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Paris - Nice 2011: Stage 4

There are a lot of climbing kilometres going into the legs today, with a total of 7 ranked climbs.  But we may still have another mass sprint at the finish.......
 

Hello and welcome back to Paris-Nice.  We have seven, count 'em, seven climbs today.  Ok, they are all category two and three, but still!  Unfortunately, the last one is some 50 km away from the flattish-finish, so we may have yet another mass sprint gallop at the end.

91km remaining from 191km

The first serious attacks came late today, a whole 6km into the stage.   None other than former yellow jersey Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoliel-DCM) was one of the initiators, along with French champion Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Remi Pauriol (FdJ).  They were joined by km 15 by Francis De Greef (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Remy di Gregario (Astana), and built up a lead of up to 5:15.  At km 100, the gap is now 4:15.

Our climbs today are:

We have had one abandon so far today, Russian sprinter Denis Galimzyanov of Katusha.  He had been fifth overall.   He had done so well earlier in this race that a lot of people were picking him to win a stage.  However, he dropped off the back of the field early on, so perhaps he isn't feeling well.

Three of the climbs have been conquered already.  De Gendt took the first one, with Pauriol taking the next two.  De Gendt won the intermediate sprint at km 82.5, too.  In fact, that gave the Belgian three bonus seconds, so he could conceivably take the yellow jersey back today.  He was only two seconds behind leader Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad) going into the stage.

Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) crashed earlier on one of the descents, but are ok and back in the peloton.


QuickStep is not a happy team today – they are now two riders down.  Nikolas Maes was one of those involved in the closing crash yesterday, and suffered some severe pelvic bruising.  Nothing broken, but bad enough that the doctors decided to hold him out.  Then Gert Steegmans got sick overnight and woke up today with fever.  No more riding for him for a few days!

Does HTC-Highroad have a good hand with sprinters, or what?  Matt Goss took his first season European win here yesterday, adding it to the two wins in Australia and one in Oman he has already gathered this year.    And was he happy to win the yellow jersey as well?  You bet!

64km remaining from 191km

The gap is coming down, and is now just over three minutes.  HTC-Highroad had been leading the chase, but now Sky has moved in to lend a hand.

It is another sunny day today, altho we have heard that snow has been sited in the mountains.

Another mountain has been climbed and once again the points go to Pauriol.  That gives him 24 points, which is the polka-dot jersey for him this evening.

A puncture for Jurgen van den Broeck of Omega Pharma-Lotto.

Garmin-Cervelo's Heinrich Haussler keeps coming oh-so-close in the sprints here, but still hasn't managed to be first over the line yet.  Third, fourth and second places are his take so far.  But the Australian is also happy that the tumble he took into the ditch the other day didn't injure the knee which kept him out of so much action last year.

56km remaining from 191km

The gap has now dropped to below three minutes.

We are getting conflicting information on the time gap, it is somewhere between 2:50 and 4:40 -- hmmmmmm......

Apparently the gap is really in the under-three-minute range.  Right now we are seeing 2:40.

Astana's Remy di Gregario continues to be very active in this race.  He is a climber turned domestique, which doesn't bother him at all.  And he is showing his stuff again today.

The peloton winds its way through the vinyards -- not much to see at the moment, but just wait a bit.  Yum......

50km remaining from 191km

50 km to go and a gap of 2:17!

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) gave it a go in yesterday's stage, with 25 km to go, but wasn't successful.  That is certainly not the last we will see of the French champion in this race, as he is also in today's break group.   “A Frenchman can win Paris-Nice this year,” he said – and no doubt thinks it ought to be him.

The quintet in the lead is plowing its way up yet another climb.

Wouter Weylandt of Leopard Trek is now falling off the back of the peloton.  But really, this is nothing for a sprinter.

And a crash!  Geraint Thomas of Sky and a Liquigas rider go down. Thomas gives it a try but needs a new bike.  Or at least some major repairs.

The opening team trial in Tirreno--Adriatico is finished!  And the winner is.......

The leaders have hit the top of the next to last climb, with a gap of only 1:55.

Behind them, Greg Henderson of Team Sky is the next sprinter to fall off the back of the field.

41km remaining from 191km

Everyone is tearing downhill now, and the gap is under 1:30.

Let's hope that if we do have another mass sprint finale today, it won't be another crash-bam-boom finish like yesterday!  That was pretty scarey to watch, and to be part of, too, no doubt. 

There is one Liquigas rider at the head of the field, followed by a number of Rabobankers.  We don't think those flourescent green  and the orange-blue-white jerseys go so well together.

Speaking of colourful jerseys:  HTC-Highroad's Matt Goss is the new yellow jersey, a whopping two seconds ahead of Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoliel-DCM), with Heinrich Haussler of Garmin-Cervelo in third overall at six seconds.  Haussler can console himself with the green jersey for leading the points ranking.

Everyone is now tackling the final climb of the day.  And more and more riders are forming their own little group at the end of the field, including the polka-dot jersey.

The leading group crests the final climb, with the final mountain points of the day going to, who else, Pauriol.

34km remaining from 191km

The field is just over a minute back.

The break group zips its way down now, hoping to build up its lead.

It looks to be downhill almost all the way in to the finish. There is still one more intermediate sprint to come.  Will De Gendt take it too for more bonus seconds, or will the field have caught them by then?

More vinyards on this French hills -- promise of good things to come.....

23km remaining from 191km

The field is really flying along now, strung out single file.  They want to catch this group!

Haussler and another Garmin-Cervelo rider are at the head of the field.

20km remaining from 191km

20 km to go and the gap is still at 1:12.  Will they make it through to the end?

Matt Goss is not at the front of the chasing pack, but at least he is in the pack.  Not doing so bad for a sprinter on this up-and-down stage.

The front group is falling apart.  And a defect further back for Grivko of AStana.

16km remaining from 191km

De Greef has fallen out of the lead group.  The other four continue on and hope to take the win.

15km remaining from 191km

De Gendt sprints for the last bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint.   He has long had the virtual yellow jersey today.

De Gendt takes it and now leads Goss by 4 seconds.

Rabobank now at the head of the chasing field.  Goss is now at the very end of the field.

An attack  out of the field -- Jerome Pineau of QuickStep.

15km remaining from 191km

15k and 1:13 -- will that be enough?

Goss is doing his best to hang on to the field.  He is also doing some stretching to fight cramps, we assume.

RAdioShack leads the charge to catch Pineau.

De Greef had been dangling in between the gtwo groups, but he will be caught any second now. And the gap is 1:05.

Good crowds out to see the last 11 km here.

RAbobank again at the head of things.

10km remaining from 191km

The usual rule of thumb is one minute for every 10 km.  And we have 10 km to go with a gap of 1:02.....

Three guesses who is at the tail end of the peloton.....

Voeckler is really fighting here.  He doesn't really look like he is having fun at the moment.

8km remaining from 191km

8 km and 49 seconds, with Leopard Trek now in front.

The team cars that were with the head group have been taken out, and the peloton has to ride around them.

4km remaining from 191km

36 seconds now.....

Goss has now moved up and is now only second-to-last in the field.

3km remaining from 191km

3km and 28 seconds.  It could be enough --- but who knows....

2km remaining from 191km

What an exciting chase.  Will these four riders make it to the end with any kind of lead?  Or be caught at the last second?

We predict the four will make it!

The last km!  and still 23 seconds!

Some big mistakes somewhere along the way by the peloton -- they didn't figure right how long they would need to catch these very determined riders.

De Gendt leads the way but the others sprint!

Voeckler leaps to the lead and takes the win!

Pauriol was second and De Gendt third.  The peloton was not all that far back, and Haussler leads them over the finish line.

The peloton was 13 seconds down at the end.

De Gendt takes back the yellow jersey.  Voeckler is now second overall, at 10 seconds, with Pauriol third and Goss dropping to fourth.

Once again,thanks for reading along with us.  We will be back tomorrow for the next stage, when the peloton will take on some real mountains.

Stage:

1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 5:04:20
2 Rémi Pauriol (Fra) FDJ 0:00:00
3 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:00
4 Rémy Di Gregorio (Fra) Pro Team Astana 0:00:00
5 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:13
6 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:13
7 Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:13
8 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:00:13
9 Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre - ISD 0:00:13
10 Danilo Wyss (Swi) BMC Racing Team 0:00:13
 
General classification after stage 4  
 
1 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 19:26:46
2 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:10
3 Rémi Pauriol (Fra) FDJ 0:00:16
4 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad 0:00:21
5 Rémy Di Gregorio (Fra) Pro Team Astana 0:00:24
6 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:27
7 Greg Henderson (NZl) Sky Procycling 0:00:27
8 Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ 0:00:30
9 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:00:31
10 Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:32

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