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64th Paris-Nice - ProTour

France, March 5-12, 2006

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Stage 4 - March 9: Saint-Etienne - Rasteau, 193 km

Commentary by Jeff Jones

Live report

Live coverage starts: 14:30 CET
Estimated finish: 16:30 PT

14:23 CET   
Well, we've de-iced the blimp and it's up and running again for our live coverage of the last four stages of Paris-Nice. We are heading towards sunnier territory, with the fourth stage taking the riders through the heart of Provence from St Etienne to Rasteau. It's a 193 km stage with four climbs: Col de la Republique (Cat. 1, km 12.5), Col du Deves (Cat. 3, km 125.5), Cote d’Aleyrac (Cat. 2, km 149 ), and Cote de Buisson (Cat. 3, km 184.5). There are also two intermediate sprints, at Chateaubourg (km 78.5) and Valreas (km 164.5). The stage should suit Tom Boonen and his Quick.Step team, despite the Cat. 3 climb with 9 km to go.

The race lead is with Floyd Landis (Phonak), who rode aggressively on the last climb and descent yesterday to move into yellow, aided by the Basque rider Francisco Javier "Patxi" Vila (Lampre-Fondital), who won the stage and sits 9 seconds behind Floyd on GC. These two riders will likely fight it out for the final victory in Nice on Sunday.

14:37 CET    100km/93km to go
The story at the moment: We have a two man breakaway consisting of Eric Leblacher (Française des Jeux) and Bas Giling (T-Mobile), who enjoy a 3'50 lead as the race passes the halfway point.

Leblacher was one of the early attackers, getting away with Christophe Laurent on the first climb of the Col de la Republique. Laurent crossed the summit first ahead of Leblacher, then mountains leader Nicolas Crosbie (Agritubel), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Joost Posthuma (Rabobank), Jerome Pineau (Bouygues Telecom) and Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d’Epargne). That gave Laurent the lead in the mountains classification.

All riders were swept up by the peloton after 22 km, and the attacks continued, with Arrieta (AG2r), Hayman (Rabobank), Failli (Liquigas), Augé (Cofidis) and Voeckler (Bouygues) getting away for a short time. 46 km were covered in the first hour.

After 65 km, Renaud Dion (AG2R) attacked, but his effort didn't last long as the race was stopped by protesters (striking practically is one of the French national pastimes). But the race restarted at km 70 and Dion was allowed to keep his 1'10 lead. He held on to win the first intermediate sprint at Chateaubourg ahead of Erik Dekker (Rabobank) and Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), but was caught a couple of km later.

After 82 km, Leblacher attacked again with Bas Giling (T-Mobile), and the pair was able to get clear, reaching a maximum lead (so far) of 4'15 by the 99.5 km mark.

14:44 CET    122km/71km to go
Phonak's Alexandre Moos is on the front of the peloton, keeping things under control for his team leader Floyd Landis. Meanwhile, Leblacher and Giling are making good their escape, with 5'20 over the peloton.

14:47 CET    125km/68km to go
The conditions are excellent at the moment, 18 degrees and cloudy. Most riders are in short sleeves as a result. The riders should be able to see Mont Ventoux in the distance soon, as they are approaching it from the "back" side. It's not an easy side to climb, but they won't be doing it in Paris-Nice. The road is usually closed at this time of year anyway.

14:49 CET   
Martin Elmiger has now taken over from his teammate Moos on the front of the bunch. Neither of the fugitives are a threat to Landis: Leblacher is the best placed on GC, lying in 87th at 17'32 down.

14:52 CET    127km/66km to go
The two leaders are on the Cat. 3 col du Deves, as the peloton makes its way alongside the TGV. Jalabert is on the front now, with Cretskens (Quick.Step) on his wheel, plus a couple of Lampres, who are also going to work today: for Vila and for Napolitano.

14:54 CET   
Leblacher takes the points at the summit ahead of Giling, as a couple of drops of rain fall. A small crowd at the top cheers them on.

14:58 CET    129km/64km to go
Virtual mountains leader Christophe Laurent (Agritubel) picks up the final point on the Col du Deves. The gap to the leaders is 4'43.

15:03 CET    132km/61km to go
A Bouygues rider - Stef Clement - goes on the counter attack on the descent. That's fairly enterprising, as the bunch has started to pick up speed. Oh well, you do what the bossman says.

The average speed after three hours is 42.8 km/h.

15:04 CET   
Clement is a rarity in Bouygues Telecom: he's a non-French rider. He's Dutch, in fact.

15:05 CET    133km/60km to go
The two Lampre riders on the front of the bunch don't seem to be too concerned by the Dutchman, who is dangling about 25 seconds ahead. He is 4'30 behind the two leaders.

15:08 CET   
Clement sits up as Bernard Hinault draws up alongside him in the director's car and tells him to ride. Nahhhhh.... The Dutchman has time to put on his arm-warmers as he waits for the bunch. He did have quite a gap, but there was no way he was going to catch the two leaders, Leblacher and Giling.

15:11 CET    138km/55km to go
It's now Phonak on the front with their three riders, then Cretskens for Quick.Step, followed by three or four Lampre-Fondital jerseys. The gap has started to fall again, and it's now 4'44.

15:14 CET    140km/53km to go
The pace is still a little bit relaxed in the peloton, as Koos Moerenhout rides in front of yellow jersey wearer Floyd Landis. The American will have no problems in defending his lead today.

15:16 CET   
Burghardt (T-Mobile) does an interesting stretch by putting the top of his right foot over his saddle. Thankfully, he doesn't do it in the middle of the bunch.

15:20 CET    143km/50km to go
The two leaders approach the foot of the Cote d’Aleyrac (Cat. 2), a 6.5 km climb. They still have 4'14, which is not nearly enough with three teams chasing. All eyes will be on Boonen for the stage win today, but perhaps Allan Davis or Danilo Napolitano can get around the World Champ.

15:21 CET    144km/49km to go
Leblacher attacks! Giling reacts very late, and puts himself in the red zone to try to close the gap to the Frenchman. He does, just.

15:22 CET    145km/48km to go
Giling doesn't budge from Leblacher's wheel. He did look a little weak before, and Leblacher's director probably spotted that. But it was a bad call.

Can Leblacher get any further forward on his saddle? Is that physically possible?

15:25 CET    147km/46km to go
Leblacher eases himself back on the saddle, as Giling moves up closer. Back in the peloton, it's Wilfried Cretskens (Quick.Step) on the front setting tempo. The gap is now 3'45, coming down slowly but surely.

15:29 CET    148km/45km to go
Leblacher has done all the work on this Cat. 2 climb, which is actually neither very long nor steep. He tried to drop Giling early on, but failed.

Lampre leads the peloton at a somewhat faster pace behind.

15:31 CET   
Leblacher takes the seven points on top of the Cote d’Aleyrac, ahead of Giling. That will continue to move him up in the mountains classification.

15:32 CET   
It's Loosli and Franzoi setting tempo, with Cretskens in third wheel. The pace is not savage, but there are riders hurting at the back.

15:35 CET    151km/42km to go
Agritubel teammates Laurent and Crosbie take the next two places over the top of the climb, some four minutes behind the two leaders, who are motoring on the descent.

15:38 CET    153km/40km to go
Franzoi and Cretskens lead the peloton on the descent. They'll probably start to turn the screws a bit more as they hit the final 40 km. It's a very manageable 3'40 to the two leaders.

15:44 CET    157km/36km to go
The gap is down to 3'10 now as the race hits the flats again. It's still very overcast as the riders head through the côtes du Rhône vineyards and sleepy Provence villages.

15:50 CET    163km/30km to go
Giling and Leblacher are almost in the last 30 km of this 193 km long stage, being pursued by a peloton hungry for a bunch sprint. But the cat. 3 climb near the finish might shake things up: Vinokourov attacked there a few years ago to win in Rasteau.

15:52 CET    164.5km/28.5km to go
It's all Lampre and Quick.Step working at the moment, with Phonak taking a second row seat. The bunch is sitting on 50-60 km/h, really moving.

The two leaders enter Valreas and Leblacher takes the sprint uncontested ahead of Giling.

15:55 CET    166.5km/26.5km to go
Moos and Voeckler have a chat near the back of the peloton. They don't have to do any more work today.

Lampre's men, Napolitano and Vila, are sitting just behind the combined train, while Landis and Merckx follow them. The bunch passes the sprint in Valreas at 2'50, with Schumacher beating Schleck for third and that final second.

15:57 CET    168km/25km to go
The speed should start to pick up now, as there is still a bit of work to do to catch the leaders.

Leblacher is probably happy that he still has Giling with him to help.

15:59 CET    169km/24km to go
There are eight Quick.Step and Lampre jerseys at the front of the bunch in a line, clicking up a sprocket and starting to really drive the pace. Landis sits behind the train, with a teammate and another three Lampres next to him. Tom Boonen is moving towards the front now.

16:00 CET   
The gap has come down to 2'10 and they still have over 20 km to go. It would take a miracle for the two leaders to hold on, and they'll probably get caught on or around the last climb. We shall see.

16:01 CET    171km/22km to go
Behind the Lampre/Quick.Step train, various teams and riders are manoeuvring into position. Boonen is now well placed with his lieutenant Hulsmans protecting him.

16:03 CET    173km/20km to go
Ventoux looms in the background, to the riders' left. But not many will be checking it out, as the pace is quite high in the bunch now. Cretskens does a strong turn, then drops back to second wheel. Tres handy guy to have on your team.

16:04 CET   
It's 1'40 now as the leaders pass 20 km to go, the skinny Leblacher doing another turn in front.

16:06 CET    175km/18km to go
Besides Quick.Step and Lampre, Liberty and Rabobank are fighting for position. An occasional CSC jersey shows itself, but the Danish team has been very quiet today. Landis is 20 riders back or so.

16:08 CET    176km/17km to go
the gap is coming down very quickly now, even though the leaders haven't really slowed down. It's 1'15 and dropping under the impetus of Quick.Step. Some Davitamon jerseys are also nearing the front, for Steegmans and maybe Steels.

Van de Walle and Vasseur do their work for Boonen. The peloton is lined across the road in the crosswind, but it's not strong enough to break things up yet.

16:09 CET   
You can bet that there will be some action on the last climb. Cofidis has taken over as they race through Visan, just 45 seconds behind the doomed breakaways. 35 seconds.

16:10 CET    178km/15km to go
The pair has been away since km 82, and will have almost spent 100 km out in front. But they'll be caught in a couple of kilometres. A good ride by the two, who earned their money today.

16:11 CET    179km/14km to go
Under 15 km to go, and the bunch is rapidly approaching the two breakaways, Eric Leblacher and Bas Giling. The Frenchman looks back and sees that it's just about over. But he doesn't sit up quite yet.

16:12 CET   
Lampre and Quick.Step are back on the front as Mont Ventoux looms large in front of the riders. An attack from a Cofidis rider: Thierry Marichal.

16:13 CET    180km/13km to go
No reaction from the bunch, and Marichal gets a gap. He'll catch the two leaders first, and he does with 13 km to go.

16:15 CET    181km/12km to go
The pair grab Marichal's wheel, as the bunch hovers 10 seconds behind. It's slightly downhill before they hit this Cat. 3 climb of the Cote de Buisson.

16:16 CET    182km/11km to go
Marichal does a strong turn with Leblacher and Giling sitting in his slipstream. The situation hasn't changed in front of the bunch - no panic.

16:17 CET    183km/10km to go
Marichal signals for the other two to come through, but that's a little optimistic at this end of the bike race. The climb starts, with the Cofidis rider leading. It's only 1.5 km at 5 percent, but it's enough for some action.

16:18 CET    183.5km/9.5km to go
Leblacher can do a turn but it's a big ask to keep this break live. Marichal comes through, with a grimacing Giling on his wheel. But the bunch is relentless.

Marichal explodes and Leblacher attacks, using his last energy to try to reach the summit for some more points.

16:19 CET   
Chavanel and a Liquigas rider counter over the top of Leblacher, who is finally caught by the peloton.

16:20 CET    185km/8km to go
The two are joined by Voeckler, who obviously hasn't done his job for the day. The Liquigas rider is Nibali, and he takes the points ahead of Chavanel and Voeckler. They hammer on the descent, with Nibali signaling for Chavanel to come through. They are chased by another four, then the bunch.

16:21 CET   
The four counter attackers are caught by the strung out peloton, which still has Lampre and Quick.Step in the driver's seat. Nibali rides away from Voeckler and Chavanel on the descent.

16:23 CET    187km/6km to go
The Italian keeps his gap, with Chavanel and Voeckler trying to close. The peloton is just 7 seconds behind though.

16:24 CET    188km/5km to go
The three are now back together again - that's their best chance. Davitamon and Quick.Step have now got competing trains in the peloton. This is probably not good for the three leaders.

16:25 CET    190.5km/2.5km to go
Voeckler, Chavanel and Nibali have three seconds with about three kilometres to go. The gap looks big at 60 km/h, but it's not enough, I don't think.

16:26 CET    191km/2km to go
There is a lot of looking around among the three leaders. That won't get you to the finish. Now Mattan does a big turn in the bunch, with Steegmans in third wheel. Boonen is sixth. The break is caught.

16:27 CET    192km/1km to go
Another Liquigas rider attacks, but Tosatto marks him. Davitamon still has control of the peloton with Steels and Steegmans. 1 km to go. Steegmans in front too early it looks like.

16:27 CET   
yep. Steels pulls off at 900m then Steegmans has to drop back behind Boonen, who is now in third behind two teammates. 500m to go.

16:29 CET    193km/0km to go
Boonen gets a good leadout, but it's challenged from behind by Schumacher, then Boonen loses it (clicked out of pedal? chain?), comes back and wins the stage!!! Davis second from Napolitano. Impressive sprint by the World Champ.

16:37 CET   
That's all folks, from stage 3. Boonen looked to have the rails run there, until Schumacher anticipated, then Boonen had a chain problem with 200m to go. An amazing recovery still won him the stage by a length. What an animal!

The GC doesn't change, with Floyd Landis still leading Patxi Vila by nine seconds, and Samuel Sanchez in third.

Join us again tomorrow for stage 5, between Avignon and Digne-les-Bains.


1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step                               4.40.29
2 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros
3 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner
4 Elia Rigotto (Ita) Team Milram               
5 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto       
6 Sebastian Siedler (Ger) Team Milram                           
7 Lilian Jegou (Fra) Française des Jeux                           
8 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) T-Mobile Team                            
9 Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom   
*3rd placed Danilo Napolitano was relegated for irregular sprinting

General classification after stage 4
1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems                19.26.57   
2 Patxi Xabier Vila Errandonea (Spa) Lampre-Fondital           0.09
3 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                       1.13
4 Antonio Colom (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears           1.23
5 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC                                     
6 José Azevedo (Por) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team        1.35
7 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner                         1.37
8 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                      
9 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Credit Agricole                      1.39
10 José Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team  1.40

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