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Posts tagged ‘Paris-Nice’

Splitsville at Paris-Nice

It’s so hard to resist making wind puns. Gone with the wind. Blowing in the wind. Is there an answer? Never on Mondays.

During today’s second stage of Paris-Nice, the wind split the field and quite possibly ended the hopes of the riders left behind. Bradley Wiggins, who finished one second behind prologue winner Gustav Larsson, made the split and grabbed the yellow shirt. No doubt he is hoping to hold it all the way to Nice. Levi Leipheimer, Tejay van Garderen, Alejandro Valverde, and Sylvain Chavanel are among the pre-race favorites who also made the split. I’m being a bit over-generous there calling Chavanel a favorite, but hey! He’s French! And it’s a bike race in France! So.

Prologue winner Gustav Larsson, Tony Martin, Fränk and Andy Schleck, and Jèrôme Coppel all missed the split and sit more than 2:30 down in the general. In an eight-stage race? That might as well be several time zones. Thomas Voeckler also missed the split, but he probably likes it back there. More breakaways, more funner, or at least, that’s what it always seems like with Voeckler. Stage-hunting time, anyway for him.

Today’s win-driven split could mean this Paris-Nice is a four-rider race: Leipheimer, van Garderen, Valverde and Wiggins. On team support Wiggins and van Garderen seem to me to have the advantage. But both Valverde and Leipheimer will enjoy that final crono up the Col d’Èze. Also, somewhere along the road to Nice, the wind could blow again, or someone could get crafty and twist around all our expectations. Really, I can’t help but hope that somebody does.

Meanwhile, Tom Boonen took out another sprint victory today. He’s taken to bunch sprinting again, it seems, and with some success. Boonen won the overall at Qatar. Too bad for him Sep Vanmarcke had the faster finish at the Omloop. Anyway, it’s nice to see Boonen winning bike races again. I feel like it’s been too long, really.

Paris-Nice, Stage 8: Never Say Never

Today’s short final stage of Paris-Nice summited three first category climbs before descending to a flat finish at the Promenade des Anglais. Caisse d’Épargne, eager to defend the race lead of Luis Leon Sanchez, took things in hand. An early break went away, including neo-pro Reine Taaramae of Cofidis, climber Sandy Casar of Française des Jeux, and David Lopez Garcia of Caisse d’Epargne, marking the break for Sanchez. All was tranquilo.

On the lower slopes of the first climb of the day, the Col de la Porte, Alberto Contador showed the mettle that has won him three grand tours. Not content to sit on and let the leaders of the general classification enjoy their day in the sun, Contador attacked hard with some 80 kilometers to ride to the finish. It was a long bomb of a move, that led L’Équipe to summon up the image of Floyd Landis’s ill-fated adventure at the 2006 Tour de France. Contador quickly overtook the early break, and built up a 2.00 minute lead over the main field led by Caisse d’Épargne. Again, the Spanish Tour champion became race leader on the road.

But not for long. Contador accelerated repeatedly on the final climbs of the day, La Turbie and the Col d’Èze. Behind, Frank Schleck, third in the general classification, and Antonio Colom of Katyusha set out to chase down the flying Contador. They succeeded, and the three reached the line together only seconds ahead of the main field containing the race leader. Despite flying up the climbs, Contador could not break the hold of Caisse d’Épargne on the race lead. At the line, Colom won the three-up sprint, taking out the stage win. The win comes as a nice souvenir for the Spanish rider from Katyusha who has animated the race whenever the road turned up. Contador took second on the stage, with Frank Schleck finishing third a second behind.

Just 17 seconds later, the field containing race leader Luis Leon Sanchez reached the line. Sylvain Chavanel, who began the day second in the general classification, suffered a mechanical on the descent to the finish. Well-served by his descending talents, he rejoined the group. Jonathan Hivert of Skil-Shimano won the bunch sprint for fourth.

Profiting from his attack and Contador’s misfortune on Saturday’s stage, Luis Leon Sanchez won the general classification. Frank Schleck moved up to second after today’s counter-attack with Colom, while Chavanel fell to third. For Sanchez, this win is his second of the season after he won the overall at Tour Méditerranéen and his first major stage race victory. No doubt there’s more where that came from. Frank Schleck showed his early season form, and should be at the front come the Ardennes, his first main objective of the season. For Chavanel, captain of Quick-Step for this Paris-Nice, the race counts as a big success. He won a stage, wore the leader’s jersey for three days, and finished on the podium. Chapeau!

Here is the final general classification.

Paris-Nice, Stage 7: I Like Surprises

Today’s Paris-Nice stage began with race favorite Alberto Contador, who won the prologue and won the decisive mountain stage, in the leader’s jersey. The sun rose in the east, the world tilted and spun happily along on its axis, everything in its place. By all accounts, the race for the overall classification had ended with Contador’s attack with four kilometers to ride on Friday’s jaunt up the Montagne de Lure.

But bike racing is an unpredictable business. At the base of the Col de Bourigaille, the eighth of ten obstacles on today’s menu, Caisse d’Épargne went to work on the front in an effort to set up Luis Leon Sanchez for a stage win. Antonio Colom of Katyusha, on screaming good form this Paris-Nice, used their efforts to his advantage and repeatedly attacked the group. The numbers dwindled quickly. Sylvain Chavanel who began the day in third place saw his chances of defending his podium position dwindle, as he lost contact with the group. Fourth placed Frank Schleck also went out the back under the pressure of Colom’s repeated surges. By the summit of the Col, only three riders remained: Colom, Luis Leon Sanchez, and race leader Alberto Contador.

With the major climb behind them, there seemed little reason to expect any further drama. A long technical descent, mixed with quick climbs, greeted the threesome. And here came the surprise.

After a brilliant descent, Sylvain Chavanel regained the leading group of three. Jens Voigt and Frank Schleck of Saxo Bank also made it across to form a chase group of six. Luis Leon Sanchez remained up the road, beyond reach. Alberto Contador had no friends in the chase group. Attacking in turn, the five worked together, forcing Contador to respond. He had no team-mates for help.

With 25 kilometers to ride, Luis Leon Sanchez escaped. Still, Contador appeared to have the race in hand. Though Sanchez looked certain to win the stage, the race leader had appeared invincible this Paris-Nice. Surely, despite the lack of team support, he could defend his race lead.

With five kilometers left to ride, the road turned up steeply. Colom, Chavanel, Schleck, and Voigt accelerated. Suprisingly, Contador could not follow. Invincible on Friday’s ascent of the Montagne de Lure, the race leader cracked with just five kilometers to ride. His dramatic collapse quickly distanced him from the leaders, sent him backwards through the main field, and tumbled him down the classification. A disastrous moment, and the end of Contador’s hopes for overall victory.

Up ahead, Luis Leon Sanchez won the stage and took the race lead, a double victory for the Spanish rider who announced his early season form with a win at Tour Méditerranéen. Antonio Colom finished second, Frank Schleck third, and Sylvain Chavanel fourth, all on same time. Chavanel, who won a stage and wore the leader’s jersey for three days, moved up to second in the general classification, 1.09 behind Sanchez, while Frank Schleck moved up to third at 1.21. Former race leader Alberto Contador sits in fourth at 1.50.

Sunday’s stage around Nice covers three category 1 climbs, before finishing on a descent to the Promenade des Anglais. Usually, the general classification does not change on the final stage. But this race has proved anything but predictable. Why not another surprise?

Here are today’s stage results and the general classification.