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Paris - Nice 2012: Stage 4


Stage 4 of Paris-Nice, 178km from Brive-la-Gaillarde to Rodez.

92km remaining from 183km

The peloton showed little interest in shutting down their early move: within 20km, the five-man break had four minutes in hand, and that stretched as far as 5:20 by the 30km mark.

The five leaders covered 44.9km in the first hour of racing, but as the terrain became increasingly rugged on the approach to the second category Côte de Fangas, their speed dropped accordingly and so did their advantage.

Mate took the sprint for points atop the Fangas (60km) ahead of Bart De Clerq, while the Rabobank-led peloton came over the top of the climb three minutes later.

It's interesting to see Rabobank leading the chase at this point, but as their directeur sportif Adri Van Houwelingen told, Team Sky were not going to show any interest in shutting the escapees unless their advantage began to threaten Bradley Wiggins' overall lead.

For the record, Bart De Clerq is the best placed of the five escapees, but the Belgian started the day lying in 103rd place, 11:24 off Bradley Wiggins' overall lead, hence Team Sky's understandable lack of urgency in leading the chase.

77km remaining from 183km

After the Quotidiane, a series of twisting, rolling roads brings the race gently back down towards the banks of the Dourdou river and the day's intermediate sprint at Saint-Cyprien-sur-Dourdou comes with 36km to race. In truth, there's scarcely a metre of flat as the roads dip and dive for the afternoon before two third category climbs present themselves in the finale: the 3rd category Côte d'Aubert le Crès (4.1 km at 2.8 %) and the Côte de Bourran, just 400 metres long and at a gradient of 7.9 %, but it comes inside the final 2km of the race.

72km remaining from 183km

70km remaining from 183km

The yellow jersey, of course, sits on the shoulders of Bradley Wiggins. The Briton hasn't put a foot wrong in this race so far. He shook off the wet conditions to post a fine time in the opening time trial, he drove the potentially race-deciding split on Monday and he was completely untroubled by Omega Pharma-QuickStep's pace-setting on the haul to Lac de Vassiviere yesterday. With the Col d'Eze time trial to come on the final day, Wiggins has every reason to be confident of overall victory...

That said, while the likes of Valverde, Leipheimer et al will struggle to drop Wiggins on the climbs or deny him on the Col d'Eze, they know that they can pick up time by outsprinting him for stage wins and taking time bonuses. Valverde clipped ten seconds off his deficit to Wiggins with stage victory yesterday, and now looms in sixth place, as a quick look at the top of the GC shows:

Valverde has, of course, come back from suspension for his part in Operacion Puerto this season. On his return to action, the Spaniard rather disingenuously said that he couldn't understand why he had been suspended in the first place. Perhaps he didn't read the CAS proceedings closely enough during his 18 months on the sidelines, but the bags of his blood seized from Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes' fridge seem to have had something to do with it...

55km remaining from 183km

50km remaining from 183km

Matt Lloyd is putting in a fine stint of work at the head of the peloton. The Australian should be part of the Lampre-ISD line-up at the Giro d'Italia. After a difficult 2011, which saw him abruptly part company with Omega Pharma-Lotto, Lloyd will be hoping for better this time out.

There were no fewer than five non-starters on today's stage: Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Nissan), Joost Posthuma (RadioShack-Nissan), Taylor Phinney (BMC), Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol) and Oliver Kaisen (Lotto Belisol). Word is reaching us that the five may well have been suffering from the same gastroenteritis bug that ended Andy Schleck's Paris-Nice yesterday.

44km remaining from 183km

41km remaining from 183km

The yellow jersey of Bradley Wiggins is safely tucked in near the front end of the peloton. The day's intermediate sprint is less than five kilometres away, so the bunch won't succeed in pulling the break back before then.

Lloyd puts in another huge turn on the front end of the peloton, at the head of a mass of orange and pink - sorry, fuchsia - jerseys.

The peloton is becoming increasingly stretched over these twisting, sinuous roads, so common in this part of France. The elastic might well snap on the two classified climbs in the finale.

36km remaining from 183km

It's good to see Pierrick Fedrigo at the front end of a race again, even if he'll be hard pressed to stay clear to the finish. The Frenchman has endured a torrid time since he transferred to FDJ last year, with a case of lyme disease ruining his debut season with Marc Madiot's squad.

The television cameras pick out Alexandre Geniez (Project 1t4i) in the peloton, and with good racing. The talented Frenchman is a native of Rodez, where the we finish today.

31km remaining from 183km

Mercifully for the peloton, weather conditions have been a little more clement today than earlier in the week. It's been an overcast afternoon, but the rain has stayed away and leg warmers are not de rigeur as was the case on the opening two road stages.

Wiggins is wrapped against the cold, but like Edwig Van Hooydonk, his knee warmers haven't slowed him down this week. He sits on Geraint Thomas' wheel, keeping a close eye on proceedings at the head of the bunch.

26km remaining from 183km

Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) sits up and lets the break disappear up the road. The Spaniard had injured his right knee on Monday's stage and it appears that his injury caught up with him here. He may yet have a trip to the podium for the mountains jersey to look forward to, depending on how things pan out on the final two climbs.

23km remaining from 183km

A crash in the middle of the peloton, just as there had been a lull in the pace. David Arroyo (Movistar) and Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) are among the fallers, but both men appear to unhurt and are back on their bikes.

We're waiting to get a good aerial shot of the peloton, but it doesn't seem as though that crash has sparked a major split in the bunch.

20km remaining from 183km

Like yesterday, Omega Pharma-QuickStep have hit the front on the approach to the categorised climbs near the finish. Tom Boonen is again putting in the hard miles on the front of the race. Both Boonen and his great rival Fabian Cancellara have shown real signs of form this spring, and we look set for another duel between the pair on the cobbles of Belgium and northern France next month.

18km remaining from 183km

17km remaining from 183km

While Kevin De Weert drills on the front of the bunch, Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) is mercilessly spat out the back of the peloton. The Italian has had a very low-key beginning to his season, but such is often the case for riders preparing for the Giro d'Italia, given its position on the calendar.

15km remaining from 183km

The polka dot jersey of Thomas De Gendt jumps away towards the summit of the Côte d'Aubert le Crès, as he looks to defend his lead in the mountains competition.

De Gendt opens out a decent gap and leads over the summit. He doesn't sit up at the top of the descent either...

13km remaining from 183km

10km remaining from 183km

Sky appear to have won that battle of wills for now as a line of black jersey leads the bunch through some traffic furniture on the outskirts of Rodez.

Thomas, Rigoberto Uran and Richie Porte lead the peloton with Wiggins tucked on their wheel.

8km remaining from 183km

A small counter attack is trying to get across, including Remi Di Gregorio (Cofidis) and Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) but they seem to be stuck in the no-man's land between De Gendt and the peloton.

6km remaining from 183km

Crash for Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge) - the Australian champion came a cropper at a traffic island, and loses out on the chance to better his second place finish of yesterday.

Movistar take over at the head of the bunch, with the green jersey of Valverde sitting menacingly in third position. Wiggins knows he is the danger man, and is locked onto his rear wheel.

Movistar take over at the head of the bunch, with the green jersey of Valverde sitting menacingly in third position. Wiggins knows he is the danger man, and is locked onto his rear wheel.

4km remaining from 183km

Vasili Kiryienka and Jose Joaquin Rojas lead Valverde at the front of the bunch at the foot of the Cote de Bourran. Wiggins sticks like a limpet to Valverde's wheel.

2km remaining from 183km

2km remaining from 183km

Correction, it's Andreas Kloden who jumped off the front of the bunch. He's still just clear as as the final kilometre approaches.

1km remaining from 183km

Grega Bole (Lampre-ISD) leads out the sprint...

But it's Gianni Meersman (Lotto Belisol) who gets the win. He timed his sprint perfectly to sweep past inside the final 50 metres.

Bole came home in second place, just ahead of Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Xavier Florencio (Katusha). Valverde and Wiggins were both in the top ten, but to Wiggins' relief, none of his rivals picked up any time bonuses and his overall lead remains intact.


A fine sprint win from Meersman, his second victory of the season. The Belgian joined Lotto Belisol from FDJ in the off-season and has already taken a stage victory at the Volta ao Algarve.

In the overall standings, Bradley Wiggins remains in yellow, while Lieuwe Westra's time bonus for his third place finish sees him leapfrog Valverde into sixth overall.

General classification:

Meanwhile, in Italy, GreenEdge have powered to victory in the opening team time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico.

Thanks for joining us for today's live coverage of Paris-Nice. Movistar and Valverde threatened much but delivered little in the finale today, although the Spaniard will again expect to be to the fore tomorrow on the road to Mende. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full reports, pictures and reaction from Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico over the coming hours, and we'll be back for more live coverage tomorrow.

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