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Photo ©: Bettini

63rd Paris-Nice - ProTour

France, March 6-13, 2005

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Stage 4 - Thursday, March 10: Saint-Peray - Montélimar, 101km

Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Hedwig Kröner and Jean-Francois Quenet

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 14:30 CET
Estimated finish time: 16:30 CET

14:24 CET   
Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of Paris-Nice, where each day is an exercise in shortening stages to avoid snow. Some riders, like Lance Armstrong, have come up with an even better plan: pull out of the race and go home to train in more comfortable temperatures. Armstrong's Discovery Channel team press officer Jogi Muller told Cyclingnews last night that Lance was packing his bags, not wanting to risk turning a sore throat and jetlag into a full blown cold. There is still a lot of racing in between now and the Tour de France.

The organisers have chopped out the first part of today's stage, and will start in Saint-Peray, close to Valence. The riders will then do 108 km before the finish in Montélimar. There are three categorised climbs: Côte de Puy-Saint-Martin (Cat. 3, km 55), Côte d'Aleyrac (Cat. 2, km 76), and Côte du bois de Grignan (Cat. 3, km 89) and one intermediate sprint at Cleon-d'Andran (km 59). Given the preceding stages have all ended in bunch sprints, this one could well do that too.

But the weather will play a factor today, or more specifically, the wind. Cyclingnews reporter Hedwig Kröner was at the start in Saint-Peray where she said that although temperatures were up around the 10 degree mark, it was blowing a strong north easterly wind, with gusts of up to 80 km/h. That will be behind the riders for much of the first part of the stage, but when they reach 23 km to go, they turn northwest and will get a cross/headwind for the finish. Everyone is afraid of echelons today, and we certainly won't see the whole peloton contesting the sprint.

14:46 CET   
The other non-starter today was Austrian Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner).

Several teams, including CSC and Francaise des Jeux, were seen warming up fairly hard at the start. FDJ even did 75 km before the stage start in order to get some necessary kilometres in for the upcoming races.

As expected, it was flat out from the start, with the peloton screaming along at 60 km/h with the tailwind. After 12 km, the riders turned left and it became a crosswind. Francaise des Jeux, ,Fassa Bortolo and T-Mobile were the most active teams in the crosswinds. 19 riders got dropped at the start of that section, including KOM leader David Moncoutié (Cofidis). But they got back on after about 10 km of chasing.

15:00 CET    47km/61km to go
The peloton is hanging together at the moment, racing along in the sunshine(!) with not a spot of snow to be seen. It's a total contrast to the last few days. The average speed for the first 50 km is over 50 km/h.

The bunch is now on the first climb, the Cat. 3 Cote de Puy-St-Martin, which averages 3% for 3 km. Not a particularly difficult climb.

15:04 CET    51km/57km to go
The roads are fairly wide here, and the bunch is spread out with 10-12 riders on the front rank. Everyone wants to be in front.

Marc Lotz (Quick.Step) has crashed after getting his jacket caught in his wheel. He's got a sore putt, but is on his way again. He's going to have a tough time getting on, as the bunch is stretching out again.

Cyclingnews spoke to Erik Dekker before the stage started today. The Dutchman is in second overall on general classification and told us that he was a little worried about today's stage, but more so about tomorrow to Mont Faron. "Tomorrow is the most important day for the classement," said Dekker. "But you can lose it today. You can't win it today but you can lose it."

15:06 CET    52km/56km to go
There's an attack with 1 km to go to the top of the Cote de Puy-St-Martin. Fred Bessy (Cofidis) and a Credit Agricole rider - Dmitry Muravyev - jump clear. Bessy takes the points and they keep hammering down the other side.

15:09 CET    54km/54km to go
Bessy and Muravyev are caught on the descent, and the peloton is back together again. It's still very windy here, but it's a tailwind.

15:10 CET    56km/52km to go
Rabobank and CSC keep the pressure on at the foot of the descent, and the peloton is strung out, single file. They're really driving it now. Ekimov is up there for Discovery. Tom Boonen is a fair way back.

15:12 CET    59km/49km to go
The bunch reaches the sprint at Cleon-d'Andran with CSC and Fassa doing a long leadout. It's Voigt who takes it from a Cofidis rider and Erik Dekker.

15:15 CET    61km/47km to go
The pace continues in the peloton after the sprint, as Marc Lotz finds his way back onto the rear of the bunch. The bunch is in several bits now, lined out from gutter to gutter. Vinokourov is driving a front group with Voigt, Merckx and Chavanel.

The results of the sprint: 1. Jens Voigt (CSC), 2 Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), 3 Erik Dekker (Rabobank).

Also, Moncoutié took third place on the climb just previously, strengthening his grip on the climbers jersey.

15:16 CET    62km/46km to go
Vinokourov's group numbers seven, containing Voigt, Schleck, Chavanel, Merckx. The bunch behind is in 4 pieces. Boonen is not in the front group.

15:17 CET    63km/45km to go
Voigt is doing some monstrous turns as he tries to make this break stick. Schleck can barely roll over him. Looks like Flecha is here as well as a Credit Agricole rider - Kashechkin.

15:20 CET    65km/43km to go
The gap is 10 seconds to the lead group of Jens Voigt, Frank Schleck (CSC), Andrey Kashechkin (CA), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa), Axel Merckx (Lotto) and Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile).

The peloton has regrouped and is now only in two bits. Boonen and Dekker are in the first group, which has a good 100 riders in it. Rabobank is leading the chase, as Voigt is a danger man.

15:22 CET   
The break is working nicely now as all seven riders do their turns. It's a really strong combination. In the peloton, Boonen is working with his teammates. He's never one to shy away from putting his nose into the wind, especially when there's a stage win up for grabs. He doesn't care so much about the leader's jersey, as he'll lose that tomorrow (more than likely).

15:23 CET    67km/41km to go
Voigt and Vino are the driving forces behind the break, which is making good ground. But it's still only 12 seconds to the peloton, where Liberty has put a rider up in front to help Quick.Step. 10 seconds.

15:25 CET    70km/38km to go
Liberty, Rabobank and Quick.Step are the teams doing the chasing. Well, it's mostly Quick.Step. The leaders are now on the Cat. 2 Côte d'Aleyrac (6.6 km at 4.2%). This will make it hard for the chasers.

15:26 CET    71km/37km to go
The second peloton is losing ground. It has several Phonak and FDJ riders in it, as well as yesterday's third place getter Fred Rodriguez (Lotto).

Luis Sanchez (Liberty) is driving it hard up the climb with Rebellin glued to his wheel. The gap is 15 seconds to Voigt's group.

15:28 CET    72km/36km to go
Jörg Jaksche attacks again, and takes Bobby Julich with him. CSC aren't going to make the same mistake twice. They don't have much of a gap to the bunch, but they have strung it out. What a brutal pace on this climb!

The seven leaders are still up the road, however.

15:29 CET   
Jaksche is taking a group away from the peloton, which is splitting to bits on the climb. Kirsipuu is dropped, which fails to surprise anyone.

15:31 CET    73km/35km to go
In the front group, Voigt continues to work hard, keeping the peloton at 10 seconds. Jaksche has eased off ever so slightly, and the peloton is coming back to him.

The front group sits up. Jaksche continues to drive the main group up to them. All together again.

De Jongh is dropped.

15:34 CET    75km/33km to go
Yesterday's winner Vicente Reynes (Illes Balears) is in the third group on the road, not looking good. Tom Boonen is in group 2, which has most of his teammates. Gibo Simoni is in this group.

The front group has about 25 riders in it, including Dekker who gets to the front and lifts the tempo. Jaksche, Baranowski, Vinokourov, Moncoutié are all there. Moncoutié sprints for the points with Julich on his wheel. He gets them. Julich second, then Baranowski and Dekker.

15:35 CET    77km/31km to go
Voigt goes again on the descent, trying to keep the tempo up. The rest of the front group power up and get on the German's wheel. This group has about 25 in it, but no Tom Boonen. Baranowski drives it now.

15:38 CET    78km/30km to go
The descent is very fast, and not two technical. The second bunch is about 10 seconds behind the first, and it has Boonen in it. This bunch is also about 25 riders strong.

15:40 CET    79km/29km to go
A third group, with Hayman (Rabobank) is 15 seconds behind the second group, which is doing its best to close the gap to the lead group. It does so. Now 50-60 riders in the lead, including Boonen.

15:44 CET    82km/26km to go
The pace eases right off as CSC assumes the position on the front row. Boonen just has to survive one more climb to be in a position to contest the sprint.

The peloton almost stops as it hits the headwind. All the groups are together now as they reach the final climb. There are some attempts to attack, but it ain't easy!

15:46 CET   
The last 2 km of today's stage is a little bit technical. With 2 km to, there is a 90 degree turn, then a roundabout to the right just before the 1km to go mark. Then the road gets quite narrow with a lot of traffic calming devices. With 500m left, there's another 90 degree left hand turn. If you're in 10th wheel here, you can forget it.

De Jongh is back on the peloton, as a Euskaltel and Phonak rider attack.

15:48 CET    87km/21km to go
Nicolas Jalabert (Phonak) and Iker Camano (Euskaltel) are 5 seconds clear of the peloton on the final climb, the Cat. 3 Côte du bois de Grignan. An Ag2r rider gets up to them - Nicolas Portal. They have 10 seconds now.

15:49 CET   
The peloton is not doing a whole lot at the moment, as Jalabert, Camano and Portal work hard to stay away. Now Fassa moves up to the front for Kim Kirchen. 25 seconds.

15:51 CET    88km/20km to go
The leaders reach 20 km to go with a 35 second lead over the peloton. They're 1 km away from the top of the climb. Jalabert looks strong as he urges his companions on.

15:52 CET   
Portal takes over with 500m to the summit, then Camano and Jalabert. In the peloton, Discovery Channel and Fassa Bortolo are chasing.

15:54 CET    90km/18km to go
Jalabert weaves his bike all over the road to take the points on the climb ahead of Portal and Camano. Meanwhile, Flecha has got the pace wound up a bit in the peloton.

Gussev (CSC) gets a puncture and gets a wheel from the motorbike. He starts off in the 53 x 12 and takes a while to get going. That is until Bjarne comes past in the CSC team car.

15:55 CET   
The bunch has closed the gap a little as the leaders bash their heads against the wind over the top. It's about half a minute now, as they ride on a false flat before the descent.

15:56 CET    91km/17km to go
CSC is now helping Fassa chase. They don't want to let these three get too far in front. 25 seconds now. The leaders are going to have a very hard time staying away.

15:57 CET    92km/16km to go
Fassa has five riders in front with Kirchen a couple further back. It's racing in slow motion now as the massive headwind has destroyed the momentum of everything. 20 seconds.

15:59 CET    93km/15km to go
Jalabert, Camano and Portal continue to work together. They need a descent. It should be coming up soon. Camano is clad in a short sleeved jersey and shorts, so it can't be that cold.

16:00 CET    93km/15km to go
The descent begins at last, and Jaja and Portal put some time into Camano. The bunch is at 15 seconds - just on the next corner.

16:01 CET   
Camano is not definitively dropped, but he's having a lot of trouble with these hairpins. Lucky it's not wet.

16:02 CET    94km/14km to go
Camano is now stranded between the peloton and the break. He won't get back to them now. But the peloton is likely to swallow them.

16:03 CET    95km/13km to go
Portal and Jalabert have 5 seconds to Camano and 15 seconds to the peloton. They're going to need more than that. The descent is very, very tight.

Camano is caught.

16:05 CET   
It's still Fassa leading the peloton as it reaches the foot of the descent. Flecha, Julich and a few others have a bit of a gap now. Interesting! Three Fassas in this group of seven, chasing Jalabert and Portal.

16:07 CET    98km/10km to go
The group catches Portal and Jalabert, and now there are nine. Julich (CSC), Jaksche (Liberty) and Bossoni, Cancellara, Flecha (Fassa), Camano (Euskaltel), Kirsipuu (CA) are all there.

16:09 CET    99km/9km to go
Kirsipuu drives the break now with 9 km to go. It's a dangerous one, especially with Jaksche in it. He told us this morning that he still has hopes and ambitions for this race, even if winning it is out of the question now.

Lotto is leading the chase. Aaron Kemps (Liberty) is last wheel in the peloton.

16:09 CET    100km/8km to go
The bunch is now lined out, led by two Lotto riders. They aren't getting much help though. The gap is 10-15 seconds to the leading 9.

16:10 CET    101km/7km to go
Jaksche does a turn now, then Kirsipuu. They have 12 seconds. Julich is sitting on the back. He has been instructed to mark Jaksche today, it looks like. The Fassa train rumbles on. 15 seconds.

16:11 CET    101km/7km to go
Lotto and Quick.Step are doing the chasing in the peloton, which is getting organised now. A few CSC riders are up there, but they're getting in the way it looks like.

16:13 CET    103km/5km to go
The leaders reach 5 km to go with a nice 15 second gap. Flecha and Cancellara power along with big turns. Jaksche too. Cancellara is the best placed on GC in 7th at 11 seconds.

16:13 CET    104.5km/3.5km to go
The bunch is picking up speed, but is not 100 percent organised. Boonen's team has to do a bit of work to save this one for him.

Bossoni leads the break now with 3.5 km to go.

16:14 CET    105km/3km to go
Jaksche takes over, then Kirsipuu, who has to be a favourite for this stage. 23 seconds!

16:15 CET   
The chase has died a bit. Lotto seems to be doing most of it, and wants more help from Quick.Step. Too late now. Rabobank is lending a hand.

Jaksche does another big turn.

16:16 CET    106km/2km to go
25 seconds with about 2 km to go. The Fassas in the front group know that they can put Cancellara in yellow. Now it's Flecha who attacks, with Kirsipuu on his wheel.

16:16 CET   
They're in Montélimar now as Cancellara leads Kirsipuu and Flecha. The peloton is well out of it now.

16:17 CET    107km/1km to go
They reach the Flamme Rouge. Flecha, Kirsipuu and Cancellara, who tries to surprise Kirsipuu and fails. Kirsipuu in second wheel.

16:18 CET    108km/0km to go
Kirsipuu takes the lead now with 400m out. But Cancellara wins!! Kirsipuu second. Cancellara takes the jersey.

That was a beautiful piece of riding by Fassa Bortolo, who surprised the peloton at the foot of the descent and put three riders in the break. With Flecha and Cancellara there, they had the necessary power. Kirsipuu did well to go with them at the end, especially after he'd been dropped earlier, but he couldn't beat two teammates. Cancellara and Flecha are now in first and second overall, with Julich in third at 20 seconds.

That's all from us today. Catch it at the same time tomorrow with a complete stage from Rognes to Toulon (Mont-Faron).


1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo                          2.11.03
2 Jaan Kirsipuu (Est) Credit Agricole                      
3 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Fassa Bortolo                           0.02
4 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC                                       0.05
5 Nicolas Jalabert (Fra) Phonak Hearing Systems                 
6 Jorg Jaksche (Ger) Liberty Seguros-Würth                         
7 Iker Camano (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                               0.08
8 Nicolas Portal (Fra) Ag2r Prevoyance                              0.10
9 Paolo Bossoni (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                                 0.22
10 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step                                      0.32

General classification after stage 4

1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo
2 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Fassa Bortolo                           0.02
3 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC                                       0.05
4 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step                                       0.31
5 Erik Dekker (Ned) Rabobank                                        0.33
6 Vicente Reynes (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne               0.35
7 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team CSC                                  0.36
8 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team CSC                                         0.37  

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