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65th Paris-Nice - ProTour

France, March 11-18, 2007

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Stage 4 - March 15: Maurs - Mende, 169.5 km

Complete live report

14:26 CET   
Welcome back to the 2007 European racing season! Although one cannot consider that the Paris-Nice "race to the sun" opens up the ProTour calendar, it's still the first really important stage race this season, and may be an indicator for who's hot and who's not this year...

We at Cyclingnews open up our race coverage with the event's queen stage from Maurs to Mende, 169.5 kilometres long. The stage ends with a three km-climb at about 10 percent gradient up to the Mende airport - that'll get them going. Until then, four Cat.2 climbs will make the stage an interesting one, and set the pace for the final ascent.

14:32 CET   
At the start this morning, beautiful weather greeted the riders, and only one cyclist abandoned the event: Thierry Marichal (FDJ), who preferred to go home after an old doping investigation resurfaced again, accusing him of dealing with the famous drug mix "pot belge".

Sorry folks, not a day shall pass without some doping news...

14:45 CET   
But now, back to racing: The breakaway of the day formed after the first categorized climb, the Côte de Quotidiane after 10 kilometres. Amael Moinard (Cofidis), Sandy Casar (FDJ) and Dmitry Muravyev (Astana) took off shortly after the summit, and have been away ever since.

Casar was the one taking the points at the next climb, the Côte de Montsalvy at km 30, as well as the Sprint points in Espalion (km 70). Just a few clicks later, it was Moinard who arrived first at the summit of the Côte de Biounac (km 76).

The trio had a maximum lead of 11 minutes at that point, but then the peloton reacted and brought them back to about 6.20.

14:53 CET    124.5km/45km to go
At the second and last sprint of the day in Saint-Saturnin-de-Lenne, Muravyev took the points in front of Casar and Moinard.

As of now, the course is one long false flat until the second-to-last climb, coming up just before the final leg cruncher to Mende airport.

14:58 CET   
Discovery Channel is setting the pace now. They'll want to bring down the gap before the last climb and put Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador in a perfect position.

Today's stage will reveal the true contenders for the overall classification this year. With Discovery Channel looking strong, so do guys like Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel)... but also current race leader Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) knows this particular mountain, and is not a bad climber at all.

15:00 CET   
Meanwhile, Massimiliano Mori (Lampre), Angelo Furlan (Credit Agricole) and Benoit Vaugrenard (FDJ) have abandoned.

15:09 CET    139.5km/30km to go
Bouygues, Liquigas and Discovery Channel are sharing the work in front of the pack, reducing the gap further. It is now down to 4.10 minutes.

The bunch is strung out on a windy pre-mountain road beside a river. The sun is still out, so we will see no disasters up the "montée Laurent Jalabert" in Mende ("Jaja" won a Tour de France stage there in 1995) - except for hurting riders...

This time, the finish will not be located at the airport on the mountain plateau, though, but at the end of the climb.

15:16 CET   
Certainly, the best climber in the breakaway is Casar, who placed a very respectable sixth at last year's Giro. But with only 15 kms to go before the fireworks begin with the Côte de Chabrits and the final climb in Mende, he may not have too much energy left when the protected riders in the bunch put the hammer down.

Only a little more than 3 minutes advantage left for the break.

15:20 CET    146.5km/23km to go
The team helpers are doing a great job on this continuously ascending terrain, which can really hurt your muscles. They keep a hard pace all along.

Caisse d'Epargne is re-forming to the front of the bunch, too, as the race passes a beautiful Château.

15:23 CET    149.5km/20km to go
But the leaders aren't giving up yet. Muravyev, Moinard and Casar are still committed to make this work, and push down the pedals accordingly. Their lead is down to 2.30.

15:28 CET    155.5km/14km to go
We're approaching the Côte de Chabrits, which is 2.4 km long and has an average gradient of 6.8 percent. There will be a short descent after it, and then the final, Cat. 1 climb.

Casar gets a few last instructions and support from Marc Madiot in the tram car.

15:30 CET   
The leaders have now arrived in Barjac, a village that marks the start of the climb.

15:31 CET   
But so has the bunch, led by Discovery Channel. Yellow jersey Pellizotti is not far behind.

The first riders drop off the back of the bunch, while Danielson drives it hard.

15:35 CET   
Danielson is not only putting his legs to a test, also his jaws and teeth... He's one of six Disco riders all in front.

The gruppetto has formed around Tom Boonen.

15:38 CET   
Mountains classification leader Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner) is not able to follow, neither.

The gap is under the minute now. Muravyev has difficulties following his breakaway mates...

15:41 CET    162.5km/7km to go
The leaders and the chasing bunch have passed the penultimate climb. Casar scored the points in front of Moinard, as Muravyev was already dropped and will be caught by the bunch in a minute.

They tackle the descent now.

15:45 CET   
They've arrived in the city of Mende. Now, the only way is up... Casar doesn't look too fresh anymore.

Points leader Bennati was in front of the bunch for a moment!

15:47 CET    167.5km/2km to go
An Astana rider is trying to bridge the gap to the two leaders at the foot of the climb. They're still 25 seconds away.

15:48 CET   
Cadel Evans (Predictor) is also up there in front. Moinard looks back - they're just 20 metres away now. Moinard explodes.

15:49 CET   
Casar is giving his everything, while Rebellin and Valjavec (Lampre) rider get him.

15:50 CET   
And Contador comes up, looking eeeasy! Fränk Schleck is also there.

15:52 CET   
Valjavec, Schleck, Contador, Rebellin lead the race now - and Contador attacks!! Rebellin holds his wheel for a moment, but now has to let go.

15:54 CET   
Contador digs deep, but still looks like he's having fun... amazing. He's got 20 metres on Rebellin, with Schleck, Evans, Lopez Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne) and Valjavec chasing behind.

15:57 CET   
But Rebellin doesn't stand a chance against the young Spaniard... Contador wins it by far, in front of Rebellin and Lopez Garcia.

16:04 CET   
Davide Rebellin is thus taking over the leader's jersey from Pellizotti after this great effort. Contador is placed second behind the Italian.

That's all from us for now. Tomorrow's stage to Manosque will also be an interesting one - join us again at 14.30 CET for another round!

Provisional Results

1 Alberto Contador (Spa) Discovery Channel     
2 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner           
3 David López García (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne    
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor-Lotto            
5 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Lampre-Fondital         
6 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team CSC                 
7 Sébastien Joly (Fra) Française Des Jeux      
8 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel      
9 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Française Des Jeux     
10 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas            


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