Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage 5 of the 2016 Paris-Nice - a 198-kilometre trip from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Salon-de-Provence, featuring (part of) the mighty Mont Ventoux.
Hi there, and welcome to our coverage of stage 5 of Paris-Nice. A 198-kilometre stage today from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Salon-de-Provence, featuring (part of) the mighty Mont Ventoux.
Here's the stage profile:
As we pick up the action, the riders have just come over the Col de la Madeleine and are now on the lower slopes of Mont Ventoux. They won't be going all the way to the top, instead branching off when they reach Chalet Reynard, but double-digit gradients nevertheless await.
The state of play: a strong breakaway formed early in the stage and as they scale Ventoux they have a lead of around 10 minutes on the peloton.
The escapees are: Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-Quick Step), Arnaud Courteille (FDJ), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Lars Boom (Astana), Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie), Wouter Wippert (Cannondale), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), and Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling).
This is a serious first-category climb and it's showing as a number of riders lose contact with the main bunch. André Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data), and Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-La Mondiale) have all been dropped.
Brandle has been dropped from the break. Seven riders now out in the lead.
AG2R-La Mondiale have posted this image of the snow-capped summit of Ventoux.
Mont Ventoux is most famous for its appearances in the Tour de France but it has been used several times in Paris-Nice as well. Chalet Reynard has hosted a stage finish on three occasions, the last one being in 1987 when Sean kelly took victory on his way to the overall title.
We're hearing that Alexis Gougeard has abandoned the race.
More sprinters dropped
There is time for this stage to come back together for some sort of bunch sprint but, as was to be expected, several fast men are losing ground on this climb. Yesterday's stage winner Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) have joined Greipel and around 25 others in falling away off the back of the bunch.
Andrew Talansky has been dropped now. The American will have been hoping for better here as he looks to improve on a disappointing 2015 campaign.
Action up at the head of the race now as Courteille and Herrada attack their fellow breakaway companions and forge on alone.
No attacks off the front of the main bunch. Sky are still doing their thing and setting the tempo, and the the escapees' lead has come down to six minutes.
Duchesne has bridged back up to Courteille and Herrada at the head of the race. Three riders now out front.
André Greipel abandons Paris-Nice
The German has been struggling up Ventoux and has just climbed off his bike. That's his race over.
Herrada crests the climb in pole position and takes maximum KOM points. Courteille second and Duchesne several seconds back in third.
Vandenbergh and Boom come over just under a minute back, while Theuns and Wippert are a further minute behind.
Heading downhill now and some brilliant descending skills shown by Vandenbergh and Boom, who have caught the leading trio.
The peloton now reaches Chalet Reynard, and TInkoff lead the way as they start the descent. Race leader Michael Matthews is still in there.
Movistar's Jose Joaquin Rojas crashes on the descent and is immediately out of the race. Not sure how serious that one is just yet but more updates when we have them.
The peloton is making up ground on the descent as well. Five minutes is the gap now.
Herrada is the virtual leader of the mountains classification here, moving onto 18 points and overhauling Siskevicius on 15. There are still three second-category climbs to come but he'll fancy his chances of staying out front to secure that jersey for tomorrow.
This descent is over and the riders are now climbing gently towards the feed zone at Saint-Jean-de-Sault. From there the second half of the parcours features another descent followed by punchy terrain and a flatter run-in to the line.
Kittel, Bouhanni, and some other sprinters that were distanced on the Ventoux climb now find themselves 2:50 down on the peloton. Alexander Kristoff, meanwhile, is just 35 seconds off the back. It will be interesting to see how much commitment there is from those men and their teams in dragging this back together.
Movistar communicate that Jose Joaquin Rojas was taken off the mountainside in an ambulance with a gash to his knee, but it doesn't look overly serious.
As the breakaway riders reach the feed zone, Edward Theuns sits up and seemingly calls it a day out front.
Rojas' departure in an ambulance brings the number of abandons to four and we've not long passed the halfway point. The weather in particular, has made this year's Paris-Nice a race of attrition.
Theuns is almost back with the peloton now, they are just 45 seconds behind now. It seems he may have gone on the attack to ensure his place in the group once they passed Mont Ventoux.
The 24-year-old is possibly saving his energy for the sprint now. He finished second to Bouhanni in yesterday's stage.
Escapee Antoine Duchesne is a local to this area and actually lives in today's start town. His DS Benoit Genauzeau says that Duchesne was keen to impress on this particular stage.
"It's true that he is a Quebec rider in a team from Vendee living in St Paul-Trois Chateaux. He's dedicated every day but he was eager to do even better today on a stage start he knew well. Now we have a good leading group with sold riders. It was good to see Boom and Vandenbergh return, they are serious support. The peloton just made it to the feeding zone and we hope for the gap to raise a bit. We know the finale as we rode it in Tour de la Provence. It's hard, Herrada looks very strong, but with the fatigue of the first stages, we hope Antoine can play his car or work as a relay for another rider like Thomas Voeckler did for Sylvain Chavanel yesterday."
Theuns is all but caught, while Wippert is continuing in his effort out front. It seems like a fruitless task but he is closing the gap slowly.
The group of dropped sprinters that includes Bouhanni and Kittel has made some gains on this descent. They've taken more than a minute out of the gap and they're now just 1:30 behind the main peloton. There are still three climbs remaining so it remains to be seen if they can make it back and stay there.
77km remaining from 198km
Theuns has finally found some company in the peloton. They are now 5:15 down on the five leaders with Wippert plugging along somewhere in the middle.
The leaders are quickly approaching the next ascent of the day the second category Col du Pointu. With the toughest part of the day over, the average speed is ticking up nicely.
French national champion Steven Tronet is riding his first Paris-Nice at the moment. After a decade at continental level, he is competing at Pro Continental level for the first time.
Our very own Barry Ryan spoke to him before the race to see how he's finding things at a difference pace. Read what he had to say here.
The leaders are leaving the town of Apt, which held a stage finish way back in 1956. The stage was won by Camille Huyghe on that day. The race would eventually be won by Frenchman Roger Wolkowiak.
Today's stage is unlikely to change much in the GC but the final two stages will. Why not take a look at our top 10 riders to watch ahead of that action.
AG2R La Mondiale reporting that Gougeard's abandon was down to illness. Gougeard was one of the riders who made it into the break on the eventually cancelled stage 3.
"He fell ill last evening and had to be treated with antibiotics. He started today but his sensations were not good," said AG2R DS Julien Jurdie.
Orica-GreenEdge, protecting the race lead of Michael Matthews, take things up as we scale the Col de Pointu. It's 6km long with an average gradient of 4.1%, though there are some sections closer to 10%.
Herrada swept up the KOM points at Chalet Reynard but this time it's Courteille who takes the maximum over the Col du Pointu. Herrada comes over in second flooded by Duchesne.
The break's lead is beginning to tumble now, and is currently heading down towards the three-minute mark.
There's an intermediate sprint on the gentle descent off the Pointu, and it's Vandenbergh who takes the points, ahead of Boom and Herrada.
The gap is coming down all the time now as we approach a crucial phase of today's stage. Next up on the agenda are the Côte de la Roque d'Anthéron and the Col de Séze, two short but nasty climbs in quick succession that may well do some damage.
The break's lead has been cut to just over two minutes now.
Crash. Several riders go down in the bunch, including Tony Gallopin and Frank Schleck. Schleck not back up and away just yet.
Paris-Nice have tweeted this image of the crash. Lots of riders held up.
All the riders are up and running again, though some are having to tuck in behind team cars to get back on.
A tight little roundabout now and several riders in the bunch are forced to bunnyhop onto it and make their way round over the grass.
Onto the côte de la Roque-d'Anthéron now and up front Duchesne attacks, opening up a sizeable gap on his breakaway companions.
Tinkoff now lead the peloton onto the climb and there are riders in immediate trouble.
Polka-dot jersey wearer Evaldas Siskevicius is among those to be distanced as TInkoff really drive this. The gap comes down to 1:45.
That's the gap to our lone leader. Yes, Duchesne has established a true lead here - he has half a minute on his former companions.
Riders are falling out the back of the bunch all the time here. This may be a short climb, a cat-2, but it's pretty tough, and TInkoff are absolutely drilling this. Michael Matthews in the yellow jersey is up there near the front behind two teammates.
Duchesne battles to the top of this climb, his speed dropping to 8km/h on these steep ramps.
The gradients are really severe towards the top of this climb and there's a hold up in the bunch. Lots of riders forced to unclip, coming to a standstill.
A Lotto Soudal rider hits the deck in the middle of that scramble.
Vandenbergh is about to be caught
Duchesne crests, picks up the KOM points, but more importantly thinks about getting down this descent as quickly as possible. He has just under a minute now.
Tom Jelte Slagter of Cannondale attacks from the bunch over the top and drags an Astana rider with him. The bunch is fragmented behind - that climb has really done some damage.
There can only be around 30-40 riders in this main group now.
Herrada, Boom, and Courteille are hanging out there just in front of the peloton but it won't be long before they're swallowed up.
The catch is made and there's some calm once more in this group, which has come back together, though lots of riders lost contact on that climb. Duchesne is out front on his own and has over a minute.
Alexander Kristoff has been dropped on that climb. His Katusha teammates are now working furiously at the head of a small group to try and bring the Norwegian back.
There's no rest for the wicked. Another short cat-2 climb now: the Col de Séze. Mercifully for the riders the ramps aren't as steep.
Matthews is in the front peloton, along with Alberto Contador and other favourites.
Attacks from Astana and Delko in the peloton, which is storming up this climb. Nothing sticking yet as Daryl Impey taps it out for Orica.
Duchesne's lead is scythed to less than half a minute.
The Canadian crests the climb and now the riders descend once more. Just over 25km to the finish and it will soon flatten out, so there is the opportunity for things to come back together before the finish.
Oh that was close! Duchesne is giving it everything and as he enters Charleval town centre he almost comes a cropper on a 90-degree right-hander. He unclips, swings out his right leg, and manages to stay upright, but valuable seconds go begging.
The peloton bunches up on a narrow country lane. It's a long one and Kristoff's group, about half the size, can see their target now up the road.
Remember, Bouhanni and Kittel are well behind, so Kristoff will be really motivated to get back on here - he'd be a definite favourite come the finish.
The Kristoff group makes the catch, so there's now a good 60 riders in the main bunch.
Meanwhile the television cameras finally catch up with Lutsenko, who is making decent progress on his way up to Duchesne. The pace softens in the bunch and the leader has a minute again.
17km remaining from 198km
Lutsenko makes the bridge. Two riders out front now with just under a minute. It's flat to the finish so there's little chance of them staying away.
Frank Schleck, who crashed earlier in the day, has been forced to finally abandon the race.
That was predictable... Lutsenko drops Duchesne, who's been out front the entire day, and forges on alone. The Canadian looks cooked and it won't be long before he's back in the bunch and probably out the back.
Lutsenko, arm warmers rolled down around his wrists, is still working away at this with a nice high cadence.
The peloton, led by Katusha, is picking up the pace again, and the gap drops to below half a minute.
11km remaining from 198km
Lutsenko started the day 33 seconds down on Matthews, so he enjoyed a brief stint there as the virtual maillot jaune. He surely can't pull this one off, though, as we approach 10km to go.
The moto holds up the chalkboard to Lutsenko and it reads 40 seconds. Good news for the Astana man and he is equally grateful for the brief slipstream.
Just over 6km to go now and the gap is once again inside 30 seconds. There was hesitation in the bunch behind but it looks now like the chase is on.
Tinkoff are on the front, Stannard is up there keeping Thomas out of the wind, but there's no real injection of pace from the sprinters' teams.
Inside the final 5km and this is getting close. 36 seconds now and Orica are nowhere to be seen on the front of the bunch.
3km remaining from 198km
Movistar take it up but this is not a good chase by any stretch. Lutsenko might just be on his way to victory.
Katusha pick it up finally but one of their riders misjudges a roundabout and goes flying into a hedge. He's fine but that has disrupted the chase.
2km remaining from 198km
Final 2km now and Lutsenko has 25 seconds!
With 10 bonus seconds on the line, he needs 24 seconds to take the race lead.
Flamme rouge for Lutsenko
Katusha lead under the flamme rouge but it looks like Lutsenko has got this.
Final few hundred metres - he's going to do it
Lutsenko wins stage 5 of Paris Nice! And what a win...
Kristoff wins the bunch kick for second, closely followed by Matthews.
The bunch came across just under 20 seconds down, and Matthews will pick up 4 bonus seconds for third, so the Australian holds onto his lead.
1 Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team
2 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha
3 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
4 Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre - Merida
5 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
6 Pieter Serry (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step
7 Vicente Reynes (Spa) IAM Cycling
8 Leonardo Duque (Col) Delko Marseille Provence KTM
9 Oliver Naesen (Bel) IAM Cycling
10 Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
General classification after stage 5
1 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge 19:24:58
2 Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team 0:00:06
3 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin 0:00:18
4 Patrick Bevin (NZl) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:00:23
5 Jon Izaguirre (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:23
6 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:23
7 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Astana Pro Team 0:00:28
8 Dries Devenyns (Bel) IAM Cycling 0:00:29
9 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff Team 0:00:31
10 Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:31
Lutsenko describes the victory as the most beautiful of his career. The 23-year-old's only other WorldTour win came at last year's Tour de Suisse.
Here he is crossing the line. Image courtesy of Sporza.
Michael Matthews heavily involved in this podium ceremony, collecting another yellow jersey for race leader, along with the green of points classification leader.
"I think I used a bit too much energy staying at the front the whole day," says Michael Matthews. "Congrats to the Astana rider - that was a really strong ride. He was too far away and I used all my teammates to put me in the best position earlier but we had no riders to bring him back, so we sat back and let the other teams come forward, Katusha came to chase but they didn't have the legs to bring him back either."
Matthews has the yellow jersey but it's doubtful he'll be able to hang onto it tomorrow on what will be the first summit finish of the 2016 Paris-Nice. La Madone d'Utelle awaits, with plenty of other mountains in between.
Brief report from today's stage:
On that note, I'll wrap up today's live blog. Full report, results, and a photo gallery will be on Cyclingnews shortly, along with all the news from France.
Thanks for your company, and do join us again tomorrow - you wouldn't want to miss this would you...?
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