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67th Paris-Nice - HIS

France, March 8-15, 2009

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Stage 1 - March 8: Amilly - Amilly (ITT), 9.3km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Bjorn Haake

Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage, today from the first stage of Paris-Nice. It is a short 9.3-kilometre prologue that kicks off the the 67th edition of the race in Amilly. Pancake flat would describe the course well, with the racers finishing only seven metres higher than they started. But the highest point is actually 17 metres above the lowest - it also marks the intermediate time check at kilometre 5.3.

14:03 CET   
Theo Eltink kicked off the race at 13:10 local time. Eltink rides for the Skil-Shimano team, after several years with Rabobank. He is a typical domestique, with not much results to show but always working hard for the team. He will have good memories of France, as he won the third stage in the Tour des Pyrénées in Lourdes in 2004. He turned pro in 2005. He set a first time of reference with 12:28, for an average speed of 44.759 km/h.

Sylvain Chavanel is the French TT champ
Photo ©: Riccardo Scanferla
(Click for larger image)

14:05 CET   
Today's time limit is 25 percent. So based on Eltink's time it would be 3:07, hence any rider slower than 15:35 would be eliminated. However this limit drop a tad with the faster riders later. As of right now, the fastest time is in fact 11:24, held by Sylvain Chavanel. This cuts the margin of error down to 2:51.

14:08 CET   
Amilly is about an hour south of Paris (redefining the race's name...) and located near an extensive state forest. The riders will stay in the urban area, though. They ride almost a (counterclockwise) circle to finish less than one kilometre from the start.

14:14 CET   
Maciej Bodnar (Liquigas) has come through the finish. He is 12 seconds off Chavanel's time, who continues in the pole position.

14:18 CET   
Guess we haven't talked about the weather yet. It is pouring! Very difficult conditions for the riders in the beautiful area of Amilly. On the other hand it is perfect preparation for the Springs Classics.

At the moment Romain Feillu (Agritubel) is pedaling along at high speeds, under the watchful eye of a couple of spectators every few hundred metres - all of them equipped with an umbrella.

14:19 CET   
Danny Pate comes through with an 11:52 and an 18th place for now. The rain drops drip off his helmet and chin as he pedals through.

14:23 CET   
Marcus Burghardt is off. The German has shown good form in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, where he finished fifth. He told Cyclingnews before the Belgian opening Classic that his knee was holding up. We hope that will still be true after today's race in the rain.

The parcours is generally pretty straight, but part of the route is a little bit in the country side, where the roads can be dirty and slick under the wet conditions. Feillu just now carefully negotiates a couple of sweeping turns, but he doesn't have to get out of his aero position.

14:25 CET   
Jeremy Hunt (Cervélo TestTeam) finishes one second slower than Pate - 11:53. 21st for now, but Hunt will be looking for some of the sprints later on. His Cervélo has been extraordinarily strong this season. Place 2-5 in the Tour of Qatar GC and Thor Hushovd won the opening Spring Classic (Omloop).

14:26 CET   
The folks on USA's West Coast are probably just getting ready for their Sunday morning rides. Now, if you just realise that, darn, the clock was changed to DST overnight and your ride has long left - just stick around here until the end of the race. There is always the afternoon left to ride, or a shorter (as in faster) ride before lunch.

14:27 CET   
Evgeni Petrov (Team Katusha) gets into the podium range for now, with a time of 11:29

14:29 CET   
Feillu is in, way past the 12-minute mark, but at least without a crash. Yaroslav Popovych (Astana) is on the course, looking fast. He passes the 8km to go sign, still a few wet kilometres ahead of him.

Yaroslav Popovych now rides for the Astana team
Photo ©: Erik Van Breugel
(Click for larger image)

14:31 CET   
Popo sits on the edge of the saddle, trying to all the power out of his legs. He takes a sharp right without problems.

14:31 CET   
Xavier Florencio (Cervélo TestTeam) prays before his start. Now he goes off, taking the first left turn cautiously on the wet roads.

14:34 CET   
Kevin Van Impe (Quick Step) has gone through the check seven seconds slower than Chavanel.

14:35 CET   
Popovych takes a sharp left and goes out of the saddle to get back up to speed.

In the mean time Gert Steegmans (Team Katusha) heads off.

14:36 CET   
Popovych is on the finishing straight, his body weaving left and right as he tries to beat Chavanel's time. It is getting close, can he make it?

14:38 CET   
Nope, he clocks 11:37. Steegmans wears no cycling loves, choosing to let the get to his hands. He takes a right turn - not a bad one but with a ped crossing right in front of it. Those can get really treacherous in the rain and you better steer not when you are on them.

Steegmans does everything right and accelerates again after the turn.

14:41 CET   
Most of the route is on a two-lane country road and it is fairly straight. But there are a few sharp turns that make it a bit dangerous with the rain. So far, though, no rider has crashed as far as we know. And Chavanel proved that one can go fast on the course - his average speed is 48.947 km/h.

14:42 CET   
Xavier Florencio (Cervélo TestTeam) passes the flamme rouge, the small red triangle that indicates the last kilometre. He is back in the town, which isn't exactly dense.

14:43 CET   
Florencio gets in just under 12 minutes. Alexandr Kolobnev (Team Saxo Bank) has started his ride in the wet.

14:47 CET   
The riders head out in one-minute intervals. Irish hope Daniel Martin (Garmin - Slipstream) will start in about twenty minutes. His compatriot Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) goes off at 15:29 (45min from now), three minutes after Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream). Alberto Contador leaves at 15:44. David Millar at 15:46 and Cadel Evans at 15:48. The last rider to leave is Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), at 15:49.

14:48 CET   
Yury Trofimov (BBox Bouygues Telecom) hits the finish line, but with 12:03 he is way back.

14:49 CET   
Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream) is underway. Now here is someone who can endanger Chavanel's time. It has stopped raining, but the roads are still wet and slick.

14:51 CET   
A Belgian flag on a camper indicates that there is a bit of wind. Amaël Moinard (Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne) hits the finish. Also in the 12-minute range, but this young Frenchman will surely be in the news this year. He had a great Tour de France.

14:51 CET   
Wiggins looks really fast as he powers over the French roads. It is all straight for him right now

14:53 CET   
Canadian Michael Barry (Team Columbia - Highroad) gets to the finish - almost 12 minutes as well.

Wiggins has now one of the few turns - he slows down, gingerly steers his bike around the right-hand bend ad gets back up to speed.

Kolobnev is another 12-minute man.

Bradley Wiggins is a very fast man in the race against the clock - the shorter the better for him
Photo ©: Nick Rosenthal
(Click for larger image)

14:54 CET   
Wiggins has best new intermediate time!!! 6:05

14:56 CET   
Haimar Zubeldia (Astana) is home, 11:44. It is his first year with the Kazakh team.

14:57 CET   
Wiggins out of the saddle again. His intermediate time was five seconds faster than Chavanel's, so it's a tight race.

14:57 CET   
Wiggins hit the final metres, can he do it?

14:58 CET   
YES, Wiggins goes through in 11:24, 12 seconds faster than Chava - what a ride by the Garmin rider.

15:00 CET   
Rémi Pauriol (Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne) has chosen full finger gloves, unlike Steegmans. But then again Steegmans is from Belgium - or is it his new Russian team that has taught him about cold temperatures?

15:01 CET   
If you want to catch up on the latest Paris-Nice pre-race chatter, check out our News.

15:03 CET   
Karsten Kroon is on his way - he recently finished fourth in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. He had attacked in the end, telling Cyclingnews that "with all the sprinters there, I had to try something. Later I tried to surprise them with momentum - I had the speed, but the finish line came too early," he said with a smile.

15:04 CET   
Niki Terpstra (Team Milram) does well - fourth. His time is 11:35 and we will surely see him in an attack or two in the upcoming week.

15:06 CET   
Calzati passes the flamme rouge and also rides past a few spectators – none of them equipped with an umbrella anymore!

15:07 CET   
Wiggins' average speed is almost 50 km/h - quite amazing given the wet roads and the need to slow down quite a bit in front of the turns.

Juan Antonio Flecha is off.

15:08 CET   
Kroon has something in-between a long-sleeve and short sleeve jersey, leaving his underarm exposed. Otherwise, rider opted for long sleeves today.

Rémi Pauriol (Cofidis) is third for now
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
(Click for larger image)

15:10 CET   
Pauriol is producing a great ride – 11:27. That puts him in third for now, but of course the big and fast guns are still to come.

15:12 CET   
The Italian time trial champion rides in with an 11:35 - that gives Marco Pinotti (Team Columbia - Highroad) fifth spot for now.

15:13 CET   
Pauriol had a great start to the season, he won the opening GP d'Ouverture La Marseillaise on February 1.

15:14 CET   
Christophe Moreau (Agritubel) is on the start ramp, waiting for his countdown.

15:16 CET   
Vladimir Karpets (Team Katusha) goes off in pursuit of Moreau. The TV motorbike goes alongside him - the duo is quite fast.

15:18 CET   
There aren't too many folks watching on the open roads, but on the turns a few more people have gathered.

Flecha passes the flamme rouge.

15:19 CET   
Daniel Martin (Garmin - Slipstream) comes in and he is also one of the (almost) 12-minute men.

Now Flecha grits his teeth as he enters the finishing straight. But a TT is not his kind of race. He is a few seconds faster than Martin.

15:21 CET   
Vladimir Karpets (Team Katusha) has to go through a few puddles on his way.

Maxime Monfort starts - another rider where we need to get used to a new jersey. The former Cofidis rider now races for Team Columbia - Highroad.

15:21 CET   
Fränk Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) is off. He will be expected to be on top of his form later in the year.

15:26 CET   
Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam) gets in – seventh for now with his 11:36. Haussler has had a great start to the season. He already won a couple of stages in the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal and came agonizingly close to win the Omloop on March 1. He and Sebastian Langeveld were in a break and were swept up in the final metres. How close was it? Haussler told Cyclingnews how close. "I didn't sprint and I still finished eighth." At least his teammate (Thor Hushovd) won.

15:27 CET   
Moreau has an 11:46, Karpets does better - 11:27! A great time for the Russian.

15:29 CET   
Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto) is underway. Gilbert tried a few attacks in the Omloop, but he didn't get away like during his solo win in 2008.

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) crashed badly in 2008 but is now back on the bike
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

15:33 CET   
Oscar Pereiro pedals through the rain. He will be taking it very cautiously, still haunted by his terrible crash in the Tour de France last year. He went down several metres and it was a miracle he didn't receive even more injuries.

Monfort and Schleck produce decent rides, around the 11:40 mark.

15:36 CET   
Pereiro joins the "around 12-minute men" group with his 11:52.

Thomas Voeckler goes off. There are more people at the start and they cheer loudly for the Frenchman.

15:37 CET   
Gilbert doesn't sit steady on his machine, you can see the difference to a real time trial specialist. He passes the two km to go sign.

15:39 CET   
David Moncoutié (Cofidis) is next. He is not expected to do well, but he will try to lose not too much time in what could be his last season. He wants to do well in the Tour, but Paris-Nice may be another place for him to get a decent GC finish and/or do well in the mountains.

Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream) doesn't agree with the weather, looks like. He clocks in at 12:20.

15:41 CET   
Gilbert gets home in 11:56, despite fighting hard in the last few hundred metres. But he will be looking to get a good week of training in for the Spring Classics

Moncoutié looks good in the early part of the race, while Jens Voigt (Team Saxo Bank) is off. Don't expect him to give 99 percent, he doesn't know what it means to not go all out.

15:43 CET   
Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) pedals through the rain - he should be used to that from his native Czech Republic.

15:44 CET   
Spanish champion Luis-Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) pedals on the course. Unfortunately for him it had started raining again.

Alberto Contador (Astana) is off!

15:45 CET   
Markus Fothen comes in, a little faster than his younger brother Thomas. Neither is threatening the leaders, though - they are more in the "12-minute men" range.

15:47 CET   
David Millar blows out a few times, then heads off. Will he go past his teammate Wiggins?

One rider who couldn't is Antonio Colom (Team Katusha), but his 11:24 is a very respectable time.

15:47 CET   
Joost Posthuma (Rabobank) is off, only Evans and Nocentini back in the start house now.

15:48 CET   
Evans wears clear glasses with a red frame. Several water drops are on his lenses, we hope he won't lose his visibility. Off he goes!

15:49 CET   
Nocentini heads out, so all riders of the 2009 Paris -Nice have started. Ten more minutes and we will know who will receive the first yellow jersey.

15:51 CET   
Contador does one of his first rides with his new time trial machine. On the right hand turn he has to be a bit careful, as the roads are slippery.

Martin comes close to the finish with a great time!!!

15:52 CET   
Kreuziger is around 11:3, but Tony Martin has a great prologue. He finishes in 11:17! That is second spot for now for the paying German of Columbia-Highroad.

15:54 CET   
Voigt gives it of course all the 100% we predicted over the last few hundred metres. He clocks in at 11:32 and is in ninth for now. However, this will be a long shot for a top 10, with Evans and Contador still out there. The latter passes the flamme rouge.

15:54 CET   
Sanchez is very strong! 11:14, so he passes Tony Martin for second place. But Wiggins holds his ground.

15:55 CET   
But what's that, Contador is under 11 minutes when he comes around the final bend!

15:56 CET   
Contador gets it, he has an 11:05, so is seven seconds faster than Wiggins. Quite an incredible ride by the Spaniard.

15:57 CET   
Millar has to slow down for a right-left combination. It is raining harder again, but he makes it around in one piece.

15:58 CET   
Millar has a good time, but his 11:19 puts him in fifth, outside the podium places.

15:59 CET   
Posthuma is not bad either, sixth place for him, just above the 11:20 mark. Only Nocentini and Evans left and Nocentini is unlikely to challenge the top riders.

Nocentini passes the flamme rouge

16:00 CET   
Evans comes in but the prologue is a little short for him. He scores an 11:34, which isn't bad, but doesn't put him up with the top guys today.

16:01 CET   
Nocentini rides in, one of the few riders opting for short sleeves. He has a time of 11:36.

16:10 CET   
So Contador is already in brilliant form early in the season. He really likes this race, which he won in 2007.

Contador receives a medal, his kisses and of course flowers. The Spaniard is all smiles on this rainy day in France. But hey, it is called the race to the sun, so things can only get better.

16:12 CET   
Contador also received the green points jersey. He will have to work on his flower throw, though. The bouquet sort of disintegrated on its way to the spectators.

This will be an interesting week, so we hope you can join us again tomorrow at 14:00 CEST.

Provisional results

1 Alberto Contador (Astana)                       11.05
2 Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream)            0.07
3 Luis-Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne)             0.09
4 Tony Martin (Team Columbia - Highroad)           0.11
5 David Millar (Garmin - Slipstream)               0.14
6 Joost Posthuma (Rabobank)                        0.18
7 Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step)                    0.19
8 Antonio Colom (Team Katusha)
9 Vladimir Karpets (Team Katusha)                  0.21
10 Rémi Pauriol (Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne)      0.22

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