Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky has won the 70th edition of Paris-Nice, coming out on top in an epic time trial battle on the Col d'Eze against Vacasoleil-DCM's Lieuwe Westra, who had started the day second overall, just six seconds behind the Briton on GC. The Dutchman clawed back two seconds at the intermediate time check, and by the end had shattered the previous top time set by Jean-Christophe Peraud of AG2R-La Mondiale. Wiggins, however, went quicker on the latter part of the climb, finishing two seconds ahead of Westra to win the stage and the race.
It was a thrilling conclusion to the race from the two men whose teams have been the leading players during the past week as the peloton headed towards the Med from the outskirts of the capital.
Throughout, Team Sky worked tirelessly on behalf of Wiggins to defend the lead he had taken after Monday’s Stage 2, while Vacansoleil-DCM scored stage wins through Gustav Larsson in the opening time trial, Westra himself on Stage 5 in Mende and Thomas De Gendt with his solo win into Nice yesterday. The Dutch outfit also topped the team classification - Sky were second - while Frederik Veuchelen took the mountains prize.
Last Sunday, Wiggins had put in a storming time trial ride in the rain that hampered the chances of many late starters to post the second fastest time behind Larsson, the British rider taking over the race lead the following day after winds split the peloton.
Today, the Race to the Sun more than lived up to its nickname with glorious sunshine greeting the riders as they headed up the Col d’Eze, with a maximum gradient of 8.5 per cent inside the second kilometre, becoming gentler after that with another kick up to 7 per cent just after the intermediate time check then flattening out to just 1.2 per cent in the final kilometre and a half.
Peraud's remained the best time as Angel Vicioso of Katusha became the first of the top ten riders in the GC to roll down the start ramp in Nice at the start of a closing time trial stage that had been emblematic of the race until it was dropped in 1995, and last featured in 2001.
Wiggins, choosing to tackle the Col d’Eze on a road bike rather than time trial-specific machine - only RadioShack-Nissan's Jens Voigt appeared to have chosen the latter option - looked focused, riding a steady tempo and keeping a great shape as he looked to become only the second Briton after Tom Simpson in 1967 to win Paris-Nice.
Westra, however, two minutes up the road, was looking strong too, and at the intermediate time check, where he clocked 11 minutes 29 seconds, he was 18 seconds quicker than the previous best time, which had been set by Peraud, 46th of the 139 starters. When Wiggins went past two seconds slower than Westra, the race was in the balance.
Crossing the line at the top of the climb, Westra shattered Peraud’s time set by Peraud, going more than half a minute quicker in 19 minutes 14 seconds, leaving Wiggins, the only man behind him on the road, with what looked like a huge task to do.
In winning Stage 5 in Mende on Thursday, Westra had sat up to celebrate well ahead of crossing the line, and although he had said afterwards that he hadn’t regretted doing that, the couple of seconds that he lost there, plus the four that Wiggins picked up for finishing third, looked like they might prove decisive.
As it turned out, those few seconds proved to be academic, Wiggins going two seconds quicker than the Dutchman by the finish today to post a winning time for the stage of 19 minutes and 12 seconds and clinch the overall victory by eight seconds.
Afterwards, Wiggins said: "In terms of pressure, it was nothing compared to an Olympic final on track. You can also enjoy the moment. I was confident in my ability, I stayed in the front all week and did not put a foot wrong.
"Today I rode it perfect. I know the history of the sport and to be on that list and to become the second Brit after Tom Simpson to win Paris-Nice means a lot for me. I’m on that list of riders who won Paris-Nice, the Dauphine. There’s just one left now to win.
"I said Paris-Nice was a stepping stone, no disrespect for Paris-Nice. But I must continue that progression to July now. Lance Armstrong warned me recently not burn too many matches for July. It’s certainly a long trail."
It’s Wiggins second victory within the past year in a top French stage race – last June, he won the Critérium du Dauphiné – and his success here will add to his and Team Sky’s growing belief that the biggest prize of all, the Tour de France, is within his reach.
As he says, it's dangerous to read too much into results at this stage of the season – after all, there’s still three and a half months to go until the Tour de France, and some of those who will contest the GC in July won’t have been specifically targeting Paris-Nice – but Wiggins, who crashed out of last year’s Tour with a broken collarbone at the end of the first week has sent a clear signal that he will be among those fighting for the maillot jaune.
What’s more, this year’s course favours riders such as Wiggins much more than it does the likes of Andy Schleck, effectively handed the 2010 title in a courtroom but who insists he will not consider himself a true Tour de France champion until he has won the race on the road.
With more than 100 kilometres of time trialling scheduled for this year’s race, and less taxing visits to the Alps and Pyrenees than has been the case in many recent editions, that’s highly unlikely to happen this year; the advantage is firmly with riders such as defending champion Cadel Evans, who ripped the maillot jaune from Schleck’s back in the penultimate day’s time trial in Grenoble, as well as Wiggins himself.
With Mark Cavendish having already notched up four wins in the world champion’s rainbow jersey, Endura Racing’s Jon Tiernan-Locke attracting the attention of top-flight ProTeam outfits through his sensational start to the season and other British riders putting in strong performances around the world plus a home Olympics, it’s shaping up to be a memorable year.
Paris-Nice Stage 8 Result 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 19' 12" 2 WESTRA Lieuwe VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 00' 02" 3 PERAUD Jean-Christophe AG2R LA MONDIALE + 00' 33" 4 SPILAK Simon KATUSHA TEAM + 00' 47" 5 COPPEL Jérôme SAUR-SOJASUN + 00' 51" 6 VALVERDE Alejandro MOVISTAR TEAM + 00' 52" 7 KLÖDEN Andréas RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 00' 58" 8 MONCOUTIE David COFIDIS + 00' 59" 9 CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - ISD + 00' 59" 10 URAN Rigoberto SKY PROCYCLING + 01' 06" 11 NAVARRO Daniel TEAM SAXO BANK + 01' 06" 12 JEANNESSON Arnold FDJ-BIGMAT + 01' 07" 13 SZMYD Sylvester LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 01' 15" 14 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 01' 15" 15 BOUET Maxime AG2R LA MONDIALE + 01' 16" 16 MORENO Javier MOVISTAR TEAM + 01' 21" 17 CHAVANEL Sylvain OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 01' 26" 18 ULISSI Diego LAMPRE - ISD + 01' 27" 19 CAPECCHI Eros LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 01' 27" 20 DE GENDT Thomas VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 01' 28" Paris-Nice Final Overall Standings 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 28h 12' 16" 2 WESTRA Lieuwe VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 00' 08" 3 VALVERDE Alejandro MOVISTAR TEAM + 01' 10" 4 SPILAK Simon KATUSHA TEAM + 01' 24" 5 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 01' 54" 6 JEANNESSON Arnold FDJ-BIGMAT + 02' 13" 7 MONFORT Maxime RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 02' 21" 8 CHAVANEL Sylvain OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 02' 42" 9 KISERLOVSKI Robert ASTANA PRO TEAM + 03' 30" 10 VICIOSO Angel KATUSHA TEAM + 03' 59" Paris-Nice Final Points Classification 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 92 pts 2 VALVERDE Alejandro MOVISTAR TEAM 89 pts 3 WESTRA Lieuwe VACANSOLEIL-DCM 85 pts 4 SANCHEZ Luis-Leon RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM 52 pts 5 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM 50 pts Paris-Nice Final Mountains Classification 1 VEUCHELEN Frederik VACANSOLEIL-DCM 64 pts 2 DE GENDT Thomas VACANSOLEIL-DCM 42 pts 3 MATE Luis Angel COFIDIS 28 pts 4 LE LAY David SAUR-SOJASUN 20 pts 5 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS 20 pts Paris-Nice Final Young Rider Classification 1 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM 28h 14' 10" 2 URAN Rigoberto SKY PROCYCLING + 02' 46" 3 SICARD Romain EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 07' 55" 4 MALACARNE Davide TEAM EUROPCAR + 08' 53" 5 NERZ Dominik LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 10' 02"