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Paris - Nice 2011: Stage 6

Hello and welcome back to Cyclingnews' Live coverage from the race to the sun. Today's stage six is a 27km time trial in Aix-en-Provence that will forge the general classification before the last two stages through Côte d'Azur hinterland.
 

Hello and welcome back to Cyclingnews' Live coverage from the race to the sun. Today's stage six is a 27km time trial in Aix-en-Provence that will forge the general classification before the last two stages through Côte d'Azur hinterland.
 

The first rider to take the start was Oleksandr Kvachuk (Lampre), 163rd on GC. At the moment, about 55 riders have completed the course or are still on it, with Frenchman Christophe Riblon (AG2R) leading the standings. His time is 36.02 on the course just north of Aix-en-Provence.
 

Geraint Thomas from Team Sky has just smashed the Frenchman's time by over half a minute! He's the new man in the hot chair with a time of 35.25. Excellent performance.

Today's parcours could prove to be treacherous to those 'rouleurs' in the peloton that need a regular profile to get the full potential out of their time trial abilities. On paper, it may seem relatively straightforward with the first ten kilometres of the 27km-course heading down towards and then rolling alongside the Durance river valley, before the Côte de la Cride will be the main difficulty of the day.

But constant bumps and false flats even in the first part of the parcours may break the rythm of the pure time trial specialists, and the Côte de la Cride, even though only a hill, still features two kilometres of around seven percent gradient (with peaks up to nine) towards the top of the climb. The last few clicks to the finish in Aix are a false flat downhill, so the riders need to space out their efforts evenly.
 

Andrei Grivko also posted an excellent time at the intermediate check after 15 kilometres with 17.44, placing second behind Thomas. We are waiting for him to come into the finish.

Grivko takes his second placing home, 24 seconds behind Thomas.

We have a new leader at the intermediate time check, 15 seconds faster than Thomas: Vacansoleil rider Lieuwe Westra.

A note on the weather: It's a mild spring day here in Aix-en-Provence, with temperatures up to 16°C and the sun occasionnally peeking through some clouds. It's not going to rain even though there are some showers predicted for later this week-end, that could affect the race.

Observers are unanimous in saying that the great favourite today is German Tony Martin from HTC, currently at six seconds of race leader Andreas Klöden (RadioShack). He has the power and time trial skills to shine on such a parcours and set up a possible overall victory, as he is also a very talented climber able to hold off his rivals on the two mountainous days this week-end.

Martin, who won the Volta ao Algarve recently, had made Paris-Nice an objective from the start of the season. And the fact that race organiser ASO re-introduced a longer time trial instead of a prologue suits him well. "It's rare that there is such a long time trial in Paris-Nice, and I can't complain bout that," he told L'Equipe.

"It is indeed my great objective, I'm here to win this stage. But this is not necessarily going to provide the overall victory, too."

Andrew Talansky (Garmin) and Martijn Tjallingii (Rabobank) also put in some excellent performances after 15 kilometres, posting second and third there.

RadioShack team director Alain Gallopin also thinks that Martin will be the one to beat today, telling told letour.fr: "We can have a great team result but I hope it won't be 2nd, 3rd and 4th! To me, Tony Martin remains the big favourite for today. We've reconnoitred the course with Klöden, Brajkovic and Leipheimer, and it appeals to my three riders, there's a tough climb. I can only hope that Martin makes a mistake, because my riders won't!"

In any case, RadioShack could find themselves with three riders in the top 10 after the time trial, a position of strength before the final weekend: "We will try to win this race. If we don't succeed, we'll hold on to what we can, like Caisse d'Epargne did last year when they took second and third placing and the team classification. I'm just a bit worried about the weather forecast because our riders don't like the rain and the cold."
 

Westra has been able to extend his effort over the climb and through the finish, beating Thomas by more than one minute. Great ride by the 28-year-old Dutchman, who placed third at the Tour of Algarve recently.

The winner of last year’s stage in Aix-en-Provence, Peter Sagan (Liquigas) has not fulfilled the hopes placed in him this year. He finishes 2.32 minutes behind Westra.

Andrew Talansky of Garmin put in an excellent performance, too, finishing second behind Westra at only eight seconds. The American 2010 U23 TT champ has a good start in the European professional ranks this year.

Westra had announced his aims on his personal website this week, when his team-mate Thomas De Gendt was in the race lead. "To defend the jersey of Thomas De Gendt, we rode 175 kilometres in front. It was good, it was excellent training for me in view of the time trial."

There are more than 50 riders still expected in the finish in Aix, though, and the best may yet take his place on the hot seat...

Aside from today's great favourite Martin, there are many more riders still in contention for the overall victory in Nice. First of all, of course, the current GC leader Andreas Klöden, who also has excellent rouleur qualities and a yellow jersey to defend. Then there is his younger team-mate Janez Brajkovic, winner of the 2010 Dauphiné and its third stage time trial, which could be RadioShack's secret weapon. Brajkovic stayed with Klöden all the way to the finish of yesterday's first mountain stage, where the German outsprinted Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez.

The Spaniard, together with his compatriot Luis Leon Sanchez - winner of the 2009 event - cannot be discarded as yet, either. Other big names qnd possible GC contenders still include Roman Kreuziger, Fränk Schleck, Sylvain Chavanel... By tonight, we should know more.
 

Current leader Westra could still be a surprise winner today as he finished second to Tony Martin in the time trial of the Tour of Algarve a few weeks ago. He was faster there than some of the Paris-Nice contenders Andreas Klöden (5th), Tejay Van Garderen (6th) or Luis-Leon Sanchez (7th).

Daniel here now, as Hedi departs for the day. Thanks.

As Hedwig said, today is the real test for the GC men. There's no hiding place. Chavanel is the next rider to start. The Frenchman has had a torrid start to the season. He's got bronchitis at the race and had a bad time of it yesterday.

Bit of a plug here but check out our Youtube channel where Alex Dowsett interviews Russell Downing for CN.

Voeckler is now in the start house but he's missed his start time! Classic. Shaking his head as he goes down the ramp.

Chavanel is now in full flight, centre of the road and on the aero bars. Slightly downhill start at first before things ramp up.

Now Frank Schleck sets off for his time trial.

He's been quiet so far in the race but he won't be too worried. His goals come later in the Spring and of course at the Tour de France. I think he could finish above his brother this year in the Tour. Putting my neck on the line there a little...

Westra is still leading the stage. He and his team have been very, very strong in the race so far.

Pauriol comes over the line, well down on Westra....


As Schleck powers along a flat section of road.

 

You can give your thoughts on today's stage to me at

http://twitter.com/dnlbenson

Wiggins starts his race of truth. A big favourite for today. Can he overturn the deficit and move to the head of the leaderboard? It's a big ask.

Vino coming to the line. In third, 32 seconds down on Westra.

Talansky holds onto second for now but there are plenty of dangerous riders to come.

Wiggins 29 seconds down on Kloden on GC as Devolder comes to the line and takes 5th for now. He's been strong all week.

Back to Wiggins and he's looking good at the moment. Very aero and very smooth on the pedals. Still waiting for him to go through the first time check.

Chavanel has covered 15km and this is where it starts to ramp up. The Frenchman close to the time check.

Levi is on the road too by the way.

Rear disk wheel for the American who hasn't shone so far in this year's race. Still, he's a handy tt rider even at the worst of times, so could pull something out of the bag today. His first big objective of the year comes in May at the Amgen Tour of California.

Can't believe I'm not getting any grief for saying Frank will finish ahead of his brother Andy at the Tour.

 

Wiggins sitting right at the tip of his saddle as he ploughs ahead on the road. Still looking good at the moment, waiting for him to hit the time check.

Casar coming to the line now.

Porte and Van Garderen have gone through the first time check in uber fast times.

Porte is 9 seconds ahead of the HTC rider.

Porte and Van Garderen finished together on yesterday's stage and there's not much between them today.

Yesterday though, it was Van Garderen who worked for his teammate Tony Martin.

Rogers now on the road.

Levi is second fastest at the intermediate time check.

Wiggins is setting a blistering time. he's 15 seconds up on Porte already.

Intermediate timing, km 15
1 .Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 16:54
2. Richie Porte (Saxo Bank) 0:15
3. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) 0:21
4. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC) 0:24
5. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) 0:24
Final:
1. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) 34:22
2. Andrew Talansky (Garmin) 0:08
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astna) 0:32
4. Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) 0:46
6. Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil) 0:50

Tony Martin is now in the start house. The biggest favourite for today and the race.

Kloden admitted that Martin was the biggest danger and he's right.

Meanwhile Gerdemann comes over the line, 7th fastest.

Van Garderen comes to the line and takes 3rd pace. 31 seconds down on Westra.

Shows how strong Westra was in the second part of the TT.

Martin well on his way now. Porte has meanwhile set the fastest time. 28 seconds ahead of Westra.

Kloden now in the start house. The experienced German won this race in 2000. Same year he won bronze in the Olympic road race.

Off he goes.

Kloden on the early downhill sections, running slightly wide on one corner as Martin, mouth wide open, pushes the pace.

Leipheimer coming to the finish, he's caught and passed Frank Schleck.. The American takes fourth fastest. He'll move up in GC for sure.

We're hearing that Luis Leon Sanchez is third fastest at the check point.

Martin looks strong. Really strong. Wiggins though is doing a terrific job though and still leads at the first time check.

Kloden is reaching speeds of 80kph.

Interesting to see Kloden's position in comparison to Levi's but here comes Wiggo.

Wiggins now leads by over 8 seconds.

Wind might be picking up now as Rogers comes to the line.

Martin is turning a huge gear. He has a quick glance down before taking a sweeping corner.

Kloden, turning what looks like a smaller gear is looking comfortable at the moment.

Brajkovic  - we've not talked about him at all today but he can't be ruled out today. Remember his TT in the Dauhpine.

Martin is a motoring. Over 20 seconds faster than Wiggins at the first time check. Over 20 seconds faster! Has he gone out too fast?

Kloden still has to come through the time check. Can he answer the time put down by Martin?

Martin is about to sweep past his minute man. The Astana rider takes a look at the German and then bows his head in defeat. No shame though, Martin is on fire.

Wow Van den Broeck has just finished. Well, well done.

Intermediate timing, km 15
1. Tony Martin (HTC) 16:32
2. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 0:22
3. Richie Porte (Saxo Bank) 0:37
4. Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) 0:38
5. Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R) 0:40

Final:
1. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 33:45
2. Richie Porte (Saxo Bank) 0:09
3. Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R) 0:35
4. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) 0:37
5. Andrew Talansky (Garmin) 0:45

Sam Sanchez isn't making much of an impression today either.

Kloden is third fastest at the moment at the first time check. Martin is doing enough to take yellow.

Kreuziger comes over, 36th in the TT.

Now has Martin picked a too big of a gear, is he blowing? The Astana rider is closing back to him. Martin the less impressive in terms of climbing...

As Luis Leon comes over the line, in tenth.

Martin drops into the middle ring, and looks down.

Kloden has 10km to go.

Taaramae sets a good time. He'll stay up in the GC fight after today.

Martin is digging in now. He's over the tough part of the climb...

Martin is giving it everything on the decent as Tondo comes over the line. He's lost 1.30.

Can Kloden dig deep and rescue yellow? He's just crested the top of the climb but he'll have to pull something out of the bag if he wants to retain his leader's jersey.

Wiggins still leads the but Martin and Kloden yet to finish. Those three will fight it out for the stage win while the battle for yellow is a strictly German affair.

Martin coming to the line.

He'll smash Wiggins's time.

Martin takes the lead in the stage, 20 seconds ahead of Wiggins. Averaging over 48kph for the stage.

All eyes on Kloden, what does he have left?

Intermediate timing, km 15
1. Tony Martin (HTC) 16:32
2. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 0:22
3. Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) 0:26
4. Richie Porte (Saxo Bank) 0:37
5. Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) 0:38

Final:
1. Tony Martin (HTC) 33:24
2. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 0:22
3. Richie Porte (Saxo Bank) 0:31
4. Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R) 0:57
5. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) 0:59

Kloden closing in on the finish.

Carrara comes to the line. Losing 2.32.

Kloden almost took the wrong turn there but managed to adjust just in time.

Here comes Sanchez. 14th, losing 1.43.

Kloden crosses the line in 4th, 46 seconds down on Martin.

 

Wiggins moves into third on GC now, 39 seconds down, just three behind Kloden. Peraud in fifth too. that was a great ride from him.

1 Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad 0:33:24
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:20
3 Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:00:29
4 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack 0:00:46
5 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:55
6 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:57
7 Andrew Talansky (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:01:05
8 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:01:10
9 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team RadioShack 0:01:10
10 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-Highroad 0:01:29

That just about wraps things up for today. Thanks for joining us! Dan.

1 Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad 0:33:24
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:20
3 Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:00:29
4 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack 0:00:46
5 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:55
6 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:57
7 Andrew Talansky (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:01:05
8 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:01:10
9 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team RadioShack 0:01:10
10 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-Highroad 0:01:29

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