series of villages, the bunch will hit some rugged terrain.

Stijn Devolder is putting in a mammoth turn on the front of the peloton now and the gap suddenly drops by 20 seconds to 2:40. The real action is about to start here.

Devolder is a mercurial talent, but it will be interesting to see how he fares at Vacansoleil-DCM. He was hugely impressive in taking back to back Tours of Flanders in 2008 and 2009, and he'll be looking for a third in 2011.

36km remaining from 202km

Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) overshoots a bend and crashes alone in the peloton. He's back in the saddle immediately and doesn't seem to be overly affected as he chases back on among the cars.

When asked about his objectives for the season at the Tour of Qatar, Steegmans told Cyclingnews that they were "a secret," but we imagine crashing in Paris-Nice wasn't on the agenda...

Joking aside, Steegmans was looking in great shape in Qatar and looked very much at home in the echelons that characterised the race. Tom Boonen will be able to count on solid support from Steegmans on the cobbles come April.

33km remaining from 202km

Meanwhile, the gap is beginning to tumble under renewed impetus from Vacansoleil-DCM, it's down to 1:45.

33km remaining from 202km

Steegmans is safely back on to the back of the peloton.

Alexandre Vinokourov is surrounded by a phalanx of Astana jerseys near the head of the peloton, he might fancy a raid today.

31km remaining from 202km

Devolder is hammering on the front again and the gap is under 1:30. The five in front are still all riding their hearts out, but they'll struggle to stay clear now as we approach the undulating terrain that comes before the fast run-in to the line.

Yellow jersey Thomas De Gendt is five riders back and still looking comfortable.

29km remaining from 202km

The five in front are now on the lower slopes of the second category climb of the Cote de Becoup. So far it doesn't seem to be causing them any problems.

Uzbekistan's Sergey Lagutin has also done a lot of work for Vacansoleil-DCM today, and he's back taking command as the peloton hits the climb a little over a minute behind.

French champion Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) moves to the head of the peloton, on the shoulder of the Vacansoleil-DCM train.

Up ahead, Veikkanen launches the attacking for the king of the mountains points.

Hardy chases the Finn, and now Gautier is pulling the others back up to them.

27km remaining from 202km

And the end result of the flurry of attack and counter-attack is another 10 seconds shorn off their lead by the bunch behind.

Andreas Stauff (Quick Step) is dropped from the peloton as Vacansoleil-DCM continue to up the tempo on the climb.

25km remaining from 202km

Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad) is also forced off the back of the bunch on the climb. That'll be a blow to Matt Goss' chances.

24km remaining from 202km

A pair of Liquigas-Cannondale men on the front chasing now. Peter Sagan must be fancying his chances today.

23km remaining from 202km

33 seconds the gap to the leaders now.

Remy Di Gregorio (Astana) puts in a dig on the front of the peloton and has Thomas Voeckler immediately on his wheel.

Jakob Fuglsang is dropped on the climb. The Dane is still suffering the effects of his crash yesterday.

23km remaining from 202km

Vaikkanen rips clears of his breakaway companions to make it to the top of the climb first. He will wear the polka dot jersey tomorrow but that is surely the only glory he'll have today as the gap is down to 18 seconds.

22km remaining from 202km

The other four riders join up with Vaikkanen again on the descent, but the game is surely up at this point. Johan Van Summeren is on the front of the peloton for Garmin-Cervelo, controlling matters for Heinrich Haussler.

21km remaining from 202km

The break is just caught  and immediately Voeckler blasts past them and goes on the attack.

20km remaining from 202km

Voeckler went on a short, sharp uphill drag and Kadri managed to hold his wheel as he went past. The duo now have 15 seconds over the peloton.

Voeckler had promised to go on the attack this week and he's been as good as his word here. The French champion is not the most stylish of riders, but he is effective. Kadri has also recovered sufficiently to take his turns on the front.

 

17km remaining from 202km

Voeckler won the Tour du Haut-Var with a clever attack in the finale, he'll be hoping to repeat the feat here.

 

Kadri is burying himself at the front here.

15km remaining from 202km

Voeckler and Kadri are putting up fierce resistance here. Liquigas-Cannondale are chasing at the head of the field and they're struggling to close the gap.

13km remaining from 202km

This is a fine effort from Voeckler and Kadri as the sun sets over the shoulders. They still have 17 seconds in hand over the peloton.

12km remaining from 202km

The peloton is strung out in a line under the pressure of the Liquigas-Cannondale and Garmin-Cervelo pace-making, but the leading pair's gap is holding at 15 seconds.

9km remaining from 202km

Disaster for Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step). He punctures and will face a frantic chase to get back on at this stage. The pace has really picked up. He's among the cars but has no teammates with him. As one of the overall contenders he'll be desperate to get back on here.

7km remaining from 202km

The gap is down to 10 seconds now, but Voeckler and Kadri aren't giving up the ghost just yet as they hurtle downhill towards the finish. Kadri is struggling to match Voeckler's turns at the front now, however.

6km remaining from 202km

A shake of the head from Voeckler, he realises the game is almost up, but still he presses on. 5 seconds the gap.

5km remaining from 202km

Chavanel is among the cars and is almost within sight of the peloton, but he still has a bit of work to do.

4km remaining from 202km

Black Sky and Garmin-Cervelo jersey massing at the front now, in support of Henderson and Haussler.

Meanwhile Marc De Maar dropped back to help Chavanel, who has just caught the back of the bunch.

2km remaining from 202km

Inside the final 2km and Katusha now take up the lead in support of Denis Galimzyanov. Some Lampre-ISD jerseys up there too.

1km remaining from 202km

Under the red kite. There's a sharp bend 300 metres from the line...

A split on the front of the bunch as they enter the final bend.

Sagan crashes on that final bend...

And Matt Goss emerges from the chaos to take the win ahead of Heinrich Haussler. Denis Galimzyanov was third.

Geraint Thomas (Sky) was on the front of the bunch and as he swung across the road he seemed to sweep Sagan front wheel. Meanwhile a number of riders came down as they attempted to pick their way past the unfortunate Sagan.

Geraint Thomas eventually finished 5th behind. He didn't appear to be affected by Sagan's tumble behind, but Haussler, Goss and Galimzyanov managed to come around him.

Goss timed his sprint to perfection to come around Thomas in the final 100 metres. He went on the lefthand side, while Haussler chose the right. Haussler was closing fast too, but had to take a slightly longer route to the line, and that proved to be the difference.

Goss has now moved into the overall lead, 6 seconds ahead of Haussler and Greg Henderson.

Galimzyanov is 4th overall a further 2 seconds back.

The disheartened Sagan crosses the finish line dragging his bike behind him. He seemed to be in the ideal position before his crash.

There's also a correction to the overall standings - De Gendt is in second place, two seconds down on  Goss.

Provisional stage result:

1 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad
2 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Team Garmin-Cervelo
3 Denis Galimzyanov (Rus) Katusha Team
4 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
5 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling
6 Greg Henderson (NZl) Sky Procycling
7 Anthony Ravard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
8 Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre - ISD
9 Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
10 Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale

Provisional overall standings:

1 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad 14:22:34
2 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:02
3 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:06
4 Greg Henderson (NZl) Sky Procycling
5 Denis Galimzyanov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:00:08
6 Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ 0:00:09
7 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:00:10
8 Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:11
9 Cédric Pineau (Fra) FDJ
10 Jens Voigt (Ger) Leopard Trek 0:00:14

Thanks for joining us for today's coverage of Paris-Nice. Cyclingnews will again carry live coverage of tomorrow's action as the peloton faces the 191km between Crêches-sur-Saône and Belleville.

In the meantime, stay tuned to Cyclingnews for a full report, results and pictures from today's stage, as well as all the news from Paris-Nice, the eve of Tirreno-Adriatico and the Franco Pellizotti case.

Result:

1 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad
2 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Team Garmin-Cervelo
3 Denis Galimzyanov (Rus) Katusha Team
4 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
5 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling
6 Greg Henderson (NZl) Sky Procycling
7 Anthony Ravard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
8 Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre - ISD
9 Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
10 Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale

Overall:

1 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad 14:22:34
2 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:02
3 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:06
4 Greg Henderson (NZl) Sky Procycling
5 Denis Galimzyanov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:00:08
6 Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ 0:00:09
7 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:00:10
8 Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:11
9 Cédric Pineau (Fra) FDJ
10 Jens Voigt (Ger) Leopard Trek 0:00:14

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