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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

As we pick up the action with 92km still to race, a five-man break has a lead of 3:15 over the peloton. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) started the attacking just outside Brive, 6km into the stage. Shortly afterwards, Leigh Howard (GreenEdge), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) and Bart De Clerq (Lotto Belisol) bridged across and that quintet has been off the front ever since.

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.

“If the break had a ten-minute lead, it would be up to Sky to take care of it. But that’s not the case, so we’ve gone to work,” he explained. “We’re thinking that Luis Leon Sanchez has a good chance of getting a really good result on this stage, he’s in great form.”

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

At the front of the race, Mate continues his hunt for mountains points by beating De Clerq and Peraud to the top of the third category Côte de Blanquie. There's little respite here - the riders are just 7km from the summit of the day's next climb, the second category Côte de Quotidiane.

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

The leaders are now on the slopes of the Quotidiane, and the peloton has shaved another handful of seconds of their lead - it's now down to 2:40.

70km remaining from 183km

No surprises over the top of the Quotidiane as Mate beats De Clerq to the points, with Leigh Howard coming over in third place. That will be enough to put Mate into the provisional lead in the mountains standings, although there are still those two third category climbs to come in the finale. Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) was the overnight leader in the mountains competition.

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:

1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 9:09:51
2 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:06
3 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:11
4 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:14
5 Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:18
6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:20
7 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM 0:00:22
8 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:29
9 Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team 0:00:33
10 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana Pro Team 0:00:36


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

Two minutes the advantage for the escapees now, as Lampre-ISD come to the front to lend a hand to Rabobank's pursuit. Damiano Cunego has been quiet to date, but the Italian was hoping to build his form during his week in France.

50km remaining from 183km

A long sweeping descent brings the five leaders down to banks of the Lot river. They'll have their work cut out to stay in front all the way to Rodez at this rate. 1:55 the gap as Lampre-ISD take set the pace.

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

Jean-Christophe Peraud came into this Paris-Nice with aspirations of making the top ten overall, but he was caught napping when the race split up on Monday. That will be a disappointment to the Frenchman, who only converted from mountain biking in 2010. Speaking before Paris-Nice, he expressed his frustration that he was still struggling with some of the specific skills of road racing, namely battling for position in the peloton.

41km remaining from 183km

The moto has come up alongside the break to tell them that their advantage is down to just 1:30 with 41km to go. Peraud is still trying to induce some urgency to their efforts, but that the leaders appear disheartened. Meanwhile, Rabobank and Lampre-ISD are continuing their metronomic pursuit behind.

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

Leigh Howard eases his way clear coming through the intermediate sprint, but he is soon rejoined by his companions. Their lead remains at 1:30, with Rabobank now back in command of the peloton. The Dutch squad won't want to bring back the break back too soon.

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

1:10 the gap, but still the five leaders refuse to resign themselves to their fate. Peraud in particular has been very active on the front.

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

The break's lead falls underneath the one-minute mark with 26km still to race.

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

Bart De Clerq has stepped up to the plate and contributed a little more to the break's efforts over the past five kilometres, but the gap is down to just 34 seconds and continuing to fall.

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

Game over for the remaining four members of the break as they are recaptured by the peloton.

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

By contrast, Thor Hushovd (BMC) is among the riders  being dropped off the back of the peloton as the road starts to climb at the foot of the Côte d'Aubert le Crès. The Norwegian has apparently been suffering with illness this week.

17km remaining from 183km

Omega Pharma-QuickStep continue the pace-setting even though Boonen has now swung over and been jettisoned out the back. Sylvain Chavanel is sitting on third wheel, just behind Levi Leipheimer.

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

WIggins sits ensconced in a the midst of a phalanx of black Sky jerseys, untroubled by the Omega Pharma-QuickStep tempo. Meanwhile, Jens Voigt looks to bring Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) towards the front.

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

De Gendt was an aggressive presence at last year's Paris-Nice, and he's continued in the same vein here. The Côte de Bourran comes with just 2km to go, and De Gendt will be doing well to fend off the peloton until then.

10km remaining from 183km

There's quite a battle at the head of the peloton between Movistar and Sky riders as they look to get their men Valverde and Wiggins into position ahead of the finale.

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

De Gendt is putting up stout resistance here. He's never been out of sight of the peloton, but he's maintained a ten-second lead from the top of the climb nonetheless.

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

The Di Gregorio group catches De Gendt, but are themselves assumed by the bunch almost immediately.

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

Damiano Cunego, Levi Leipheimer, Sylvain Chavanel and Luis Leon Sanchez are all up there too. Positioning will be key on a finale positively littered with roundabouts and traffic islands.

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

The Spanish champion Rojas ratchets up the pace on the short climb, looking to prepare the ground for Valverde...

2km remaining from 183km

But it's Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Nissan) who attacks from the peloton, and the Belgian leads over the summit with a couple of seconds in hand on the Rojas-led bunch.

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

Kloden is swept up inside the final kilometre and the hunt is on for the bonus seconds.

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.


1 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto Belisol
2 Greg Bole (Slo) Lampre-ISD
3 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
4 Xavier Florencio (Spa) Katusha
5 Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Saur-Sojasun
6 Simon Geschke (Ger) Project 1t4i
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r-La Mondiale
8 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar
9 Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Astan
10 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling

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:

1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
2 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:06
3 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:11
4 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:14
5 Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:18
6 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM 0:00:18
7 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:20
8 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:29
9 Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team 0:00:33
10 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana Pro Team 0:00:36

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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