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Paris - Nice 2012: Stage 8

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Hello and welcome back to the closing stage of Paris-Nice.  Read along and help us crown the new champion of this race!

There are only 9.6 km to go before this year's Paris-Nice comes to an end.  And unfortunately for many rides, those are uphill kilometers.

Bart de Clerq of Lotto has the best time so far, at 20:56.

The first rider off today at 11:45 was Jaroslaw Marycz of Saxo Bank, and he put in a time of 23:33.  There were 145 riders scheduled to take the start.
 

As always, the riders are going off at one-minute intervals up until the last batch.  The top seventeen will have a two-minute gap.  Why the top seventeen and not the top twenty, we wonder.....

David Moncoutie has now jumped into the lead, with a time of 20:11.

Let's take a quick peek at our top ten coming into today's stage:

1     Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling     27:53:04      
2     Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM     0:00:06      
3     Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team     0:00:18      
4     Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team     0:00:37      
5     Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team     0:00:39      
6     Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan     0:00:46      
7     Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ-Bigmat     0:01:06      
8     Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quick Step     0:01:16      
9     Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana Pro Team     0:01:21      
10     Angel Vicioso Arcos (Spa) Katusha Team     0:02:24      
 

Lotto's Greg Henderson has just finished, nearly 4 minutes down.

One would think that only Wiggins and Westra have a chance to take the overall title.  Wiggins will certainly be top favourite.

Jean-Chrisophe Peraud of AG2R is the first to break the 20 minute mark, coming in at 19:46.

In the other rankings,  Valverde leads in points, Veuchelen (Vacansoliel) in mountains, Tejay Van Garderen is best young rider, and Vacansoleil is best team.
 

What a race this has been for Vacansoleil!  Gustav Erik Larsson opened things by winning the stage one time trial, and thus took the first yellow jersey of the race, as well as the points jersey. And Thomas de Gendt took the first mountains jersey, which he held on to until the fourth stage.

Stage five was a big one, as Westra won it to move into second. Veuchelen was in the day's break and gathered up the mountains jersey.

Veuchelen cemented his lead in that category the next day, once again making the group of the day and claiming four of five climbs for himself.

Enough? No. De Gendt soloed in with a huge gap on stage seVen after a long break, and not only took the win but moved the team into an unbeatable lead for the teams classification.
 

Lieuwe Westra of Vacansoleil started the race as 19th in the time trial, and cracked the top ten on the  second stage. Since then he has been inching his way up, and comes into this final stage as second, only six seconds down.

A third place finish on the fourth staged nudged him futher up the ladder, but his big moment came on the uphill finish on Mende in the fifth stage. An attack out of the favourites near the finish saw him victorious, taking time off Wiggins and jumping into second place.

One of the “winners” of this race has been the gastroenteritis that has been making the rounds. 31 riders have abandoned so far, including 11 yesterday. Admittedly not all have been due to the tummy ickies, we have seen some crashes as well.
 

Who does Wiggins think will be his hardest competitor today? Himself. "My only problem will be me. I must focus on my preparation, on my effort and nothing else," he told L'Equipe.

Levi Leipheimer is scheduled to go at 12:31. To say that yesterday was a bad day for  the Omega Pharma-Quick Step would be putting it mildly.  Three crashes, with the last one taking him definitley out of contention. He talks about it here.

Tony Martin of OP-QS has put in only the third fastest time so far. This race certainly hasn't gone as the defending champion had hoped.

Liquigas's Szmyd has now topped Martin's time to move into third.

De Gendt is underway now for Vacansoleil.  He is probably still beaming with joy after yesterday's enormous stage win.

Scheduled to take off at 13:43 was Andreas Klöden of RadioShack-Nissan, who won this race in the year 2000.

And after him comes his 40 year old teammate, Jens Voigt, Those of us who are older rather than younger are thrilled to see riders like him and Horner doing so well....

We are on a roll here! After Voigt comes Fränk Schleck.  That name sounds somehow familiar.....not that we have seen much of him this race!

Leipheimer has put in a good time of 20:45, putting him in fifth place at the moment. Can't have been easy for him today.

We are in the two-minute phase now, with Maxime Bouet the next to take off.

Damiano Cunego is on the road now, too.

Klöden looks to be going well and is approaching his one-minute man.

The "Race to the Sun" has lived up to its billing. The sun is shining quite nicley today! Not at all like at the start of the race last weekend.

Spanish national time trial champ Luis Leon "Lulu" Sanchez is the next to go off.

It was indeed a good ride for Klöden, who moves into second place with  a time of 20:10.

Peraud is stlil the only one so far to go under 20 minutes.

Fränk Schleck puts in a time of 20:53, making him 12th right now.

Europcar's Thomas Voeckler is currently 52nd, with a time of more than 22 minutes.

Seems odd to see Sanchez in red and yellow instead of blue and orange!

Arnold Jeannesson takes off, leaving only six more riders.

Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Nissan) goes now.

Cunego with a good time, 20:11.

Coppel just misses out on the 20 minute mark, coming in at 20:03 and moving into second place.

Van Garderen is on the road now, only four more to go.

Number four-ranked Simon Spilak has just taken off.

Valverde is in the green skinsuit of the points-best rider as he prepares for this mountain time trial.

Remember, he is 18 seconds down on leader Wiggins.

LIeuwe Westra is in absolute top form and would love nothing better than to take those six seconds off of Wiggins and win this race.

If Wiggins wins here, he would be only the second Briton to win teh race.  Tom Simpson took the title in 1967.

Sanchez is in 40-something place.

Wiggins is going!

Up out of the saddle, pushing a big gear, and all in bright yellow!

Vicioso in at 20:47.

As far as we can tell, all or most of the riders are using their usual bikes, but wearing skinsuits and aerodynamic helmets.

So of course we immediately see that Westra has his normal helmet on.

Chavanel finishes 53 seconds down, in 11th place.

Jeannesson roars into the finish, but only for an 8th place.

Wiggins is looking quite smooth, we must say.

Westra has put in the best time at the intermediate check point.

Valverde was fifth fastest at the checkpoint, 27 seconds down.

Well, well!  Here's a surprise.  Wiggins is only second at the checkpoint, 2 seconds behind Westra.

Which of these two is the better climber? Can Westra make up those six seconds to actually take the overall win?

Spilak moves into second place on the stage as only the second man to break the 20 minute mark:  19:59.

20:04, actually quite a good time for Valverde.  That should keep him in third place.

Westra is digging deep.

Wow!  19:14 for Westra!  Never expected that one!

Talk about pressure for Wiggins....

Last km for Wiggins.

he stays in his rhythm, 500m to go...

And Wiggins takes the whole thing!

He wins the stage and the race!

The Sky rider was behind at the intermediate check point, but he was able to make it up.  His fnishing time was 19:12, so two seconds faster than Westra.

Our final podium is Wiggins, Westra and Valverde -- no changes.

Congratulations to all three!

Our top ten today:

1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:19:12
2 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM 0:00:02
3 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2R La Mondiale 0:00:33
4 Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team 0:00:47
5 Jerome Coppel (Fra) Saur-Sojasun 0:00:51
6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:52
7 Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:58
8 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne 0:00:59
9 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:00:59
10 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:01:06

And the final general classification 
 
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 28:12:16
2 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM 0:00:08
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:10

Once again, congratulations to them and to all the riders here, and thanks for giving us an exciting race.

And thanks to you all for reading along!

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