Paris-Nice stage 4: the big guns fight back

Vandevelde and Contador make gains, Wiggins bails

by Dave Atkinson   March 11, 2009  

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Christian Vandevelde (Garmin Slipstream) made amends for his spill in the opening time trial with a fine win in stage four of the Paris-Nice, attacking 20km from the finish and winning the stage by 14 seconds over Jonathan Hivert (Skil Shimano) and Mirco Lorenzetto (Lampre).

Sylvain Chavanel retained the race lead overall, but his advantage over Juan Manuel Garate has been cut to just six seconds and Contador, who attacked Chavanel in spectacular fashion on the final climb, moved up to fourth overall, 36 seconds off the lead. David Millar moved up to seventh overall with a 13th place finish, but Bradley Wiggins didn't start the stage.

Today's stage was the hilly rather than mountainous with six 3rd category climbs, even so it was the most vertically challenging day of the race so far. The climbs came early and resulted in a much more cautious approach to the start of the stage than had been the case on previous days. There were attacks but all came to nothing. The first climbs came early but safely disposed of the field up the pace significantly – in the process dropping 15 riders including Stephane Auge, the leader in the polka dot jersey competition – he was to spend the rest of the day chasing the pack in a bid to make contact.

The break finally came after 67Km when Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) attacked, followed by Nicolas Roche (AG2R), Christian Vandevelde (Garmin), Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Caisse d’Epargne), Aleksandr Kolobnev (Team Saxo Banck) , Tony Martin (Columbia) and Xavier Florencio (Cervelo). They had stretched their lead reached to two minutes by kilometre 94.

The seven man break became six when Fernandez was dropped meanwhile back in the main bunch Bbox Bouygues Telecom upped the pace causing further splits in the peloton. On the descent of the Cote de la Croix Blanche (km 142.5). In the descent, Christophe Le Mevel (FDJeux) Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues) and Geoffrey Lequatre (Agritubel) chased behind the break.

Up in the break Vandevelde won the penultimate sprint of the day and built on the momentum with an attack 20Km out from the finish. Only Roche attempted to stick with him with a brief and unsuccessful counter attack. With Roche dropped Vandevelde was it turned out home free and he rode to the win – taking it by 14 seconds from Jonathan Hivert (Skil Sjimano) and Mirco Lorenzetto (Lampre).

Vandevelde's late break was not the only significant action in the final kilometres. While Vandevelde's performance in the opening time trial means he cannot win the overall competition, Alberto Contador still can – he underlined again today what a fearsome competitor he is with a shattering attack on the days final climb, Cote de la Rochetaillée, barely 8Km from the finish catching Sylvain Chavenel completely by surprise and leaving the dropped Frenchman to chase in an attempt to retain his lead over Rabobank's Juan Manuel Garate. That he did but he goes into tomorrows stage, the 182.5km from AnnonayVallon-Pont-d'Arc with a mere six second lead. Meanwhile Contador sits ominously on his shoulder 36 seconds back in fourth place overall.

Stage standings...

VANDEVELDE Christian GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 4h 01' 31"
HIVERT Jonathan SKIL-SHIMANO 4h 01' 45" + 00' 14"
LORENZETTO Mirco LAMPRE – N.G.C 4h 01' 45" + 00' 14"

Overall standings...

CHAVANEL Sylvain QUICK STEP 13h 31' 36"
GARATE Juan Manuel RABOBANK 13h 31' 42" + 00' 06"
FLECHA Juan Antonio RABOBANK 13h 32' 12" + 00' 36"
CONTADOR Alberto ASTANA 13h 32' 12" + 00' 36"
SEELDRAYERS Kevin QUICK STEP 13h 32' 13" + 00' 37"
SANCHEZ Luis-Leon CAISSE D’EPARGNE 13h 32' 21" + 00' 45"
MILLAR David GARMIN – SLIPSTREAM 13h 32' 26" + 00' 50"
COLOM Antonio TEAM KATUSHA 13h 32' 31" + 00' 55"
KARPETS Vladimir TEAM KATUSHA 13h 32' 33" + 00' 57"
VOIGT Jens TEAM SAXO BANK 13h 32' 39" + 01' 03"