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64th Paris-Nice - ProTour

France, March 5-12, 2006

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Stage 7 - March 12: Nice - Nice, 135 km

Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Hedwig Kröner

Live report

Live coverage starts: 13:30 CET
Estimated finish: 15:30 CET

13:19 CET   
Welcome to the final stage of the 64th Paris-Nice, the short but hard race through the hinterland of Nice. Today's stage is only 135 km, but it's the most mountainous of the whole race, with one Cat. 2 and three Cat. 1 climbs: Cote de Duranus, (Cat.2, km 25.5), Col de la Porte, (Cat.1, km 52), La Turbie (Cat.1, km 89.5), and Col d’Eze (Cat.1, km 119). Then it's a descent back into Nice for the finish. The sprints are located at Levens (km 15.5) and Nice (km 107).

Floyd Landis (Phonak) is still the GC leader, with 9 seconds advantage over Patxi Xabier Vila Errandonea (Lampre-Fondital) and 1'13 over Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). There are seven others within 1'43 on GC, so it's a tight race.

13:42 CET    82km/53km to go
The story so far: Last year's winner Bobby Julich (CSC) didn't start in Nice, even though it's his "home town". On the other hand, Alexandre Vinokourov (2002 and 2003 P-N winner) was present, and even rode with his Liberty teammates in the bunch during the neutral section.

120 riders took the start at 11:26 on the Promenade des Anglais, and it took just 2 km before Francisco Ventoso (Saunier) attacked. He was countered by Voeckler, who was caught after 5 km, then the surprise: points jersey wearer Tom Boonen abandoned after just 6 km (makes you wonder why he bothered starting). He was followed by Nico Mattan (Davitamon) and Jimmy Engoulvent (CA).

The first intermediate sprint was won by Dekker, that three seconds moving him two virtual places up GC. Second place went to Jerome Pineau (Bouygues) and third to Frank Schleck (CSC). The latter is now in a virtual fourth place on GC.

On the Cote de Duranus, Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile), Matej Mugerli (Liquigas), Lilian Jégou (Francaise des Jeux) and Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) attacked, and were chased by David Moncoutié (Cofidis), along with Xavier Florencio, Mario Aerts, Alvaras Baranauskas, Aitor Osa and Dmitry Fofonov. At the top of the climb, Mugerli was first ahead of Burghardt, Arrieta, Ventoso, and Jégou. The Moncoutié group was 30 seconds back, and the peloton at 1'05.

The two five man groups came together after 37 km, save for Florencio, who didn't quite make it. The average after one hour was 39.4 km/h. Moncoutié countered a move by Mugerli on the lower slopes of the Col de la Porte, and took the points at the top of the climb, securing him the mountains jersey. Behind, the group had change composition with Osa, Contador, Paulinho (all Liberty), Mugerli (Liquigas), J.L. Arrieta (AG2r), M. Zberg (Gerolsteiner), J. Rodriguez (Caisse d’Epargne). The peloton was 3'25 back at the top of the Col de la Porte, with Landis having to recover from a crash at km 40.

The eight leaders are still together, climbing La Turbie.

13:44 CET    86km/49km to go
Nicolas Crosbie (Agritubel) told us this morning, "We are very motivated to defend that mountains jersey. We've had it all through the race - at first, I wore it, then it was Christophe Laurent. But it doesn't matter who us us wears it, the only thing that counts is that we keep it today.

"I know that Moncoutié wants to get it, but there are others, too. Nothing is set in stone in that Classification yet, but at least we are two Agritubel riders placed first and third - that's an advantage. And even though we've made a lot of efforts since the beginning of this Paris-Nice, we'll do everything to keep it. And if we lose it, we won't have any regrets because we'll have given everything."

Unfortunately for Crosbie and the Agritubel team, Moncoutié now has it firmly on his shoulders. He would have taken it yesterday had he not motorpaced on the final climb.

Contador tries to take Moncoutié out the back, but fails.

13:45 CET    87km/48km to go
Moncoutié isn't working, which is probably why Contador tried to take him off the back.

Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) spoke to us too, "I'm still happy about my second place yesterday, because Kashechkin was simply on another level. I had to break off that chase group because I didn't know if I would have been fast enough to win the sprint if we had come back on him. I wanted to get back on him but the descent wasn't long enough... But I might try again today, I think I recuperated well."

13:47 CET    88km/47km to go
Aitor Osa is the best placed rider in the break, but is 5'19 behind. The gap is just 2'00 over the Phonak-led bunch at the moment, so no danger to Landis.

13:48 CET   
Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto) is now in the top 10: "I keep movin' up a spot! One guy's nice, he drops off, and now I'm tenth! I'm realistically close for a possible top three or something. But they won't be cracking up completely up there, that would be unrealistic on a stage like to today, I think. So many other teams are willing to chase, too, like yesterday with Euskaltel helping out, and Lampre, too. So they are willing to ride to protect their second or third on GC - they don't want to risk their GC placing to ride for the win. So I think it will be the same today - it will be hard to get away from the top leaders. But maybe there's a split and I might be able to move up into top five or something. If the legs are good - if not I'll lose top ten! [laughs] But I might be able to stay in top ten and get my ProTour point!" [laughs a lot]

13:49 CET   
Zberg accelerates now and gets a gap. That's very early in the piece. The others sort of wait and it's Aitor Osa who goes first.

13:51 CET    89km/46km to go
Eric Leblacher (Française des Jeux) attacks the peloton in about the same place that Zberg went. He's not afraid to have a go, and is 1'50 behind the leader.

Osa is still chasing Zberg as they near the summit of La Turbie. Rodriguez leads the bunch behind, somewhat annoyed.

13:53 CET    90km/45km to go
Zberg reaches the top with a bit of a gap, as Moncoutié accelerates behind. Everyone who can, marks the Frenchman. He finishes up fourth or fifth on the climb, beaten by Zberg, Paulinho, and Rodriguez.

13:55 CET    92km/43km to go
The peloton is still pretty big on this second last climb. Floyd is getting an armchair ride to the finish. It's a beautiful stage.

Leblacher is now at the summit, 2'05 behind, chased by Grivko and then the peloton.

Contador was fourth on the climb, ahead of Moncoutié.

13:57 CET   
The lead group: Marcus Zberg (Gerolsteiner), David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Alberto Contador, Sergio Paulinho (Liberty), Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d’Epargne). Chasing them are Aitor Osa (Liberty), Matej Mugerli (Liquigas), and J.L. Arrieta (AG2r). Osa is not doing any work in the chase group.

14:00 CET    94km/41km to go
The descent of La Turbie begins, gradually, and the three chasers are trying as best they can to catch the five leaders. Leblacher and Grivko are at 2'00, then the bunch at 2'35, led by Phonak and Euskaltel.

The descent is pretty easy though - lots of wide corners.

14:02 CET    96km/39km to go
Osa is now helping Mugerli in the chase, and they're getting back on. Arrieta is already there. Eight together again.

14:05 CET    98km/37km to go
Moncoutié is doing his work now, and the eight man break is doing its best to stay clear on the descent of La Turbie.

We spoke to Thomas Lövkvist (Française des Jeux), who is 20th on GC: "So far, Paris-Nice has been quite average for me. I had one bad day and that ruined everything for the general classification: when Landis took the jersey. After that, it' been going quite okay; I've been trying to go into the attacks but I haven't had any luck. I have a bit of a cold, too, but I'll try today and do something. It's the last day for everyone, the last chance. The GC is very tight, there's a lot of motivated guys, good weather... so it will be a nervous stage."

14:06 CET   
The eight lead Leblacher and Grivko by 2'15, with the peloton now at 2'50 and slacking a bit. But the tempo looks to be increasing now.

14:09 CET    102km/33km to go
Osa now attacks the break, taking advantage of Liberty's strength in numbers. They're on the flat now. Osa has a nice gap. Rodriguez counters behind Zberg and Arrieta, forcing Moncoutié to chase. He has Contador as a shadow, with Mugerli also there. The Liberty boys really really don't want Moncoutié there today.

14:11 CET    104km/31km to go
Moncoutié sits up a bit and Contador does too, forcing Mugerli to do the work. Osa still leads with a gap to Marcus Zberg (Gerolsteiner), Sergio Paulinho (Liberty), Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d’Epargne), J.L. Arrieta (AG2r), then David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Alberto Contador, and Matej Mugerli (Liquigas).

Osa is in the streets of Nice now. Grivko and Leblacher are caught by the bunch, which is 2'25 the leaders.

14:11 CET   
Arrieta has bridged to Osa: two leaders.

14:13 CET   
Five leaders now: Sergio Paulinho, Aitor Osa (Liberty), J.L. Arrieta (AG2r), Marcus Zberg (Gerolsteiner), Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d’Epargne).

Moncoutié, Mugerli and Contador look like they've given it up. Chess is easy when you've got the numbers.

14:14 CET    107km/28km to go
One lap to go for the five leaders as they ride past the finish line. The three chasers are at 23 seconds, led by Moncoutié.

14:16 CET    109km/26km to go
There are people sunbathing on the beach in Nice. It's the place to be.

Benoît Joachim drives the peloton past the finish line, 2'08 behind the five leaders.

14:17 CET   
Just one more climb to come, the Col d'Eze. If anyone wants to take the yellow jersey off Floyd's shoulders, they'll have to try very soon. Big ask though - the peloton is still 100 strong.

14:18 CET    110km/25km to go
Zberg rolls through in front of the break, then Rodriguez, Osa, Paulinho and Arrieta.

We spoke to the second and third placed riders on GC. Patxi Vila (2nd at 0'09) told us, "Everybody's going to be tired but the last day is going to be a big fight involving many teams." While third placed Samuel Sanchez said, "Today would be super to see if one of the two fail, but there are many riders yet up in the GC, so it will be hard."

14:20 CET    111km/24km to go
Results of the second sprint in Nice: 1. Osa, 2. Contador, 3. Rodriguez.

The peloton is picking up speed as the break hits the Col d'Eze with 1'45 lead. It's steep, right away, and Rodriguez attacks. Osa is dropped, as is Arrieta.

14:22 CET   
Correction: It's Contador in the front group, not Paulinho. Now he attacks, with Rodriguez only able to react. Zberg makes it back to them, as they slow. But the peloton is picking up speed with Benoît Joachim driving.

14:23 CET    112km/23km to go
Zberg will be annoyed. Contador attacks again, but Rodriguez marks him easy. They two had better ride, otherwise they'll be caught.

In the peloton, one the of the Lampres has attacked. Petrov.

14:25 CET   
Contador and Rodriguez are joined by Zberg again, as they slow down. This is really playing with fire. They're both good climbers - they need to work.

Moncoutié and Mugerli are caught by the Lampre attacker. Still unsure who it is, but it looks a bit like Petrov. It's not Vila though.

14:26 CET   
In front, Rodriguez attacks with Contador chasing. Zberg is dropped, yet again, but he might come back. Neither Rodriguez nor Contador can get the better of each other.

14:28 CET    115km/20km to go
Rodriguez talks to Contador now, as they look back at the chasing Zberg. Rodriguez stays out of the saddle - he looks the stronger of the two. The bunch is just 1'05 behind now. These two are goooooone if they muck around for much longer.

14:29 CET   
A Liquigas rider attacks out of the peloton: Nibali. He passes Moncoutié, who is on his way back to the bunch.

14:31 CET    116km/19km to go
Zberg passes 20 km to go, trying desperately to get back to Contador and Rodriguez, who are still together. He's doing it, too. Be funny if he won the sprint.

14:32 CET    116km/19km to go
Zberg closes just as Rodriguez puts in a big attack. That can't be good for you. He manages to survive, clinging to Contador. Then he goes past and is up with Rodriguez.

The peloton is surprisingly calm, 1'25 behind the three leaders. Floyd's Phonak team is well in control of the situation.

14:34 CET    117km/18km to go
Rabobank is working with Phonak again, with Joost Posthuma pacing (virtual) seventh placed Erik Dekker. The bunch is strung out now.

Contador, who looked to be suffering, attacks again. Of course Rodriguez marks him in a big gear. Contador explodes a bit. Zberg does a bit more.

14:35 CET    117.5km/17.5km to go
They can see Nice spread out below them as they near the top of the Col d'Eze. It's a beautiful sunny day, too.

Zberg will try to survive the best he can and maybe catch the two leaders on the descent.

Mugerli and Osa are caught by the bunch.

14:37 CET   
It looks like we have just three leaders now: Rodriguez, J. (Caisse d'Epargne) and Contador, A. (Liberty), who have 10 seconds on Zberg, M. (Gerolsteiner), 1 km from the summit of the Col d'Eze. The 30 rider bunch is hovering at 1'20, not looking like closing the gap yet. Posthuma leads Dekker, Vila, Landis and Schleck.

14:38 CET    119km/16km to go
The two leaders reach the summit of the Col d'Eze, Rodriguez remaining out of the saddle for quite a while. Petrov is the fourth man on the road, and is getting close to Marcus Zberg.

14:39 CET   
Rodriguez takes the points at the summit ahead of Contador. They'll have to work to the finish now. Contador does a turn.

14:39 CET    120km/15km to go
Petrov and Zberg cross 42 seconds behind, in that order. Then a Caisse d'Epargne rider, then the bunch.

14:42 CET    121km/14km to go
The leaders are on the flat just before the descent of the Col d'Eze. They have three quarters of a minute on three chasers. The Caisse d'Epargne rider is Colom, who is in fourth on GC. Well, fifth, because Sanchez took a bonus second early in the day. So Sanchez is now going after him too. It's on!

14:43 CET    122km/13km to go
The descent begins with Contador leading Rodriguez. The chasers are getting closer, 25 seconds, then the peloton another 10 seconds back. This could be a very close finish.

14:44 CET   
Colom hammers the three chasers as fast as he can. Meanwhile, one of the Discovery riders is driving the peloton at high speed, not far behind. Colom is only 1'23 down on GC, so they can't let him get too far. He's 27 seconds behind the two leaders, and the peloton is at 39.

14:45 CET    123km/12km to go
Posthuma and Rubiera(?) are on the front of the bunch as it flies down the Col d'Eze in pursuit of the five men in front. Contador is doing most of the work now as Joaquin Rodriguez chats to his director on the batphone.

14:46 CET    124km/11km to go
Rodriguez gets the instruction to work, and he does. Despite Colom chasing behind. Colom might even get to third on GC with a good ride now.

14:47 CET    125km/10km to go
Rodriguez checks behind to see if he can spot Colom's group. Nope. MEanwhile, Contador puts his head down and drives the pace. The gaps are 13 and 22 seconds, so the peloton is definitely getting close.

Now we can theorize as to what would have happened if Rodriguez and Contador rode the Col d'Eze hard.

14:49 CET    126km/9km to go
Contador has been in similar positions before in Paris-Nice. A couple of years ago, he lost a lot of time when he clipped out of the pedal or threw his chain, while in the lead. That cost him the stage in the end.

14:50 CET   
The three chasers are almost on the two leaders. The peloton, maybe 30 riders strong, follows at another 10 seconds. Five leaders now!

14:51 CET    128km/7km to go
Alberto Contador (Liberty), Joaquin Rodriguez, Antonio Colom (Caisse d'Epargne), Marcus Zberg (Gerolsteiner), Evgeni Petrov (Lampre) are leading the final stage with about 10-15 seconds over the peloton containing the yellow jersey. They're nearing the bottom of the descent, and will be in Nice soon.

14:51 CET   
Colom continues to drive on the front as hard as he can. 12 seconds back to the Posthuma led peloton, where Discovery is also working.

14:52 CET    132km/3km to go
Colom is very strong today. He hasn't left anything out on the road. It's 16 seconds as Sanchez works on the front of the bunch. He'll lose third place otherwise.

14:53 CET   
3 km to go and it's still anyone's stage.

14:54 CET    133km/2km to go
Through the streets of Nice and the two Caisse d'Epargne riders are working flat out. This means Zberg has a great chance of winning the stage. Posthuma continues on the front of the peloton, at 15 seconds. They're running out of distance.

14:54 CET    133.5km/1.5km to go
The five leaders hit the Promenade des Anglais with 15 seconds, Toni Colom doing most of the work and Rodriguez contributing. Petrov, Zberg and Contador hang on.

14:55 CET    134km/1km to go
They reach the final kilometre. Doesn't look like these five will be caught. The battle for third on GC will be very very close.

14:55 CET   
Zberg is in third wheel, then Rodriguez passes and drives the tempo for Colom. Petrov in third now. Contador last. Zberg is the best chance.

14:57 CET    135km/0km to go
Colom leads it out then Zberg powers at 180m to go, smashing everyone to win the stage from Petrov, Contador and Colom. Fantastic ride by the Swiss!

The peloton comes in for sixth at 18 seconds. So Sanchez loses third place, methinks. But the first two on GC, Landis and Vila, remain the same. Floyd Landis wins Paris-Nice!!!!

15:05 CET   
Well, there you go, a very tense final stage with the victory going to a rider who wasn't as strong as Contador and Rodriguez on the Col d'Eze, but never gave up. That's the nice thing about bike racing sometimes.

The race for GC was surprisingly tame, with Toni Colom the only rider to really try today, but he was too far behind to threaten Landis. Hats off to him and his Phonak team, who certainly rode well enough to defend it with a reduced squad.

That wraps it up from the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, where the water looks rather inviting... Until next Saturday's Milan-San Remo, see you then!


1 Marcus Zberg (Swi) Gerolsteiner                              3.29.38
2 Evgeni Petrov (Rus) Lampre-Fondital                           
3 Alberto Contador (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Würth Team            
4 Antonio Colom (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears                
5 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears          0.16
6 Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux                          
7 Erik Dekker (Ned) Rabobank                                      
8 Matteo Carrara (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                           
9 Linus Gerdemann (Ger) T-Mobile Team                           
10 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R Prevoyance                          

Final general classification

1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems                   31.54.41
2 Patxi Xabier Vila Errandonea (Spa) Lampre-Fondital              0.09
3 Antonio Colom (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears              1.05
4 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                          1.13
5 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC                                    1.22    
6 José Azevedo (Por) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team           1.35
7 Erik Dekker (Ned) Rabobank                                      1.41
8 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Credit Agricole                         1.39
9 José Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team      1.40
10 Christopher Horner (USA) Davitamon-Lotto                       1.43


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