Mar 11th, '09. Rabobank created havoc during the final 50kms of a wet Stage 3 Paris Nice splitting the peloton and allowing a group of 15 riders to break away. Whilst most teams were represented, Astana were missing allowing first over the line Sylvain Chavanel to take the yellow jersey from Contador.
In a repeat of yesterday's stage strategy an early break of five riders established a lead of six minutes ahead of the Astana controlled peloton. The break was S Augé (Cofidis), M Bodnar (Liquigas), J Roelandts (Silence-Lotto), C Le Mevel (Française des Jeux) and T Veelers (Skil-Shimano).
With 48km to go Rabobank moved up to the front of the peloton. Heavy cross winds and rain didn't stop Rabobank forming a team train of incredible speed that caught some in the peloton napping. A group of twenty riders broke free, with Contador's yellow jersey left behind. Contador was in the third group back isolated from his teammates and unable to catch back up.
Rabobank's Sebastian Langeveld said the idea to attack was not a preplanned strategy. "We felt good and the wind was favorable for the last fifty miles" said Langeveld . "The team director gave us the signal to go and we went with the team full steam. Of course you hope to win. But the Quick-Step riders have certainly contributed their bit and Sylvain Chavanel is just a very strong rider. " Rabobank finished in 2nd and 3rd positions behind Chavanel.
At 30km to go the Rabobank lead break caught the early break. After a few dropoffs, the lead group in the last few kilimetres was Roelandts (Silence-Lotto), Flecha (Rabobank), Garate (Rabobank), Langeveld (Rabobank), Chavanel (Quickstep), Seeldrayers (Quickstep), Burghardt (Columbia) and Auge (Cofidis).
The peloton became very fragmented, as it struggled for a cohesive chase strategy. Team Saxo Bank's Jens Voigt and Karsten Kroon worked hard to get their leader and tour contender Frank Schleck closer to the front group, and leave his competitors further behind. Shleck encouraged his team mates by leading the group himself to reduce time lost to Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step).
Contador showed his respect for the yellow jersey by taking his turn up the front of the chase group. Although Astana will have entered this stage happy to let the pressure of the yellow jersey fall to another team, they will not be happy about Contador being left isolated for so long. The next few days will show whether Contador's extra energy use has hampered the favourite's chances of winning the tour.
"It was a typical Paris-Nice day with wind and rain," commented Contador after the stage. "We had to know it. Always when it becomes quiet in the peloton, you can be surprised suddenly." Assessing the damage, he concluded, "I saw that we had nobody in the front. Because I knew that there was still a small climb, I took my chance and on the climbing roads I could minimize the damage. In the GC Chavanel has now 1 minute, Garate 30 seconds. It can be complicated, but we still have five difficult days to go. It could have been worse..." he finished.
29 year old Chavanel (Quickstep) who had the yellow jersey for one stage in last year's Paris Nice said he knew it would be a hard stage. "When I realized that the riders from team Rabobank were organising an important move, the team and I made our move too" he said. "I'm not surprised about the advantage we had at the finish line, considering the crazy rhythm we marked during the breakaway. I'm proud of myself and the whole team. In the last kilometre I went on the attack to catch up with Langenveld and then in the final sprint I managed to pass Flecha and win."
(c)QSI/Tim De Waele.
"Now - concludes Chavanel - we'll see day by day - I've already checked the altimetry for the next stages. The climbs aren't impossible and I've already done well on routes like this in the past. Why don't try to defend the jersey? My goal is half achieved. Now it'll be bonus. We'll see what happens in the Montagne de Lure, it will the key moment."
Montagne de Lure is the mountain top finish on Stage 6 in the Alpes de Haute Provence. This climb is known as the "Little Sister of the Ventoux", the true Mont-Ventoux is saving itself for this year's Tour de France riders. This 13.8km Cat 1 ascent is going to be one of the most decisive sections of this year's Paris-Nice.
The biggest loser in today's shakeup was Cadel Evans who at 10m33s behind Chavanel is now unlikely to be an overall contender.
Stage 3 results (full results)
- 1st Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step 4.33.12
- 2nd Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Rabobank
- 3rd Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank
- 4th Stéphane Auge (Fra) Cofidis
Time gaps of the top overall contenders after Stage 3:
- Sylvain Chavanel - 0s
- Alberto Contador - 1m03s
- Luis Leon Sanchez - 1m12s
- David Millar - 1m17s
- Maxime Monfort - 1m35s
- Rinaldo Nocentini - 1.37s
- Frank Schleck - 1m39s
- Christophe Moreau - 3m25s
- Cadel Evans - 10m33s
Tomorrow's Vichy Saint-Étienne - 173.5 km Stage 4 should offer more opportunity for attacks and breakaways as the riders roll over the six climbs. If the break hasn't gone already, expect attacks on the last climb the 5.3km 4.3% Côte de Rochetaillée. During this stage, the peloton will cross Saint-Chamond, where Andreï Kivilev died after a heavy fall in this race six years ago. (His death is one of the key reasons helmets are now compulsory in all UCI races)
Full Results available...
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From NZ's accredited Paris Nice media outlet RoadCycling.co.nz