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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

62nd Paris-Nice - 2.HC

France, March 7-14, 2004

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Stage 3 - March 9: La Chapelle-Saint-Ursin - Roanne, 229 km

Complete live report

Commentary by Chris Henry

14:00 GMT   
Welcome back for Cyclingnews' live coverage of the third stage of Paris-Nice. Today's 227km haul from La Chapelle-Saint-Ursin near Bourges to Roanne is the longest stage of the race, and features two third category climbs. Today's stage profile is a reverse from yesterday, as this time the lumps come at the end of the day and not the beginning.

After the wind and an unbelievably aggressive Team CSC blew the race apart yesterday, riders (and commentators alike) will be wary of more fireworks in what looks like a simple stage on paper. Jörg Jaksche remains in yellow after picking up two bonus seconds over his closest rival, Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner). Jaksche's teammate Bobby Julich sits in third place overall.

14:31 GMT   
The situation with around 50 kilometres to race is a breakaway of two: Leon Van Bon (Lotto-Domo) and Thomas Ziegler (Gerolsteiner). The two broke away early in the stage and built a lead of 13 minutes before the peloton started to react. The gap now is down to around 8 minutes.

Jaksche took another bonus second in the first sprint so he now has 7 seconds over Rebellin in the general classification. Team CSC is leading the chase to the two leaders with some help from FDJeux.com.

14:35 GMT   
It's another chilly day in France, with more clouds overhead than yesterday. Van Bon and Ziegler now have 7'25 over the peloton, which is steadily gaining ground. The leaders have hit the climbs and undulating terrain of the final segment of the parcours.

Crédit Agricole and Liberty Seguros are now leading the chase as FDJeux.com continues to lend a hand. If the race comes to a sprint today, Baden Cooke and his fellow Australian Allan Davis could be two riders to watch.

The break is 1km from the summit of this climb and losing time quickly.

14:39 GMT    181km/46 km to go
Van Bon and Ziegler have just hit the summit of the Côte de Châtel-Montagne with their lead down to 6'15.

Liberty Seguros continues to lead the peloton as it starts the climb.

14:43 GMT    184km/43km to go
Jaksche is well-placed at the head of the peloton with several CSC riders nearby, just back from the front positions.

Although the summit of the final climb has been passed by the leaders, they still have some climbing to go beyond this Cat. 3 rise, and an undulating parcours for another 15-20 kilometres before descending toward Roanne.

14:47 GMT    185km/42km to go
The gap is down to under 6 minutes now as Liberty Seguros continues to do the work in the peloton. There's snow on the ground (but not on the roads), evidence of the colder than usual temperatures that have hovered around France in recent weeks.

14:54 GMT   
More and more snow around as the riders near the highest point of the stage. The roads are damp and certainly the field will be cautious in the turns as the descent begins. The peloton begins to string out as the speed picks up.

Ziegler and Van Bon continue their effort up front, talking to each other to encourage a good effort.

14:59 GMT   
The scene is still the same in the main group as three riders from Liberty Seguros lead the bunch with Jaksche and teammates tucked in just behind. Van Bon and Ziegler take turns leading on the cold descent.

15:03 GMT    195km/32km to go
The gap is around 3'15 for the leaders with a little over 30km to go. Victory is feasible for the duo but it will be tough.

The peloton is still fairly stretched out as some riders scramble for the wheels at the back. Quick.Step-Davitamon has now sent some riders to the front, hoping to pave the way for Tom Boonen in an eventual sprint.

15:11 GMT    200km/27km to go
More teams are moving up now, including Crédit Agricole and Fassa Bortolo. The top GC men like Rebellin and Vandenbroucke are staying well sheltered in the bunch but they'll still have to pay attention in the finale.

The gap to Van Bon and Ziegler is tumbling still, down to 2'20. The lead duo can try to profit a bit from the winding descent where the peloton might be a bit more cautious. It's not an extremely fast descent so the two escapees are still pushing hard on the pedals to maintain their lead.

15:13 GMT    202km/25km to go
Van Bon and Ziegler have just lost 20" in the space of barely more than a kilometre, which is not a good sign. The speed is picking up as they hit a steeper portion of the descent.

Under two minutes now to the peloton which is led by Crédit Agricole.

15:16 GMT    204km/23km to go
The peloton is under the 25km to go banner and still pulling back time as Liberty Seguros once more takes over the pace-setting. The descent gets faster and the snow begins to fade by the roadside.

Richard Virenque hits the front to do some work on behalf of Quick.Step and the situation at the front becomes more fluid with more and more riders pulling through.

15:20 GMT    208km/19km to go
Virenque, a solid descender, continues to take pulls and force the pace in the peloton.

The gap to the leaders is 1'40. Still falling, but Van Bon and Ziegler have managed to slow the capture a bit on the increasingly tricky descent.

15:23 GMT    211km/16km to go
It's a very long descent to Roanne, and Ziegler and Van Bon continue to hold on with 1'40 over the field. They've finished the man plunge and are now in the town of Renaison, where plenty of fans have braved the cold to cheer by the roadside.

15:25 GMT    213km/14km to go
Van Bon and Ziegler take opposite routes around a roundabout and find each other on the other side, still trading turns and fully committed to holding off the field.

Liberty Seguros once more comes back to the head of the field while Crédit Agricole and Quick.Step continue to share some work.

15:29 GMT    217km/10km to go
The speed in the peloton is quite high, and the gap is down to 1'30. A small group has been detached at the back of the field which is increasingly spread out as the finish approaches. The group left behind is unlikely to rejoin.

Yesterday's stage winner Pedro Horillo (Quick.Step) has moved up and will surely be eager to work for Boonen today after his own personal success yesterday.

1'10 with 10km to go for the leaders. It's going to be close...

15:30 GMT    218km/9km to go
The sun is peeking through the clouds as Van Bon and Ziegler give everything to hold off the charging field, still trading pulls perfectly.

15:33 GMT    220km/7km to go
The duo has just over a minute over the field, which suddenly has bunched up and shut down the chase. Van Bon is looking good, but a sprint between two is always hard to judge. They still have a chance if the peloton doesn't stick to a full-on chase.

15:35 GMT    223km/4km to go
Quick.Step is back on the front of the field trying to get a train going for Boonen. It's looking good for Ziegler and Van Bon who still have a minute. Barring accident, they should be able to fight for the win. Let the cat and mouse games begin...

15:37 GMT    224km/3km to go
It's been a long break for both riders. Van Bon is an experienced rider, Ziegler is younger but still looks reasonably strong. Van Bon is spinning a slightly lower gear and could have the extra kick necessary.

15:37 GMT    224km/3km to go
Three kilometres to go and the gap is 50" to the peloton, which looks to have given up.

15:39 GMT    226km/1km to go
Ziegler looks now like he's digging deeper, no doubt worried about Van Bon's finish.

They've passed under the red kite and will soon turn into an 850m finishing straight.

15:39 GMT   
Ziegler is leading, looking around at Van Bon who is sitting tight, ready to jump.

15:40 GMT   
Van Bon gets ready as Ziegler continues to look over his shoulder.

Van Bon jumps, Ziegler goes too, but it's Van Bon who easily comes around. But wait, Ziegler returns to his side and gives him a real push to the line, but it's still Van Bon who gets it.

The field comes in and Tom Boonen gets third in the sprint.   

Provisional results
1 Leon Van Bon (Ned) Lotto-Domo
2 Thomas Ziegler (Ger) Gerolsteiner
3 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step-Davitamon