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67th Paris-Nice - HIS

France, March 8-15, 2009

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Stage 4 - March 11: Vichy - Saint-Étienne, 173.5km

Complete live report

By Bjorn Haake

Hello and welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage from the 67th Paris-Nice. Today's stage is quite hilly, with no less than six category three climbs as the bunch makes its way from Vichy to Saint-Étienne over 173.5 kilometres.

14:04 CET   
We already had a busy start to the stage. The morning started out with the first cat. three climb (Côte de Cheval Rigon) after only 18 km. It was Aitor Hernandez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) who crossed the top in first, ahead of polka dot leader Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) and Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto).

The second climb (Col du Beau Louis), after 30 km was also dominated by Cofidis, with David Moncoutié in first and Samuel Dumoulin in third. In-between was Marcus Burghardt (Team Columbia - Highroad)

14:06 CET    90km/83.5km to go
Currently we have a break of seven up the road, about a minute and a half ahead of the peloton. Break members include Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream), Daniel Moreno (Caisse d'Epargne), Alexandr Kolobnev (Team Saxo Bank), Tony Martin (Team Columbia - Highroad), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne) and Xavier Florencio (Cervélo TestTeam).

14:08 CET   
Augé had some difficulties after the second climb and was off the back in a group of 15 riders. Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), who is in third overall, also was on the wrong end of the pack earlier in the race, but everything has come back together behind the front seven.

14:10 CET   
Bradley Wiggins didn't start today's race, as he travelled home for personal reasons. And Finnish champion Jussi Veikkanen abandoned after about 50 kilometres.

14:19 CET   
There are four more climbs for the riders today. At km 119 the Côte de Saint-Bonnet-les-Oules (2.8km at 4.4%); at km 125.5, the Côte de Saint-Héand (3.5km at 5.2%); at km 142.5, the Côte de la Croix Blanche (1.8 km at 4.9%); at km 167.0, the Côte de Rochetaillée (5.2 km at 4.3%)

The rapid succession of climbs and the proximity of the final peak to the finish make this is a race for a break and also for yet another change in the overall. Although Sylvain Chavanel will say "no" to that.

Chavanel with (cycling) man's best friend...
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

14:21 CET   
It was in fact in St. Etienne that Sylvain Chavanel took the yellow jersey last year. He kept it for a day and this year he hopes to keep it all the way to Nice. The decisive day will be Friday, but today already Chavanel will have to be attentive. On the plus side, he is on brilliant form.

14:26 CET   
Paris-Nice is also called the race to the sun, which implies it starts in the rain. With the exception of Monday, it lived up to reputation and yesterday was a horrible day in France. But we are further south and the sun is out today!

14:31 CET   
You will notice Nicolas Roche in the break. This Irishman has great potential. He came so agonizingly close to a stage win in the Vuelta a España last year, when he was beaten by Imanol Erviti. He told Cyclingnews at the time that he went too early, but that he didn't have much of an option, with the Spaniard being very strong. The surprise attack on the uphill finish didn't work.

Here is a look back to an interview with Roche by Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes.

14:33 CET   
Tony Martin is a young German talent, who holds the young rider's jersey the first two stages. But yesterday he lost 10 minutes and is now free to go in breaks. He rides for the Columbia team, having been recruited from the German Energie Thüringer Team at the beginning of the 2008 season.

Andrei Kivilev died in 2003
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

14:37 CET   
In the sprint in Saint-Galmier, ChristianVande Velde crossed the line ahead of Martin and Dumoulin. The second sprint at km 152 is in Saint-Chamond and also called souvenir Andrei Kivilev. Kivilev died in the 2003 Paris-Nice.

14:40 CET   
The break is riding over the third climb of the day. Sprinter Dumoulin goes ahead to take the four points, trying to protect the KOM jersey for his teammate Augé.

14:41 CET    120.5km/53km to go
Quick Step leads the peloton, less than two minutes behind the break. Kevin de Weert is at the front for now, setting the pace.

Current situation

  • Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream), Daniel Moreno (Caisse d'Epargne), Alexandr Kolobnev (Team Saxo Bank), Tony Martin (Team Columbia - Highroad), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne) and Xavier Florencio (Cervélo TestTeam)
  • Peloton at 1.35

14:43 CET   
The sun is not visible anymore, but it is still dry. It is overcast but fairly good conditions for a bike race - especially when compared to yesterday.

14:46 CET    122.5km/51km to go
Chavanel looks good in yellow, as he goes out of the saddle. His glasses have a white frame though. Speaking of the white jersey, that is also in the Quick Step team, on the shoulders of young Kevin Seeldraeyers, who did an enormous amount of work for Chavanel yesterday.

14:47 CET   
Remember that you can now discuss all kinds of topics on our forums.

14:49 CET   
The peloton rides on a small French country side farm road. Unlike some of the major roads it is not dead straight, but has actually a few turns. That makes for more interesting riding.

Dumoulin leads the break in Saint-Heand, 1:45 ahead. The gap has been pretty constant for a while.

14:52 CET   
Well, well, the sun is back out again, how nice. As Will Frischkorn put it before Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. "If I can see a shadow, I am happy."

The best placed rider in the break is Alexandr Kolobnev (Team Saxo Bank). He is 3:42 down (minus the 1:45 or so that the break is currently ahead). But the break will have no chance of survival with a gap like that.

14:52 CET   
500m to the summit for the break

14:53 CET   
Lampre goes to the front to help Quick Step out.

14:53 CET   
Dumoulin leads the break again on the hill, followed by Vande Velde.

14:54 CET   
But the American doesn't contest, so Dumoulin gets max points, ahead of Vande Velde and Nicolas Roche.

14:54 CET   
The Tirreno-Adriatico stage race started today in Cecina, Italy. We will keep you updated with results and a report. We can report that Vladimir Duma (Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce) and Julien El Farès (Cofidis) formed an escape which had up to 11 minutes at one point.

14:56 CET    126.5km/47km to go
The riders don't have vests or rain jackets today, but it is still not quite tropical. Vande Velde wears black arm warmers and black knee warmers.

Most of the peloton has decided to use the few sun rays and get maximum tan lines, though. No leg or knee warmers for them.

14:58 CET   
Chavanel sucks down a Powergel. Despite the moderate pace it is important to drink before you are thirsty and to eat before you are hungry. If you are either (hungry or thirsty) you are awfully close to the feared hunger knock.

15:00 CET   
The peloton has a nice view on the country side, with the rolling hills dominated by meadows and a few patches of forests. A nice area to ride your bike. The trees are producing some shadows, which should make the riders happy.

15:01 CET    128.5km/45km to go
Florencio is sitting on the back of the break, but the lead changes are rather short. The road is dry, although occasionally there are some wet patches.

15:03 CET   
Martin takes over at the front, chewing away on some food. The group changes in a counter-clockwise rotation, the turns not more than ten seconds. This way they can keep the pace up high.

But the peloton seems to get a bit closer, riding down at full speed and paying attention at an intersection with the mentioned wet patches. Lampre has disappeared form the front again.

15:06 CET   
There is a lot of farm land out here and great riding. For those who are wondering, we haven't spotted any cows yet.

But we spot an attack by - who else - Thomas Voeckler!

15:06 CET    133.5km/40km to go
In fact the entire Bouygues Telecom has gone to the front all of a sudden, trying to pull a Rabobank move.

15:07 CET   
Turgot is leading the bunch now. The acceleration has reduced the gap to 1:15.

15:09 CET   
That was a short-lived move by the French team. it is back to Quick Step.

Flecha is having a problem with his bike.

15:10 CET    136.5km/37km to go
Flecha's problem has slowed down the peloton, which went from a longer fast-looking line to a bunched-up slow rolling entity. Flecha has changed bikes and rides back to the tail-end of the bunch, using the draft of the team cars to his advantage.

15:12 CET   
The break takes a sweeping left turn and there are again a few wet patches on the road. They have to carefully negotiate the turns here.

The bunch passes a small village where a house is being built.

Flecha is still trying to get back, but the bunch has accelerated again.

15:13 CET   
Flecha has passed the course director's car and is on the tail-end.

Bouygues only slowed down to wait for Flecha, and now has stepped up the gas again. The bunch is strung out single-file.

15:15 CET   
The break has switched to a clock-wise rotation, but still with very short turns on the front. The gap is steady at 1:15, but with the flying peloton, this break will be caught soon.

15:15 CET   
An update on Gianni Da Ros (Liquigas), who was arrested this morning:

"I heard this morning that there was investigation involving Da Ros. We have suspended him immediately, waiting for more information form the prosecutors," said Roberto Amadio, team manager of Liquigas, to Rai.

The situation, fortunately, is related to a number of gyms instead of a group of cyclists or Liquigas.

15:17 CET   
The pace has caused the first casualties, and a group of riders had to let go. Bouygues is still driving the pace.

Bad news for Flecha. He is third overall, but since he just came back from the bike change, he looks likely to be caught by the main bunch, dropped from the rest. This would be the second time for him today in such a position.

15:18 CET    140.5km/33km to go
The gap is at one minute, one kilometer from the top of the Croix Blanche (white cross).

15:19 CET   
Oops, Roche's chain drops off as he changes gears. Neutral - that's not the gear he wanted. He uses his right hand to adjust things and get it all back together.

But he is dropped from the break for a moment.

15:20 CET   
Three riders accelerate from the peloton.

It's Dumoulin again, ahead of Vande Velde over the top of the climb.

15:22 CET   
The trio has a gap of about 150m.

Roelandts and Auge are in a group that is dropped from the bunch..

Kolobnev was third over the KOM

15:23 CET   
The break is flying down the (dry) descent. No leaves on the trees here yet, so the visibility is good. The road is also fairly straight, without tight turns

15:24 CET   
Le Mevel, Lequatre and Rolland is the trio that is now 30 seconds behind the leaders.

15:25 CET   
Pierre Rolland (BBox Bouygues Telecom), Geoffroy Lequatre (Agritubel) and Christophe Le Mevel (Française des Jeux) were the ones who accelerated and are flying down the mountain to make the catch as soon as possible. They have almost 30 seconds on the peloton now.

15:27 CET    148.5km/25km to go
The latest time check is 15 seconds between the trio and the bunch. The peloton is single-file.

The break passes the 25km to go sign. But they won't be arriving together like that.

The trio of French riders also takes short turns, to try stay away.

15:29 CET   
The gap is down to 25 seconds, but the peloton is still 45 seconds behind, which means the break gained an additional five seconds.

They are still descending. Once they hit the flats, the peloton will catch up.

Oops, Florencio takes a bad right turn and gets dragged out straight. He has to hit the brakes and accelerate again. That hurts.

15:30 CET   
The break hits the final sprint and Vande Velde goes through first, ahead of Dumoulin and Martin

15:31 CET    153.5km/20km to go
Another 15km to the top of the final climb, the Côte de Rochetaillée.

The trio is still 25 seconds behind, but the peloton is now at 55 seconds. For now they don't seem to think the move is dangerous.

15:33 CET   
Quick Step is still leading things on the front.

We haven't been able to spot Stéphane Augé yet to see if he made it back to the peloton. He doesn't look like he would get any points anyway.

15:33 CET   
The break rides over a railroad bridge. Vande Velde uses the little rise to test his legs and accelerates off the front. Nice move!

15:34 CET   
Vande Velde gets a good 50m quickly and Roche goes after him.

15:35 CET    155.5km/18km to go
Vande Velde's attack was very strong. Roche puts it in the big ring and tries to time trial back to the Garmin rider, but the gap is about 80m

15:36 CET   
The others seem dropped, but Roche may have to wait for help. The French trio is not far anymore.

Vande Velde looks very comfy, going out of the saddle on the little rises.

15:36 CET   
Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish want to get a win over the foreign teams in stage one of the Tirreno-Adriatico. They have their teams, Quick Step and Columbia, on the front chasing down the two-man escape. We will keep you updated.

"I train on these roads, I am not afraid," said Cavendish to Rai.

15:37 CET   
Chavanel is still near the front, with three or four teammates.

Vande Velde takes a right, goes out of the saddle to accelerate and checks over his right shoulder on the gap.

15:37 CET   
The gap is about 10 secs to Roche. Kolobnes is in third, with the break of the day officially having broke apart.

15:39 CET   
Some spectators sit on a stone wall and see Vande Velde go by. The American has his inside leg up and the knee slightly pointed outwards as he takes the right hander.

The trio behind inches in Dumoulin.

15:40 CET    158.5km/15km to go
Vande Velde passes the 15km to go sign. Will he be caught by the French trio of Rolland, Le Mevel and Lequatre behind? The three have already passed the rest of the former break now.

15:40 CET   
Kolobnev is the only one who was able to hang on to the three.

15:42 CET   
Vande Velde has 50 seconds on the four chasers!

15:43 CET    160.5km/13km to go
Actually, Roche is still behind Vande Velde as well. The four-man group is closing in on the Irishman

15:44 CET   
Vande Velde leans over his bike, grabbing the handle bar on top of the brake levers. He is going all out. Will he survive the final climb of the day?

15:45 CET   
Roche is on the outskirts of St. Etienne, gritting his teeth as he tries to get back to Vande Velde. But the latter has none of it, the gap is 55 seconds!

15:47 CET   
Roche has his white arm warmers rolled down to his wrist. The quartet is closing in.

Dumoulin soft pedals, not going much faster than a pedestrian, waiting for the peloton.

15:48 CET    163.5km/10km to go
Vande Velde, on the other hand, still looks strong, pushing this big gear like it was not going uphill. But it is, he has hit the final climb of the day.

He passes the 10km to go sign

15:49 CET   
Roche has been caught by the others and cannot respond to the attacks.

Le Mevel is the first to go, with Rolland and Lequarte following.

15:50 CET   
Some riders drop off the back of the bunch, Delage.

Vande Velde has a stream to his right, coming down from where the American is headed.

Kolobnev also has been unable to follow the pace.

15:50 CET   
Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Silence-Lotto) has attacked from the bunch. He is a good climber.

15:51 CET   
Roche has his smile back, even though he has been passed already by half the peloton. He still did a good race, but came up short in the end.

Chavanel still sits comfortably near the front.

15:51 CET   
Van Den Broeck has caught up with the trio!

15:52 CET    165.5km/8km to go
Contador goes!

15:52 CET   
The race starts in earnest. The Spaniard attacks and checks back over his right shoulder. Chavanel is near the front, but stays with Seelsdrayers.

15:53 CET   
Contador has his blue arm warmers rolled down. The gap quickly grows. A minute can be easily gained by the top.

15:53 CET   
Chavanel in difficulty! He drops back within the peloton

15:54 CET   
Two more kilometers to the top for Vande Velde.

Contador is out of the saddle and dances on his pedals.

15:55 CET   
Well, less to the top. Contador passes the one kilometer to go sign. He checks back again. He is definitely feeling the effort, but still gaining. Vande Velde must be close to the top.

15:56 CET    166.5km/7km to go
Chavanel has recovered a bit and tries to accelerate off the main group.

Evans is dropped.

Contador labours hard, as Vande Velde crosses the top.

15:57 CET   
It looks like Contador is smiling, but probably not... He crosses the top 19 secs behind Vande Velde. This will be close for the American.

Chavanel is actually in a second bigger group, but only some 50m behind the first big group, about 27 seconds behind Contador.

15:58 CET    168km/5.5km to go
All will depend on the descent now. It is a wide road that doesn't look too tricky, but it is slightly wet.

Chavanel takes over the lead work going down.

15:59 CET   
Haussler takes a turn, too from Chavanel.

Samuel Sanchez sits behind Chavanel - Sanchez was third over the top, so Chavanel has managed to get back to the very front of the group

16:00 CET    170.5km/3km to go
Vande Velde sees his shadow, as the sun finally comes out again. He goes all out down the hill. Maybe three more kilometers to go for him.

16:01 CET   
Contador has reached te bottom.

It wasn't Sanchez behind Chavanel. Sanchez is still ahead of Chavanel, together with Colom

16:01 CET   
Sanchez and Colom have two others with them and reach Contador.

Popovych is now sitting behind Chavanel

16:02 CET    172.5km/1km to go
Vande Velde reaches the flamme rouge. He should hold on!

16:03 CET   
Another group with Voigt, Spilak and Kroon catches up with the Sanchez-Contador group.

16:03 CET   
Sanchez has a flat. Oops.

16:03 CET   
And Vande Velde takes the victory! The group behind cannot catch the American!

16:04 CET   
He crosses the line with the hands in the air, after swinging his arms in a dedication to his daughter who was born last month

16:04 CET   
Chavanel should be keeping his jersey, but he will have lost a few seconds

16:10 CET   
Well, another great stage is over. It was a terrific win by Christian Vande Velde, who took it solo.

And Contador put Chavanel in trouble, but couldn't topple him.

A strong Garate managed to be in the group ahead of Chavanel, gaining enough time to be only six seconds behind Chavanel in GC now.

Join us again tomorrow for our live coverage from the fifth stage at 14:00 CEST.

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