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Paris - Nice 2017: Stage 3

Good morning, and a warm welcome back to Cyclingnews' live race centre for stage 3 of Paris-Nice. Warmer than yesterday, at least, as the weather conditions appear to be more favourable, with slightly higher temperatures and the rain set to hold off for most of the day.

 

It could be one for the sprinters, though there is some lumpy terrain in the second half of the parcours, which should further sap the legs after two brutal opening days of racing. Those two days showed that anything can happen, especially when the wind blows, and we'll be keeping you up to date with every step of the action today. 

Tailwind

 

The start of the race has been delayed by five minutes due to the tailwind that's blowing. Given the race route is almost entirely in the same direction, it seems we won't be treated to the crosswinds that blew the race apart on the opening two days. 

 

Here's a shot of the riders on the startline, courtesy of the FDJ team, who are out to protect Arnaud Demare's leader's yellow jersey today, and tee him up for a second stage win. 

 

 

 

The riders have just come to the end of the neutralised zone, and stage 3 is officially underway. 

As expected, we've had some early attacks, with a group of three moving clear of the bunch.

The three riders on the attack are: Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale), Ben King (Dimension Data), and Romain Combaud (Delko-Marseille).

 

The peloton seems happy with that, and they've already opened up a lead of 40 seconds. 

 

Yep, this break is going to stick. The trio has almost two minutes now. 

 

Whisper it, we could be in for a calmer and more straightforward affair today.

 

As FDJ appear at the front of the peloton to set about managing the situation, how about a re-cap of yesterday's action. A large group with most of the top sprinters and most of the top GC men arrived together at the finish, but it was a gruelling day of racing in the wind, rain, and cold, described by Alberto Contador as 'infernal', and by Julien Simon as 'Dantesque'. It certainly was for RIchie Porte, who was the day's big loser and lost nearly 15 minutes. 

 

Here is our stage 2 report.

 

 

Here's how the GC stands

 

1 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ 7:43:28
2 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:06
3 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:17
4 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin 0:00:19
5 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal 0:00:19
6 Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept 0:00:21
7 Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:23
8 Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky
9 Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJ
10 Kristijan Koren (Slo) Cannondale-Drapac 0:00:31

 

Here's a first shot of our breakaway trio, courtesy of the race organisers. They now have a lead of nearly four minutes

 

 

167km remaining from 190km

Five minutes is the gap, now, with just over 20km covered.

Disc brake update from our man on the ground, Daniel Benson. Tony Martin was on them on the first two days but not today. Instead Michael Morkov is the only rider from the Katusha-Alpecin camp on discs today. 

 

The breakaway trio extend their lead to six minutes now. None are a threat in terms of the general classification, having lost a bunch of time across the opening two stages. None, in fact, are within half an hour of Arnaud Demare's race lead. 

 

Of course, Demare and his teammates will have to keep things in check in order to bring the trio back for a bunch sprint, but with just three of them up there, that shouldn't be too difficult a task. 

Let's shine a spotlight on our breakaway riders. 

 

First up: Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale)

 

The 23-year-old is one of France's brightest prospects, an all-round talent who has shown maturity - and produced results - beyond his years in his first two seasons as a professional. He caught the eye in 2015 when he finished third at the Route du Sud behind Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana, and he coped well last year with a higher-level race programme, scoring a landmark victory at the Vuelta a España - his debut Grand Tour. He's a guy who rides on instinct rather than power meter, and is already a big personality within the team. 

 

I caught up with Latour in November at AG2R's first pre-season camp to talk about his progression and plans for 2017, and you can read that interview right here

 

Meanwhile, the gap has started to stabilise at just above the six-minute mark. Katusha-Alpecin have come to the front to take some of the responsibility off the shoulders of FDJ, and their man Alexander Kristoff is a top favourite on a day like this, where legs could be slightly drained come the sprint. 

 

Get involved

 

Thoughts, questions, predictions... Send them my way - you can reach me via Twitter @paddyfletch.

 

The breakaway covered 41.2 km in the opening hour of racing. Not very fast for a tailwind. Even slower in the bunch, though there'll be few complaints back there after the brutality of the opening two days. 

 

135km remaining from 190km

The breakaway riders have just passed through the intermediate sprint point at Epoisses. Combaud went through first, bagging himself three points in the points classification and three seconds in the overall - not that either will be of great consequence. 

 

The gap is almost at 7 minutes now.

 

The big story overnight, broken on Cyclingnews by editor-in-chief Daniel Benson, concerns Team Sky and its embattled principal, Dave Brailsford, with dissent beginning to emerge among the riders. 

 

Several riders subsequently took to Twitter to voice their backing for their boss, with reports suggesting they were requested to do so by team management. 

 

Here's the story: Exclusive: Team Sky riders consider asking Brailsford to resign

 

@paddyfletch I am thinking the #gorrilla today @AndreGreipel

@Leroispeed Tue, 7th Mar 2017 12:42:16

Here's FDJ on the front of the peloton (photo again from race organiser). They're zipping along their in single file, but the gap to the break remains stable at 7 minutes. 

 

 

@paddyfletch Hi do you think Richie Porte performance in this year's ParisNice changes his GT chances this year, should be on form?

@Devan_V_R Tue, 7th Mar 2017 12:34:07

 

Good question. On the face of it there is no real cause for concern in terms of his form – misfortune and needless time loss aside, he probably had the strongest legs behind Froome at last year’s Tour, and there’s no reason to doubt that’ll be the case again this year. What the opening two days here have done is reinforce the notion that Porte is particularly prone to disaster, misfortune, error – or whatever combination of the three. Lots of the incidents that have set him back - see the 2015 Giro - can be attributed on the face of it to simple bad luck, but added up it's hard to ignore the trend. His performance yesterday was perhaps more worrying since it exposed a big weakness in terms of riding crosswinds - both on an individual and a team level. In short, nothing here to allay fears that Porte lacks the consistency to win the Tour. Fair?

 

105km remaining from 190km

The gap creeps up towards the 8-minute mark, with the average pace for the opening two hours lying just above 40km/h. 

 

While we're on Porte, here's the reaction from the BMC camp to yesterday's disaster.

 

Porte's Paris-Nice dreams over after a second day of time losses

 

Lotto Soudal contribute to the pace setting at the head of the peloton but they're hitting the feed zone now. 

 

Let’s turn the breakaway spotlight on Ben King now. The American is a strong and talented rider, even if he’s not a prolific winner. He came through the development ranks within USA Cycling and rode for the Trek development team before turning pro with Radioshack in 2011. After three years there, he spent three years at the Cannondale team and this winter he made the switch to Dimension Data. King turned pro at the age of 20 and has since slotted mainly into a domestique role, though there is no denying his nose and a penchant for a breakaway - as he showed with his Tour of California stage win last year. 

 

“Every result I've had in my career has come from a breakaway like this, where people just kind of underestimated the break and gave us a little too much time,” he said after that win at California. He’ll no doubt be hoping FDJ and the other sprint teams do the same here.

 

My colleague Sadhbh O'Shea caught up with King as he linked up with his new team for the first time in December in Cape Town - here's the interview.

 

A shot of the relaxed bunch from the race organiser.

 

 

75km remaining from 190km

Gap falling

 

With around 75km remaining, the peloton upped the pace and are beginning to eat into the advantage of the breakaway trio. The gap is back down to around 6 minutes as Marcel Kittel's Quick-Step team join in. 

The riders are approaching the first of two categorised climbs on today's route. It's the Côte de Grandmont and it's 2.4km long with an average gradient of 4.9%. Not overly worrying in itself, but the terrain does get lumpier the nearer riders get to the finish, and it will be an aperitif ahead of the stinging Côte de Charrecey later on.

 

70km remaining from 190km

The gap falls below the five-minute mark. It's FDJ, Quick-Step, and Lotto Soudal doing the damage. 

 

First sighting of the sun at this year's 'Race to the Sun'!

 

Le soleil brille à l'arrivée / The sun is shining at the finish #ParisNice https://t.co/c4llh9wwXq

@ParisNice Tue, 7th Mar 2017 14:06:36

 

The breakaway trio hit the climb with a lead of 4 minutes. 

 

Just up on Cyclingnews is the final feature in our 'I love the 1990's' series, and it's all about Marco Pantani and his dramatic expulsion from the 1999 Giro d'Italia. 

 

'It was the culmination of cycling’s era of excess, but it was also a missed opportunity,' writes Stephen Farrand. 'Pantani responded with denial, repeated again and again until his tragically premature death in 2004. His entourage responded with a silence that endures to this day. Two months later, Lance Armstrong dominated the Tour de France, and the cycle began all over again.'

 

Marco Pantani's Giro d'Italia fall from grace at Madonna di Campiglio

 

 

Meanwhile, Ben King takes the points atop the third-category Côte de Grandmont, ahead of Combaud, then Latour. 

 

60km remaining from 190km

The chase is on. 3:30 is the current gap. 

 

 

 

 

50km remaining from 190km

Three minutes is the gap now as Direct Energie make their presence felt towards the front of the peloton. Their sprinter Bryan Coquard is a candidate for the stage win today, and will be full of motivation after being dropped in the crosswinds yesterday and denied the chance to sprint. 

It's all about Paris-Nice today, but tomorrow marks the start of Tirreno-Adriatico, the competing WorldTour week-long stage race. The pre-race press conference is taking place today, and we'll have all the latest from there, but we also have a race preview in podcast form, courtesy of our collaboration with Recon Ride. Essential listening - here it is:

 

Tirreno-Adriatico preview - Recon Ride Podcast

 

42km remaining from 190km

The breakaway riders continue to collaborate but with just over 40km remaining, their advantage, falling steadily, is down at 2 minutes. 

 

Better shine the spotlight on our third and final breakaway rider before it's too late. 

 

Romain Combaud is the only non-WorldTour rider up there, riding for French Pro Conti outfit Delko Marseille Provence KTM, for which Paris-Nice is obviously a massive race on the calendar. Breakaway duties have fallen on the 25-year-old's shoulders today, though gaining sponsor exposure and showing the team as an active presence in the race are probably the aim of the game here, rather than any serious ambitions of a first ever professional victory. 

 

"Romain is a puncheur, climber type of rider," Delko director Frederic Rostaing told the Paris-Nice media team today. "He has been in excellent condition since the start of the season. Even if the break does not go all the way, he might be useful as a launch-pad for another option in the finale."

 

35km remaining from 190km

1:30 is the gap now with 35 remaining. The peloton is making no mistake.

 

Here come Fortuneo-Vital Concept, another French Pro Conti team. They're not just leaving it to the WorldTour teams - they have confidence in their sprinter Dan McLay and they're duly assuming their share of the responsibility in bringing about a bunch kick. 

 

Crash

 

Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg lies stricken on the ground. He's the only one who hit the deck but he's hit it hard, and he's receiving medical attention now. It's unclear what exactly caused that. 

 

The South African champion is back on his feet and it looks like he wants to get back on his bike. The race doctor, however, insists on patience and wants to make sure he's ok. Replays suggest a touch of wheels with the rider in front. 

28km remaining from 190km

Meanwhile, the breakaway trio hits the Côte de Charrecey. It's just 2.1km long but the 6.7% gradient will sting. 

 

Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg abandons the race. After lengthy deliberations with medical personnel, the South African concedes his race is over and climbs into the Dimension Data car. 

The breakaway comes towards the top of the climb. Combaud delivers the first injection of pace but soon Latour comes to the front and takes off. The Frenchman quickly opens a huge gap and the points will be his. 

 

25km remaining from 190km

Athletes will always want to continue but concussion is a serious thing & doctors did the right thing to pull Van Rensburg from #ParisNice

@SadhbhOS Tue, 7th Mar 2017 15:06:39

Latour duly mops up the maximum seven points. How will this climb sap the legs of the sprinters?

 

Polka-dot jersey wearer Romain Hardy clips off the front of the peloton in search of a couple more KOM points, and he's joined up there by compatriot Nicolas Edet. 

 

Edet continues his effort and soon catches Ben King, who was dropped from the break on that climb. 

 

22km remaining from 190km

50 seconds is the gap between the peloton and the breakaway, which now contains two riders - Latour and Combaud. 

You can see the situation over to the right of your screen, but here's how it looks at the moment, with just over 20km remaining. 

 

Latour & Combaud

|

+20 seconds

|

King & Edet

|

+25 seconds

|

Peloton

 

17km remaining from 190km

Latour and Combaud are working hard and working well together. They still have 40 seconds as they approach the second intermediate sprint point. Latour crosses the line first but neither is bothered by the points or bonus seconds; the sole focus is maintaining their lead for as long as possible. 

 

King and Edet have been caught by the bunch, so it's just two leaders now versus a full peloton. 

 

Michael Matthews clips off the front of the bunch to take a single point in the green jersey classification. 

15km remaining from 190km

Half a minute now for our French duo as Direct Energie drive the peloton with no fewer than six men on the front. 

"My eyes were stuck together when i woke up this morning - I was absolutely exhausted," says Bryan Coquard in a Eurosport interview carried out this morning. The Frenchman was dropped in the crosswinds yesterday but is clearly feeling better and better as today has gone on, and fancies his chances here. 

 

 

 

13km remaining from 190km

13 to go and the gap is still half a minute. The peloton, however, still holds the stronger card. 

 

Crash

 

There's a pinch point as the bunch comes through a 90-degree left-hander in a small village. There's a touch of wheels and Zico Waeytens hits the deck. No serious damage, though. 

 

10km remaining from 190km

Final 10km!

 

The gap is still just over 30 seconds as FDJ commit men to the front. 

Team Sky make their presence felt on the front of the bunch. They have a habit of keeping GC men well placed in bunch sprints and Sergio Henao is in a great position in terms of the overall. 

 

7km remaining from 190km

Still 35 seconds for our valiant breakaway duo, who are giving this everything. 

#ParisNice no urgency from the peloton yet....under 8kms to go and 34secs gap.

@TrekSegafredo Tue, 7th Mar 2017 15:29:51

It's still advantage peloton, but they're leaving this one very late. Latour and Combaud can't have any room for doubt and have to simply continue to give this everything they have. 

 

5km remaining from 190km

Astana hit the front with two men. Two from Orica in tow followed by two more from Astana. Sam Bennett has Bora teammates up there with him. Kittel's, Greipel's, Demare's, and Degenkolb's teammates further back for the time being. 

4km remaining from 190km

The pace is really picking up now. 25 seconds the gap. 

Crash

 

There's a roundabout and it causes confusion over which way to go round. Those who go left get it wrong, and a couple even hit the deck. One of them is Dylan Groenewegen. Nightmare for the young Dutchman. 

 

3km remaining from 190km

Final 3km and Latour and Combaud still have 20 seconds.

 

2km remaining from 190km

17 seconds now with 2.5 to go. This is tense. Grimaces on the faces of our breakaway men. 

Cofidis and Trek come to the fore now as the break come through a tight left hander through a roundabout. 

 

188km remaining from 190km

Just 11 seconds now.

The peloton have the duo in their sights. Combaud gives Latour one final push of encouragement. 

 

1km remaining from 190km

Combaud puts in a final acceleration but it's all over.

1km remaining from 190km

The catch is made under the flamme rouge

 

Quick-Step hit the front for Kittel

 

Katusha are up their for Kristoff

 

Sabatini leads this one out for KIttel

 

Kittel launches but here comes Sam Bennett

 

Sam Bennett wins!

 

What a win for Bennett! A convincing one, too. He chose the wheel of Kristoff and powered through as Kittel faded. No one could even get up to his back wheel as the Irishman crossed the line.

 

Kristoff just took second place from Degenkolb, who was coming through on the opposite right-hand side of the road. 

 

Top 10

 

1 Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe 4:31:14
2 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin
3 John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo
4 Marcel Kittel (Ger) Quick-Step Floors
5 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
6 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ
7 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal
8 Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
9 Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Dimension Data
10 Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Orica-Scott

 

"I had a lot of confidence coming into this race," says Bennett in his post-race interview. "I had a good feeling in the legs after Tour Down Under, where I had the speed but didn't quite get an opportunity. I knew that today something was possible - whether it was a top five or whatever, I knew something was possible. In the end I got lucky and the guys did a fantastic job and I want to thank them so much. I am so happy to get this result - you don't know what it means to me."

Here's how the GC now looks. Kristoff jumps above Gilbert into third thanks to bonus seconds for second place. 

 

1 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ 12:14:42
2 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:06
3 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin 0:00:13
4 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:17
5 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal 0:00:19
6 Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept 0:00:21
7 Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky 0:00:23
8 Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJ 0:00:23
9 Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:23
10 Kristijan Koren (Slo) Cannondale-Drapac 0:00:31

 

That is, by some distance, the biggest victory of 26-year-old Bennett's career. It's his first at WorldTour level and his first in his debut season as a WorldTour rider, and if he needed to take any more confidence from it, he can look at the calibre of the names below him on the results sheet - and at the distance he put between himself and them by the finish line. 

 

Here's the finish line view, courtesy of the race organiser.

 

 

Sam Bennett is the first Irish rider to win a stage of Paris-Nice since Stephen Roche won the Col d'Eze time trial in 1989

@irishpeloton Tue, 7th Mar 2017 15:56:29

Here's our report page, complete with photos and results.

 

Paris-Nice: Bennett bags a big win in stage 3 bunch sprint

 

Arnaud Demare back on the podium to collect another leader's jersey. 

 

 

Tomorrow could well be Demare's last outing in yellow, as a time trial awaits. It's just 14.5km long but it ends up Mont Brouilly, and the final three kilometres average 7.7%. On paper it was meant to be the first real GC day, but we've already had two of them...

A demain

Thanks for joining us today. Keep an eye on Cyclingnews for all the latest reaction from Paris-Nice, and join us again tomorrow for the TT. We'll also have live coverage of the opening stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. Busy day!

 

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