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67th Paris-Nice - HIS

France, March 8-15, 2009

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Stage 5 - March 12: Annonay - Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, 204km

Complete live report

By Susan Westemeyer

13:29 CET   
Hello and welcome back to Paris-Nice. It's up into the mountains today, boys, with the stage featuring a grand total of seven climbs, including the first category one climb in the race. But all that climbing is fairly early on – will there be enough time for the sprinters to catch back up?

13:31 CET   
Here's where we stand right now: A trio got away early and is now going up the next to last climb of the day, the Col du Moulin-a-vent, with a lead of 6:20 on the peloton.

Jeremy Roy (FdJeux), Tony Martin (Columbia) and Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) broke away at km 13. Aitor Hernandez of Euskaltel tried to join them, but was unable to catch up and was caught by the peloton again at km26, when the leaders had a gap of 3:30.

13:35 CET   
The riders had an early wake-up call this morning, with the start set for 10:49. Well, when you are facing all those climbs and 204 km, you have to get an early start. Two riders decided to sleep in and not take to their bikes this morning: Enrico Franzoi (Liquigas) and the race's oldest rider, Inigo Cuesta (Cervelo), who is 39 years old. Steven Cozza of Team Garmin became the third member of the US-based team to give up the race when he dropped out on the first climb.

13:37 CET   
The start this morning was in Annonay, the race's first visit there since 1952. That is the prinicpal town in the Ardeche Department, with a lot of heavy industry. From there the peloton today has headed to the south, still searching for the sun and good weather.

Meanwhile, our three leaders have started up the final climb of the day, the Cat. 1 Col de Benas.

13:40 CET   
The first climb today came early, at km 16, the Col de Juvenet. This Cat. 2 climb was 7.3km with a gradient up to 4.2%. The points went to Tony Martin (Columbia), Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Jeremy Roy (FdJ), Aitor Hernandez (Euskaltel) and Stephane Auge (Cofidis).

It's not just mountains today, there are also two intermediate sprints. The first one was at km. 44.5 in Lamastre, and it was won by Voeckler ahead of Martin and Roy. Their lead on the field was 4:20 at that time.

13:44 CET   
Col de Montreynaud was the second climb, also Cat. 2, at km 52.5, with a gradient up to 5% on its 7.4 km. The riders went over in this order: Martin ahead of Voeckler and Roy. The peloton was 5:15 back, with Auge and Hernandez picking up the remaining points.

At km 60.5 came the next bump in the road, the Cat. 3 Côte de Vernoux-en-Vivarais, a mere one-kilometer climb with a gradient no more than 4.6 %. Martin flew over this "mountain" first, followed by Voeckler and Roy. That is enough points to give Martin the virtual "King of the Mountain" jersey.

13:47 CET   
The Col de Comberon came at km 68, with the Cat. 3 climb having the interesting statistics of a 4.4km climb up to 4.4%. And no, rider number 44, Jerome Pineau of Quick Step, didn't take the points. They went instead – you'll never guess – to Martin ahead of Voeckler and Roy. The peloton at this point was 5:45 back.

Contuining along the saw-tooth-like route today, the peloton came next to the Cat. 2 Côte de Chambon de Bavas at km 86, a 4.9km climb up to 5.1 %. Surprise, surprise, the points here were taken by Martin ahead of Voeckler and Roy.

14:03 CET   
Well, we have had a few technical problems here that have stopped us from reporting on the action as it happens. Sorry about that but thanks to our wonderful technical people for getting us back up and going.

The trio of leaders are making their way up the last climb of the day, the Cat. 1 Col de Benas, and behind them, Astana and Quick Step are leading the chase.

14:03 CET    118.2km/85.8km to go
And here's the next to leave the race: Brian Vandborg of Liquigas.

14:05 CET   
Tony Martin has taken over the King of the Mountains jersey by being the first over the Cat. 1 climb!

Tony Martin, mountain climber! Not a title one usually associates with the young German, who is actually a time trial specialist. In his first professional year of 2008, the now 23-year-old won the Hel van het Mergelland and time trials in the Ster Elektotoer, Tour de l'Ain and the Deutschland Tour.

14:09 CET   
Alberto Contador of Team Astana said that his attack on the final climb yesterday was not planned. "It was purely improvised, but I saw the right moment to try something. Mostly I wanted to see how the others would react."

14:12 CET   
Jeremy Roy is a 25-year-old Frenchman riding for Francaise des Jeux, a team he joined as a stagiare in 2003. He is still looking for his first win, but last year finished fifth overall in the Route du Sud and second in the Tour de France's 19th stage from Roanne to Monlucon.

14:16 CET   
Thomas Voeckler, 29, is the oldest and most experienced rider in this escape group. He burst into the public spotlight when he wore the yellow jersey for 10 stages in the 2004 Tour de France. Two years ago, he won the mountain ranking in Paris-Nice. The Frenchman is off to a good start this year, having won the overall titles in both the Etoile de Besseges and the Tour du Haut Var.

14:18 CET    127km/77km to go
And another one bites the dust. Philippe Gilbert of Silence-Lotto is the next to call it quits and leave the race. That will be a blow to the Belgian team, which is off to its worst start in years – it still doesn't have one single win this season.

14:23 CET   
If you want to be a troublemaker, go to the Quick Step bus and call out "Kevin!" You're going to get a big response. Three of the eight Quick Step riders at this race are named Kevin: Keven De Weert, Kevin Seeldrayers and Kevin Van Impe.

14:26 CET   
Just for the record, this is how they came over the Cat. 1 Col de Benas, with the first rider getting 10 points and the seventh rider one point: Tony Martin (Columbia), Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Jeremy Roy (FdJ), Stephane Auge (Cofidis), Marcus Burghardt (Columbia), Aitor Hernandez (Euskaltel) and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis).

14:29 CET   
Have we said, by the way, that the sun is shining today? Hard to believe!

14:33 CET    145km/59km to go
Contador may not be wearing the yellow jersey any longer, but he does have yellow-framed sunglasses. He looks to be in a good mood today, laughing with his teammates.

14:36 CET   
The peloton is going through a town, while the escapees way ahead of them are winding their way on a narrow road along a hill. We call it a hill because there are no more ranked climbs today.

14:39 CET    148.2km/55.8km to go
Martin Velits of Team Milram is now at the head of the peloton. Hope this means the team is doing better than earlier in the week.

Team Milram was not happy with its performance in Tuesday's third stage. Assistant DS Raoul Liebregts said, "That was not a good showing for us. We were very disappointed with our performance." He planned to sit down and have a little talk with the team.

14:43 CET   
Martin's escape today came as a moderate surprise to his team. DS Brian Holm said he was surprised because Martin was very tired after being in yesterday's escape, "but he's very strong and today he was really impressive. He's not Richard Virenque but he can climb pretty well. He won a couple of mountain jerseys in the amateur ranks."

14:46 CET   
As we said, there are no more ranked climbs today, but that doesn't mean it is flat. Far from it! It is an almost constant up and down, and much of it seems to be over fairly roughly paved roads.

14:48 CET    155km/49km to go
Cervelo and Lampre have moved up to help Milram do the lead work. It looks like they are all figuring on a mass sprint finish. It seems to be working, as the lead is sliding down to the six minute mark.

14:52 CET    158km/46km to go
Voeckler takes the pause that refreshes, having a Coca-Cola.

14:54 CET   
There will be a downhill finish today in Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, but only a mild one. The town has numerous attractions, such as the Gorges de l'Ardèche (Ardèche Canyon) National Park, which include the Pont d'Arc, a natural arch more than 60 metres high. If that's not enough, you can also stop by the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave, which features 32,000-year-old cave art.

14:56 CET    159.4km/44.6km to go
The big field comes around a sharp corner. It looks like the whole group is together, except, of course, for the three up front.

14:56 CET   
Tirreno-Adriatico update: Two riders went clear after 20km in stage two: Polish champion Marcin Sapa (Lampre-NGC) and Ermanno Capelli (Fuji-Servetto). They have five minutes over the peloton.

There was a a crash moments ago, at km 122. Worst off was Janez Brajkovic (Astana), who had to abandon the race. Thomas Lövkvist (Columbia-Highroad) was also involved.

14:58 CET    162.1km/41.9km to go
Now that we have said that the peloton is together, the first start falling off the back. A group of about 20, including Columbia's Marcus Burghardt, is trailing the field.

15:00 CET   
What do you think of today's stage? You can discuss in our new forum. Check it out!

15:02 CET   
The final sprint of the day came in Ste. Remeze at km 162.5. Roy won it, ahead of Voeckler and Martin.

15:03 CET    166km/38km to go
The trio still has a lead of 5:05 on the chasing peloton. Is that enough? Will they come through, or be caught at the last minute?

15:05 CET   
Now the peloton weaves its way through a series of tight turns on a narrow road in a village. But these guys are pros, they don't have any problem with that.

15:07 CET   
Quick Step currently holds two jerseys, the yellow for the overall leader (Sylvain Chavanel) and the white for best young rider (Kevin Seeldrayers). The team is happy enough to defend the yellow, but doesn't think they can keep it to the end. The team is looking more to hold on to the white jersey, saying Seeldrayers has good chances on the mountain stages.

15:08 CET    170.2km/33.8km to go
The three musketeers in the lead take a descent, as their lead has now shrunk to 4:55.

15:10 CET    172.5km/31.5km to go
Voeckler has pulled ahead of his companions, but they catch him again almost immediately.

15:12 CET    173.7km/30.3km to go
Quick Step has moved to the head of the field. They are all approaching the closing 25km circuit.

15:13 CET    175km/29km to go
The peloton now rides by the National Park, with its beautiful gorge. But since the riders have a nasty drop on the left side, we hope they will keep their eyes on the road instead of appreciating the natural beauty. The gap is now 4:50.

15:15 CET   
Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) was able to to hold on to the leader's jersey despite finishing in the second chase group yesterday. "I won't give up, but I shouldn't daydream," he said. "Above all, I'd like to win another stage."

We don't think he will achieve that goal today, though.

15:16 CET    177km/27km to go
Quick Step continues to lead the field and push the pace. But do they really think they can pick up the nearly five minutes with only 27km to go?

15:19 CET    178.3km/25.7km to go
Martin leads the break group over the finish line for the first time, and they now head off on the closing circuit course.

15:21 CET    181km/23km to go
The peloton flies through the gorge, with its large natural arch and many caves – what a beautiful area! Meanwhile the three leader pass a group of children waving yellow balloons.

15:21 CET   
Tirreno-Adriatico update: At the entrance of Marina di Carrara, 32 kilometres to race, the escape duo of Marcin Sapa (Lampre-NGC) and Ermanno Capelli (Fuji-Servetto) have around 3:30 in hand over the peloton led by Liquigas and Saxo Bank.

15:22 CET   
Lampre is now at the head of the field, pushng away, with the gap still at 4:30 – so why is the chase on?

15:23 CET   
Yesterday's winner Christian Vande Velde was in good spirits this morning when he saw the sun was out. He told Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake that he felt pretty good physically, despite the day's efforts and his injuries from the crash in the opening time trial on Sunday. "It still hurts, but the medical staff has done a brilliant job to put me back together."

15:25 CET    184km/20km to go
20 km to go and a gap of 4:24.

15:27 CET   
Which of the three will take the win today? Voeckler has good chances, but perhaps Martin will not wait for a sprint and put his time trial abilities to work and take off early. On the other hand, he must be tired from being in his second break in a row, and picking up all those KOM points. He has the polka-dot jersey assured, so he will have his reward today at any rate.

15:29 CET   
Tirreno-Adriatico update: Janez Brajkovic (Astana) had a "simple" head trauma, but doctors report everything is okay for the Slovenian rider.

15:31 CET   
And the last shall be first – or whatever that saying is. Roy looks to finish no worse than third today. And where did he finish yesterday? Absolute last. 150th, and more than 11 minutes behind winner Christian Vande Velde. "I decided to save strength for tomorrow," he said on his website.

We hear that Heinrich Haussler of Cervelo has had a mechanical, that could be a bad time for him, making it difficult to catch back up.

15:33 CET   
Cervelo is looking out for its young German-Australian, they are bringing Haussler back up through the mass of team cars.

15:35 CET    190km/14km to go
The leading trio goes over the last hill of the day, and Voeckler takes advantage of it to jump away. Back in the field, there is a large crash with a dozen or so riders involved. Looks like everyone is getting back up, though, thank goodness.

15:37 CET    192km/12km to go
Martin and Roy weren't going to fall for that trick! The three are together again, still with a lead of just over three minutes.

15:38 CET    193km/11km to go
Martin takes off! The others follow. and nothing has changed.

15:40 CET   
Tirreno-Adriatico update: A rider slips on the marble dust and causes a crash. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Julien El Farès (Cofidis) are both involved. Ermanno Capelli (Fuji-Servetto) leads the race with less than one minute over the LPR-led peloton.

15:44 CET    195.8km/8.2km to go
The gap is now under three minutes, but there are only eight kilometeres to go. And Martin takes off again! The others give chase, but Roy is having light problems keeping up.

15:45 CET    197.3km/6.7km to go
Roy is the next to give it a go, and he gets away. Voeckler and Martin don't give chase, but are content to stay seated and eye each other. Meanhile, Roy is pulling away.

15:47 CET   
Roy builds up his lead, as behind him, Voeckler is content to let Martin do all the leadwork. But now he moves in front of the German.

15:49 CET   
Roy's lead is eight seconds over his former flight companions. who are now giving chase and sharing the work. It works, they are getting closer and closer.

15:49 CET   
Tirreno-Adriatico update: Liquigas' Vincenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso lead the chase of Ermanno Capelli (Fuji-Servetto) on the day's final climb, under the white marble mountains of Tuscany. The escapee has 20 seconds.

15:49 CET   
The peloton is 2:46 back and the two chasers will put an end to Roy's hopes any second now.

15:51 CET    203km/1km to go
Roy continues to hold on to a narrow lead as he heads into the last kilometer.

15:52 CET   
Martin and Voeckler are still betting on their chances at the last second – or will Roy take his very first pro win?

15:53 CET   
Roy takes it, seconds ahead of Voeckler and Martin!

15:53 CET   
Voeckler was given the same time as Roy, with Martin coming in three seconds later. But he has a polka-dot jersey waiting for him, so he can't be too sad.

15:54 CET   
The peloton is now in the last kilometer, and racing as if it still matters...

15:56 CET   
The group crosses the finsh line, 2:32 down. Heinrich Haussler leads the way.

15:58 CET   
No change in the overall lead, Chavanel holds on to the yellow jersey for another day.

15:59 CET   
Another exciting stage today, with another successful break! What will tomorrow bring? Join us again then to find out!

16:04 CET   
Tirreno-Adriatico update: Liquigas leads for the sprint, but without Cavendish and Boonen in the group.

16:08 CET   
Tirreno-Adriatico update: Alessandro Petacchi (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini) outsprints Daniele Bennati (Liquigas). Koldo Fernández (Euskaltel-Euskadi) finishes third.

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