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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

66th Paris-Nice - HC

France, March 9-16, 2008

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Stage 4 - March 13: Montélimar - Mont Ventoux, 176km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Bjorn Haake

14:02 CET   
Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage, this time from sunny southern France. The weather wasn't always like this since the start in Amilly, and stage one had to be shortened significantly. But that's why it's called race *to* the sun and not race *in* the sun. Today, the riders will even pass snow when they head up the Mont Ventoux. This mountain always looks like it has snow on top, but in the summer it is the white lava rock that gives that impression. This time we really have very cold water up there.

The Mont Ventoux from the valley this morning
Photo ©: Hedwig Kröner
(Click for larger image)

14:06 CET    85km/91km to go
The race this morning started shortly before noon. A break with Bernhard Eisel (High Road), Niki Terpstra (Team Milram), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas) and Jens Voigt (Team CSC) developed after 11 km. The first KOM (la côte de Puy-Saint-Martin) was won by Eisel, ahead of Voigt and Terpstra. They currently have an advantage of 7'15", with a good 80km already done.

14:08 CET   
Here is a view from the French CN headquarters this morning. Doesn't the Ventoux look inviting? (yes, it doesn't ???)

14:11 CET   
Both of the first two road stages went to Belgian Gert Steegmans, who is showing good form ahead of the upcoming classics. Finally yesterday, on stage 3, Hushovd had to give up yellow, as the race ended with the tough ascent of the col de la Croix de Chaubouret, before screaming down into St. Etienne. It was Kjell Carlström (Liquigas) who won the stage and Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), who took the overall lead.

14:15 CET   
The Mont Ventoux has been the place of many epic battles, such as the one between Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani in 2000, where the Italian was off the back several times, but fought back on, eventually heading to the finish together with Armstrong. The Texan gave the victory to Pantani, while Pantani declared himself the stronger man that day. But it also has been the place of tragedy. In 1967, Tom Simpson died on the ascent, due to the usage of amphetamines. We hope for an epic battle today, rather than a tragedy.

14:18 CET   
Usually, the Ventoux features in the Tour de France and/or the Dauphiné Libéré. For Paris-Nice it seems a little early for such a monster climb.

14:21 CET   
The riders are done with a long, gradual, descent. The start of today's stage was going up, though. The second climb of the day was la côte de Bourdeaux, with Voigt taking the maximum points ahead of Eisel and Kuschynski in third.

14:27 CET   
Only 15 minutes later the leaders went over the top of la côte de Serre de Turc (km 62.5). Here, it was Kuschynski ahead of Eisel and Voigt. Quite an international break, with an Austrian (Eisel), a German (Voigt), a Dutchman (Terpstra) and a Belarusian (Kuschynski). It is not clear if Kuschynski could follow a conversation in German, which the other three could use to their advantage if they need to talk things over for the podium...

Sylvain Chavanel is holding the yellow jersey
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

14:33 CET   
Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner is back in the peloton after taking a little break from racing and she is on the Mont Ventoux. The weather is good and she is happy to report that there is no wind at the top. There are throngs of fans out, some riding up on their bicycles, some waiting in the campers for the riders to arrive. It would be truly a Tour de France atmosphere – if it wouldn't be for the snow on the side!!!

14:37 CET    110km/66km to go
At the first sprint of the day, after 108 kilometres, it was Kuschynski ahead of Eisel and Voigt. Terpstra is hanging back on all the passages of the sprint and KOM points.

14:44 CET   
Ok, our reader Martin is pointing out: "There was only one inquest in to Tom's death. It found that he died of a brain hemorage due to been taken to altitude when he was airlifted off the mountain. This is a fact. The inquest was held in a Belgian court and was done so to acertain whether he was covered under his life insurance, which had an exclusion on death due to drugs. The court clearly found that he was not killed by drugs."

14:47 CET   
And Joost is pointing out that the Dutch people speak Dutch – but this is similar enough to German that the three could still outfox the Belarusian. Most rider speak multiple languages anyway, it is essential even within the same team. Robbie McEwen, who lives in Belgium, frequently will give answers to questions in Flemish or Italian, depending on who is asking (but English works, too)

14:51 CET   
Bernhard Eisel is the best-placed rider in the mountains classification in the breakaway. But with his two points at the start of the stage he will be no danger to the leader in that competition, Clément Lhôtellerie (Skil-Shimano) with 34 points. Eisel has accumulated eight points so far, so his total is ten at the moment. There are two more mountains, the category 3 col de la Madeleine and the finish on the Ventoux (cat 1)

14:53 CET    122km/54km to go
Rabobank has joined Cofidis, with yellow jersey Chavanel at the front and the gap has been reduced a bit. It is now 5.40

14:58 CET   
Crash in the peloton at a roundabout! A Liquigas rider takes out Tyler Farrar, who is not very happy. It is Kreuziger who went down in front of the American.

15:00 CET   
The riders will tackle the Ventoux from the other side than usual. Hedwig Kröner reports that this side seems a bit more "stair-like", with little plateaus providing a bit of a 'rest' after the inclines. There is even a bit of a downhill, starting at the flamme rouge, indicating the last kilometre. But the last 500m are uphill again.

15:03 CET   
Cofidis is still on the front. The penultimate climb is about to start. It is a very gradual ascent and there is even an intermediate sprint coming up before the top. Terpstra knows he has to eat, so eats a sports bar. Off goes the wrapper, the wind puts it somewhere in the meadows.

15:06 CET    139km/37km to go
The break is 37km from the finish now. About ten minutes ago the passed Aubignon , where reader Ken knows a very good boulangerie (bakery), where they sell baguette and croissants. Too bad the peloton didn't know about it.

15:09 CET   
Another roundabout, but no problems this time. The break is still looking good, with the gap still above the five-minute mark. Of course with the Ventoux, that isn't much for the non-climbers, although Voigt has shown in the Tour of Germany last year how he can suffer on an uphill if he needs to.

15:10 CET    142km/34km to go
Eisel is leaving out some pulls. Kuschynski is looking at him a bit funny. Well, there is a sprint coming up soon.

15:11 CET   
The sun is out and the riders can actually see shadows. They even can ride in short sleeves! It's such a welcome change from the days before. They are heading through scenic Modene now, with its old church in the centre of the village.

15:14 CET   
The pace is definitely "pretty good" now, with the road already pointing uphill. It is still Cofidis and Rabobank at the front. Chavanel is a bit back right now, but still in the front third of the peloton, riding on the right hand side of the road. Moreau is very close to the front. He loves the Ventoux!

15:16 CET   
Farrar and Kreuziger are back in the peloton. The roundabout tumble was not that severe. Going through the narrow streets of ST. Pierre, there are many spectators out to cheer on the riders. But there will be even more on the Ventoux!

Thor Hushovd had yellow yesterday, but is in green today
Photo ©: JF Quenet
(Click for larger image)

15:17 CET   
The peloton is strung out. Hushovd, with the green jersey, is about five riders from the back. He is taking a good sip from his bottle. He will have to stay hydrated, so he can stay with the peloton as long as possible. Time elimination is the last thing he wants today.

15:23 CET    148km/28km to go
The riders pass Bedoin. Voigt has his typical fighting grimace on, while the peloton seems to have slowed just a tad. It is more bunched up. André Greipel (High Road) is riding towards the back of the bunch. The Tour down Under winner will not get a chance for a bunch sprint today.

15:26 CET    151km/25km to go
Terpstra, Kuschynski, Voigt and Eisel are now at the true ascent of the Madeleine and will see the summit in about 5 km. They will be still ahead of the peloton when they go over the top. More chances for Eisel to get some points, although we have to wonder if he confused all the KOM's today with points sprints when he looked at his cheat sheet this morning.

15:31 CET   
Rabobank is riding for Gesink. The young Dutchman is a very good climber. Chavanel is back at the front, in the centre of the road, behind his Cofidis team-mates. Eisel is taking a strong pull at the front of the breakaway. They are changing the leads in brief intervals, not more than 10-20 secs. Even Voigt, who usually likes to pull for a day and a half drops back after his burst of work. Well, it is downhill right now...But the gap is now only 4'10.

15:32 CET   
A few riders are already getting shelled off the peloton. This side of the Ventoux, via the Madeleine, is not tackled very often for the races.

15:33 CET    155km/21km to go
They go over the Madeleine. There is no sprint. Eisel, Voigt, Terpstra.

15:35 CET   
The lead has dropped under the four-minute mark now. The peloton is strung out. It is still big, but the end is losing riders consistently.

15:37 CET   
Voigt is done with another pull, always a relief for the breakaway companions. The peloton is now heading over the top of the Madeleine, while the break is already looking at the Ventoux. Not a pretty sight, if you have to race up the steep thing.

15:41 CET    160km/16km to go
Voigt is in third position, with Terpstra behind him. The German is nice enough to put on his left-turn signal, as a policeman has a yellow flag, indicating a danger spot. The final climb has started!

15:42 CET   
Voigt attacks immediately! Kuschynski goes after him, but Eisel and Terpstra are done for the day.

15:43 CET    161km/15km to go
Voigt is in his typical style, with his tall body leaned over and stomping on those pedals. He passes the 15km to go sign. The Liquigas rider cannot close in on the German.

15:45 CET   
Voigt has three and a half minutes. Cofidis is done for the day, but Quick Step has taken over at the front. Well, Moerenhout (Rabobank) has taken over, and actually gaps the Quick Step riders.

15:45 CET   
David Millar has been dropped off the main group.

15:47 CET   
Moerenhout has now cooled off and is right in front of the Quick Step train. Expect an attack from Gesink later. Miller isn't the only one getting shelled. Hushovd, Steegmans are back too. They will soon form the autobus.

15:50 CET   
Flecha has done a lot of work for Rabobank, too. He drops off. Sandy Casar is gone , as are Gerrans, Calzati and Schumacher. Cretskens and Lequatre as well. Albasini, Zubeldia. Boy, it looks like a major battle field. The peloton is about 50 riders.

15:51 CET   
Voigt has maybe a minute on the duo of Terpstra and Kuschynski, and three minutes on the peloton.

15:52 CET   
Surprise: Christophe Moreau has been dropped. Maybe too early in the season for the French Champion.

15:53 CET   
Chavanel is still there, but he is slipping back in the front group. Not a good sign. He still has David Moncoutié with him.

15:55 CET   
Lhôtellerie and Popovych are still in the front group, as is Bernhard Kohl, who is leading the bunch.

15:57 CET   
Sorry, Kohl is actually at the back of the group. Rebellin is still sitting pretty, as is Frank Schleck. But the front group is now only about 30 riders.

15:59 CET    166km/10km to go
Kuschynski has been swallowed, as have the other two. This leaves only Voigt in front. Moreau is on the drops and found a small group to ride with. Chavanel is still there, as are Cunego and Efimkin.

16:01 CET   
Eisel and Terpstra are actually still ahead of the peloton, but not by much. Eisel keeps turning around. He won't get anymore mountain points today.

16:02 CET   
The gap is down to 2'18. This will be tough for the German to hang on to his slim lead. Cadel Evans is also still there.

16:03 CET    168km/8km to go
Moreau shows fighting spirit and is trying to get back to the front group. Voigt is labouring up the road and breathing hard. 2'15" still.

16:05 CET   
The view is impressive, but the riders have no time for that. Moreau has made it back to the group. Chapeau.

16:06 CET   
Voigt will be extra motivated, having found out that CSC is pulling out as a sponsor at the end of the year. It means some 20+ riders are looking for a new employer next year, in a tight market.

16:07 CET    170km/6km to go
Clément L'Hottelerie in the polka dot is still there, while Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) finds the pace a little too high. Voigt has still over two minutes, with 6km to go.

16:10 CET   
Quick Step is taking over with Garate and Efimkin. They are still in the tree line, which is nice for Voigt. The less visible he is the better for him. Chavanel is now dropping... A small gap develops, usually the first sign of a complete snap off the group. But it is still only 5m.

16:11 CET   
Maxime Monfort is with Chavanel, but now the gap is growing. The two Cofidis rider are followed by David López García (Caisse d'Epargne)

16:12 CET    171km/5km to go
Now the group is shattering, under the relentless pace of Quick Step. Of course, one of the victims is Efimkin, who has done his work. Voigt passes the 5km to go sign. The lead is now less than two minutes.

16:14 CET   
Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) is also getting dropped, riding behind Cunego and Moncoutié, who have all dropped off the group. Gesink himself is now taking over at the front. Rebellin is still there.

16:16 CET    172km/4km to go
Rebellin is the next to drop off, victim of the pace of Gesink. Schleck, Evans and Popovych are still there.

16:18 CET   
There are only four chasing Voigt, who looks like he is done.

16:19 CET   
Make that three, as Schleck is also gapped. 3.5km to go. It looks good for Silence-Lotto now.

16:20 CET   
They now have snow on the left and right. Evans works for Popo.

16:20 CET   
What Evans didn't realise is that he dropped his team-mate and it is only Gesink behind him!

16:22 CET    174km/2km to go
Voigt has been caught, so Evans and Gesink, two km from the line, will sprint for victory.

16:23 CET   
But now Gesink has to do all the work, as Evans sits on and hoping that Popovych will make it back. He is not too far behind. Rebellin is at 30 seconds. They pass the 2km to go sign.

16:23 CET   
The red Silence-Lotto jersey looks nice against the white backdrop of the snow. Popovych fights and fights. He is probably 20 seconds back

16:24 CET    175km/1km to go
Gesink is leading all the time. They pass the flamme rouge. Evans looks up and checks the road ahead.

16:25 CET   
This is the downhill part we mentioned earlier. The road is slightly wet here, but the duo makes it past just fine.

16:25 CET   
Gesink goes early!

16:25 CET   
It is uphill and the Dutchman tries hard.

16:26 CET   
But Evans has no problems making it past Gesink.

16:26 CET   
What a nice victory for the Aussie, that early in the season.

16:27 CET   
Nocentini gets third, unless we missed Popovych coming in. Rebellin is right behind

16:27 CET   
L'Hotellerie is less than two minutes back.

16:29 CET   
The yellow jersey Chavanel comes in with almost 4 minutes in arrears. Good bye jersey.

16:36 CET   
Well, we have a new leader in the overall. It is Robert Gesink, who got second behind Cadel Evans, who was looking flawless today. Evans won the stage easily, but couldn't help his team-mate get closer to the front in the overall. Davide Rebellin is second, 30 seconds behind. This should be a nice finale until Sunday. Finally racing is back on the headlines, rather than the ASO/UCI mess. Thanks for reading and please join Cyclingnews tomorrow for stage 5.

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