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.