Gianni Meersman of Lotto-Belisol proved to be the strongest rider in a tough finish to Stage 4 of Paris-Nice in Rodez this afternoon, outsprinting Lampre's Grega Bole and Vacansoleil DCM's Lieuwe Westra to the line. Race leader Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky stayed near the front, out of trouble, and came home in tenth place without losing time to his rivals in the overall standings.
The 26-year-old Meersman, who joined Lotto-Belisol from FDJ at the end of last season, looked impressive yesterday when he finished third at Le Lac de Vassivière behind Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Simon Gerrans of GreenEdge. It’s the Belgian’s second win for his new team, having won a stage of the Tour of the Algarve last month.
After his victory, Meersman, apparently named after an Italian restaurant in Kortrijk called Da Gianni, said: "There was a little roundabout at the finish and I was fifth or sixth. I thought I was too far but the finish was uphill. I waited, waited and waited until the last moment and I sprinted. I had a really good winter, the problems with my back and my left leg are over. I’m healthy now and I feel good in this team. They worked hard today and I dedicate my victory to them all."
Valverde, 20 seconds down on GC but widely tipped to threaten Wiggins’ race leadership in tomorrow’s tough stage finish on the Montée Laurent Jalabert in Mende – seen, along with Sunday’s closing time trial to the Col d’Eze above Nice, as the decisive stage for the overall – finished eighth today following the 178km stage from Brive-La-Gaillarde and keeps the points jersey.
Gerrans, who had started the day nearly three minutes down on GC, had less luck, however, as street furniture caused problems for the peloton, the Australian champion brought down heavily by a rider ahead of him who had clipped a pedestrian island. Shepherded home by Wesley Sulzberger and Simon Clarke, Gerrans eventually crossed the line four and a half minutes behind the lead group of nearly 60 riders.
RadioShack Nissan’s Andreas Kloden, winner of Paris-Nice in 2000 and second behind Tony Martin last year, launched a solo bid for the stage win two kilometres out and was still ahead of the bunch coming under the flamme rouge, but the German was caught by the pursuing pack inside the final kilometre.
Earlier, with a little over 20 kilometres to go, a five man break had been swept up, comprising FDJ BigMat’s Pierrick Fedrigo, who missed much of the 2011 season through illness, AG2R La Mondiale’s Jean-Christophe Peraud, Leigh Howard of GreenEdge, Cofidis rider Luis Angel Mate, and the sole representative of a non-French team, Lotto-Belisol’s Bart De Clercq.
Mate, however, did enough to ensure that he would lead the mountains classification this evening, taking over from Vacansoleil-DCM’s Thomas de Gendt, although the Belgian jumped off the front of the peloton 13 kilometres out to put the polka dot jersey briefly in the limelight before being reeled back in.
Several riders missed the start of today’s stage as a result of a bout of gastroenteritis that had swept through the peloton, forcing Andy Schleck to pull out before yesterday’s stage.
Joining him on the sick list were RadioShack-Nissan team maates Joost Posthuma and Jan Bakelants, while BMC Racing’s Taylor Phinney also left the race, apparently suffering from the same virus. Oliver Kaisen and Adam Hansen of Lotto-Belisol were also non-starters today, the latter succumbing to bronchitis.
Yesterday, it was confirmed that Saxo Bank’s Nick Nuyens, who failed to start in Monday’s Stage 2 after crashing during Sunday’s individual time trial, has suffered a fractured pelvis, casting serious doubt on whether he will be able to defend his Tour of Flanders title next month.
Paris-Nice Stage 4 result 1 MEERSMAN Gianni LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 4h 21' 01" 2 BOLE Grega LAMPRE - ISD All at same time 3 WESTRA Lieuwe VACANSOLEIL-DCM 4 FLORENCIO Xavier KATUSHA TEAM 5 HIVERT Jonathan SAUR-SOJASUN 6 GESCHKE Simon PROJECT 1T4I 7 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE 8 VALVERDE Alejandro MOVISTAR TEAM 9 GAVAZZI Francesco ASTANA PRO TEAM 10 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 11 LEUKEMANS Bjorn VACANSOLEIL-DCM 12 SANCHEZ Luis-Leon RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM 13 HAUSSLER Heinrich GARMIN - BARRACUDA 14 KISERLOVSKI Robert ASTANA PRO TEAM 15 JEANNESSON Arnold FDJ-BIGMAT 16 SPILAK Simon KATUSHA TEAM 17 URAN Rigoberto SKY PROCYCLING 18 DUMOULIN Samuel COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE 19 PICHOT Alexandre TEAM EUROPCAR 20 LEIPHEIMER Levi OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP Paris-Nice overall standings after Stage 4 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 13h 30' 52" 2 LEIPHEIMER Levi OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 00' 06" 3 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 11" 4 CHAVANEL Sylvain OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 00' 14" 5 MONFORT Maxime RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 00' 18" 6 WESTRA Lieuwe VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 00' 18" 7 VALVERDE Alejandro MOVISTAR TEAM + 00' 20" 8 ROJAS Jose Joaquin MOVISTAR TEAM + 00' 29" 9 SPILAK Simon KATUSHA TEAM + 00' 33" 10 KISERLOVSKI Robert ASTANA PRO TEAM + 00' 36"
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.