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67th Paris-Nice - HIS

France, March 8-15, 2009

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Stage 2 - March 9: Saint-Brisson-sur-Loire - La Chapelle-Saint-Ursin, 195.5km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Susan Westemeyer

13:59 CET   
Hello and welcome back to Paris-Nice, also known as the "Alberto Contador" show! What a display he put on yesterday. Today we don't expect to see him cross the finish line first, because we expect a mass sprint. But who knows?

14:01 CET   
All 159 riders took to the start this morning, and almost immediately things started happening. A break of four formed right from the start. Piet Rooijakkers (Skil Shimano) took off immediately and was joined by Aitor Hernandez (Euskaltel), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas) and Christophe Laurent (Agritubel). They had a lead of up to 7:15 minutes, which is now down to 6:10.

14:03 CET   
The peloton was probably very happy to look outside and see no rain today. It is cool (7° C) with a mixture of sun and clouds. Enjoy it, guys, the weather forecasters are saying nasty things about the coming days...

14:06 CET    81km/114.5km to go
Today's stage runs 195.5 kilometres from Saint-Brisson-sur-Loire southwest to La Chapelle-Saint-Ursin. It is more flat than not, with some bumps along the way. There are two Cat. 3 climbs about halfway through. The ending is absolutely flat, though, so we expect a mass sprint finish.

The break has climbed the first climb, the Côte de Sancerre, a 2.8 km climb with a maximum gradient of 4.7 %. The points at the Category 3 climb went to Hernandez ahead of Rooijakkers and Kuschynski.

14:10 CET   
The first sprint of the day came at km59 in Sury-pres-Lere. Laurent won it ahead of Kuschynski and Hernandez.

14:12 CET    90km/105.5km to go
The day's second climb was the Côte de Crézancy-en-Sancerre, another Cat. three climb. This one was only a 1.3 km climb up to 3.7 %. Kuschynski took the point ahead of Hernandez and Rooijakkers. That will give Hernandez the polka-dot jersey after the stage.

Meanwhile the lead has dropped to 5:35.

14:17 CET   
The race started at 11:40 this morning in Saint-Brisson-sur-Loire, a village of 1000 residents, which made its Paris-Nice debut. One of the local attractions is the medieval fortress in the center of town, and the functioning medieval catapults in the moat. If you happen to be here in September, come to the Fête à la Citrouille (Pumpkin Festival) – which leads to the question of whether the pumpkins and the catapults have anything to do with each other...

14:21 CET   
The stage today ends in La Chapelle-Saint-Ursin, a tiny town but with 3500 residents. The last time the race visited this town was exactly five years ago, March 9, 2004. Then it served as the start of a monster 229 km stage to Roanne, which was won by Leon Van Bon of Team Lotto-Domo. The third place finisher then was a name we now know quite well: Tom Boonen. He's not riding the race this year, though.

14:26 CET    97.7km/97.8km to go
We are at almost exactly the half-way point right now, and the gap is holding steady at 5:35. We don't really think this group will stay away to the end though. What do you think? Escape group, solo or mass sprint? And who will take it? Let us know your picks!

14:30 CET   
Rooijakkers is now the "virtual yellow jersey". Yesterday he finished 28th in the time trial, 34 seconds down.

14:33 CET   
Rooijakkers is a 28-year-old who is in his fourth year with the Dutch Professional Continental team Skil-Shimano. This season he finished 11th in the Tour Mediterranean, with two top ten stage finishes. Last season he won the time trial in the Brixia Tour.

14:36 CET   
Hernandez, 27, is in his fourth season with Euskaltel. He opened his season at the Tour Down Under and then went on to the Mallorca Challenge. Yesterday he finished 61st in the time trial. His biggest success to date was winning the mountain ranking in the 2007 Vuelta al País Vasco.

14:39 CET   
Kuschynski is 29 years old and in his third year at Liquigas. So far this year he has ridden Tour Down Under, the Mallorca Challenge, Grosseto, and the Trofeo Laigueglia. Yesterday he was 79th in the time trial.

14:43 CET   
Laurent is the "oldie" of the escape group, at 31 years old. He rode for Agritubel in 2005 and 2006 before moving to Credit Agricole and then Garmin for a year each. He did not open with the Tour Down Under, but has ridden in a number of French races before hitting the recent Belgian openers of Omloop and K-B-K.

14:49 CET   
Laurent's move today was no surprise to his team. "He told us this morning he was planning something. He had a little cold yesterday but obviously he feels better today,“ according to his team director Emmanuel Hubert.

14:53 CET   
Well, what an interesting combination of blue sky, fluffy white clouds, and heavy-hanging black clouds we see. Plus a raindrop or two. The riders have on their long sleeves again today.

14:55 CET    119.5km/76km to go
Astana is not going to lead the chase today, and if the yellow jersey flutters away from Contador's shoulders, then so be it, according to Alain Gallopin. "We’re going to maintain a steady gap with the four escapees and in the finale, if the sprinters' teams want to go for it, let them do it. We’re not going to chase. We don’t mind losing the yellow jersey. None of the four riders in the lead is a threat for final victory. If the sprinters want that stage, it’s up for grabs."

14:57 CET   
Not only long sleeves are on show today, but leggings, too. Astana looks particularly natty in their turquoise and yellow kit with dark blue long sleeves and leggings.

15:01 CET    122.5km/73km to go
The sun is shining again as the peloton passes through a wooded section. This early in the year the trees are still bare and brown. Soon the little green leaves will appear, though.

15:04 CET   
We have sunshine today but sure as heck didn't have it yesterday. The most prominent victim it claimed in Sunday's opening time trial was Christian Vande Velde of Garmin, who crashed on a wet curve. He ended up with lots of scrapes and bruises, but nothing broken. It cost him, though, as the American finished 142nd, and 1:15 minutes down. He was at the start today, even though he didn't sleep too well last night.

15:06 CET    125.5km/70km to go
Countrymen Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) and Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo) have a little chat along the way.

15:08 CET    128.5km/67km to go
Astana may not be leading the chase, but they are definitely leading the peloton. No doubt at some point the sprinters' teams will move up to the front and pick up the speed.

15:12 CET    130.5km/65km to go
Is the break falling apart? There was a small gap between Kuschynski and Laurent, and Hernandez and Rooijakkers. But now they are all together again.

15:15 CET   
Bernard Hinault was surprised at Contador's performance yesterday, but noted that the Spaniard "looks happy, relaxed, and I have the impression he’s enjoying himself on the bike." Hinault thinks it won't be a problem for Astana to let a break go today, and might even be willing to give up the yellow jersey. Contador sure looks like he will be able to get it back easily when the race starts doing some serious climbing.

15:16 CET   
Haussler just did a really tricky strip-tease on the bike, removing his leggings while continuing to ride. Don't try that at home, kids!

15:22 CET   
There's a former Paris-Nice winner looking on, and that is Cyclingnews diarist Bobby Julich. It was a major moment in his career, and you can read what he has to say about it inFrom behind the barriers....

15:23 CET    136.5km/59km to go
The gap has grown to 7:15 minutes, and that is enough for the sprinters' teams. Columbia is now leading the chase.

15:25 CET   
Jean Paul van Poppel, DS at the new Cervélo TestTeam, said that Hayden Roulston might have done better in the end of yesterday's time trial, since he was only six seconds behind the fastest time at the intermediate check. "But in the turn there was front wind and Roulston choose the wrong gear and ended in 30th place being down by 35 seconds."

He wouldn't be surprised to see the yellow jersey change hands. "The time gaps at the top of the classification are very small so the riders in the right breakaway can take the victory and the leaders jersey."

15:27 CET   
Cadel Evans is at the very back of the peloton. Don't worry, nothing's wrong, he just wants to take off his jacket and swap it for something to eat at the team car.

15:29 CET    141.5km/54km to go
The combined work of Columbia and Ag2r has worked. The gap has fallen to about six and a half minutes.

15:33 CET    145.5km/50km to go
Oops, a handful of riders have gone done. Kevein De Weert of Quick Step is not yet back on his bike and is hobbling around. An Ag2r rider looks unhappy too and someone from Cervélo has only just gotten back up and going.

15:34 CET   
It may be tough for the crash victims to catch up, as Rabobank has moved to the front of the peloton and really picked up the pace.

Another crash victim was Katusha's Vladimir Efimkin. He is back up and going, but needs a new front wheel.

15:36 CET   
The Dutch pressure has worked and the orange-white-blue jersey-led peloton, helped by the black-clad Cervélo riders, have brought the gap down to under six minutes.

15:37 CET    148.5km/47km to go
The peloton is strung out nearly single file, and the first split has appeared. Or is that the riders who were caught up in the crash?

15:39 CET    150.5km/45km to go
Cadel Evans ought to know better than to hang around the back of the peloton. He got caught when things broke, and he now finds himself on the wrong side of the split.

15:42 CET    153.5km/42km to go
Evans isn't alone in the back. He is part of a group of 16 which also includes Karpets and David Moncoutié of Cofidis. They are about 20 seconds back.

15:45 CET   
The rain yesterday brought down Gustav Larsson of Team Saxo Bank. He had the second best time when he went down, and ended up 73rd on the day, 49 seconds down.

But the sensation for Saxo Bank was young Jakob Fuglsang, who came in only 31 seconds off the pace, in 20th place. The U-23 mountain bike world champion joined the Danish team as a stagiaire last fall, and ended up winning the Tour of Denmark. He turns 24 later this month.

15:46 CET    156.5km/39km to go
The four leaders have hit the finish line for the first time. Now they are off on a 39 km circuit course.

15:48 CET    157.5km/38km to go
Looks like the peloton has slowed down a bit. They are no longer strung out but all sticking together like a big blob. (How do you like that technical term?)

15:53 CET   
Ivan Basso isn't in this race, but he is planning on winning the Giro d'Italia this year. Read about it in his Cyclingnews diary : Keeping in check for the Giro.

15:55 CET    162.5km/33km to go
33 km to go with a lead of 4:15 – we have decided that this quartet has a good chance of making it. Behind them, Columbia's Marcel Sieberg and Michael Barry are leading the way.

15:59 CET    165.5km/30km to go
Laurent looks dogged and determined as he leads the escape group.

16:00 CET   
Contador claimed to be surprised to have won the time trial yesterday, and certainly denied being the best time trialist in the world. Modest as ever, he said, "I just go for my own calendar and I'm happy with the win I collected today." He conceded, though, "It's very good to have won. It gives me an advantage already and it's nice to carry the yellow jersey."

16:01 CET    166.5km/29km to go
The gap is now 3:15. FdJ has now taken over the lead work, but Columbia is right behind the lone French rider.

Up ahead of them, Hernandez stays at the rear of the lead group.

16:02 CET   
And just like that the gap is under three minutes.

16:05 CET    168.5km/27km to go
Cervélo is now sharing the work with Columbia. The third group which had fallen off the back has caught up again. Up front the four leaders are getting nervous and have already started looking behind them. The gap is down to 2 minutes exactly, so it looks like we will have a mass sprint after all.

16:06 CET   
One of the Cervélo riders leading the way missed the curve and went on straight...

16:07 CET    169.5km/26km to go
The leaders only have 1:28 now.

16:09 CET   
The furious tempo has done its job. The group has split and those in the second group are pedaling furiously to try and catch up. The gap ahead of them is growing, though. There is another small group behind them.

16:09 CET    170.5km/25km to go
Less than a minute now for the four leaders, with exactly 25 km to go.

16:10 CET   
Thirty seconds to go and the peloton flies past the team autos which had previously been between them and the escape group.

16:12 CET    172.5km/23km to go
Cervélo and Columbia continue to lead the charge. Cervélo is riding for sprinter Heinrich Haussler and Columbia for Mark Renshaw.

They will have the escapees any second now.

16:13 CET   
Laurent is not ready to give up and takes off as his companions are absorbed back into the peloton.

16:17 CET    175.5km/20km to go
Bradley Wiggins is in danger of losing his second place overall, as he is in the chasing second group.

16:19 CET    177.5km/18km to go
Liquigas and Quick Step are at the front of the peloton, along with those now-familiar black Cervélo jerseys.

16:20 CET   
Attack! A Bbox Bouygues Telecom rider takes off and quickly builds up a small lead. It is Pierre Rolland.

16:21 CET    179.5km/16km to go
They are tearing along in blazing sunshine at the moment. Rolland is holding his lead of 8 seconds.

16:22 CET   
Astana said they wouldn't work today but that doesn't mean they are ignoring things. The yellow jersey is quite noticeable in about 10th position.

16:23 CET   
The peloton just negotiated a tricky left turn onto a very narrow road. No one went down, fortunately. And that was it for Rolland...

16:24 CET    181.62km/13.88km to go
Everyone is together again. That sounds like a song to us...

16:25 CET    182.38km/13.12km to go
David Moncoutié is in the peloton – but only just. He is the next-to-last at the moment.

16:26 CET   
FdJ, Cervélo, Columbia – the usual suspects are leading the way.

16:27 CET   
Who will be the next to make a break?

16:28 CET    184.5km/11km to go
The group works its way through the town of Marmagne, with the usual traffic circles and traffic islands adding a little spice to the route.

16:29 CET   
Lampre puts in an appearance near the front for the first time.

16:29 CET   
Hernandez is paying for the long escape, as he is now hanging at the back of the group.

16:30 CET    187km/8.5km to go
Columbia's big man Sieberg has taken to the front of the peloton now.

16:34 CET    189.62km/5.88km to go
No one is willing to go for it at this point. Everyone is staying together, with Columbia still leading the way.

16:35 CET   
Rooijakkers is now at the back. He doesn't have to worry, he did well today.

16:36 CET   
More and more riders are falling off the back now, individually and in small groups. Moncoutié is one of them.

16:36 CET    191.5km/4km to go
Skil-Shimano has moved to the front now, with Rabobank also in the mix.

16:38 CET   
It is a pretty straight run in from here, with really only one big turn at about 1200 meters to go.

16:38 CET   
Columbia's train is moving up on the left side. Lampre on the right.

16:38 CET    193.5km/2km to go
Time to start jockeying for position!

16:39 CET   
Mass crash! Looks like it was nearer the middle or back of the pack. Contador was caught in it but doesn't seem to have gone down.

16:40 CET   
Contador was about one meter ahead of the crash and is ok.

16:40 CET    194.5km/1km to go
Now the sprint is on!

Columbia leads the way.

16:40 CET   
Roelandts goes into the wind early.

16:41 CET   
Haussler takes off with 50 meters to go and takes the win, for his third this season!

16:42 CET   
Contador is still underway, but giving the thumbs up that he is ok. He ought to get the same time as the winner, since he was held up by the crash which was within the last 3 km.

16:43 CET   
Haussler is really having a breakout season this year. The change from Gerolsteiner to Cervélo has done the young German-Australian good. He really took off and won by a good bike length or two.

16:44 CET   
Renshaw of Columbia was second with Lampre's Lorenzetto third.

16:49 CET   
Well, that was it for today! Thanks for joining us and tune in again tomorrow for more action!

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