Gianni Meersman times it right to take Paris-Nice stage four
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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Gianni Meersman times it right to take Paris-Nice stage four

by Ben Atkins at 10:48 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results, Paris-Nice
 
Punchy Belgian goes two better than the day before; Bradley Wiggins holds onto yellow

gianni meersmanGianni Meersman (Lotto-Belisol) managed to go two better than his third place of the day before, to take victory on the tough uphill finish of the third stage of Paris-Nice between Brive-la-Gaillarde and Rodez. The punchy Belgian timed his sprint perfectly this time, to surge past an early sprint from Grega Bole (Lampre-ISD) and Xavier Florencio (Katusha) to win the hilly 178km stage by a clear length.

Slovenian champion Bole took second place, but Florencio was overtaken for third place by a late surge from Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM).

“There was a little roundabout at the finish and I was fifth or sixth,” explained Meersman afterwards. “I thought I was too far but the finish was uphill. I waited, waited and waited until the last moment and I sprinted.”

After enduring a number of health and injury problems last season, Meersman is currently enjoying a good run of form, which has also seen him take a stage victory at the Volta ao Algarve.

“I had a really good winter, the problems with my back and my left leg are over,” he said. “I’m healthy now and I feel good in this team. They worked hard today and I dedicate my victory to them all.”

As had happened the day before, the sprint for the line had only been possible after the five man group of Pierrick Fédrigo (FDJ-BigMat), Jean-Christophe Péraud (AG2R La Mondiale), Leigh Howard (GreenEDGE), Luis Angel Maté (Cofidis) and Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Belisol) had been pulled back with little over 20km to go.

There was a late attack from Andreas Klöden (RadioShack-Nissan) over the top of the short, sharp Côte de Bouuran with just 2km to go, but he too was pulled back as he approached the final, unclassified climb to the finish.

With all of the overall contenders finishing together in the group behind Meersman, and with the first three taking the time bonuses, Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) holds on to his lead in a largely unchanged general classification. The British champion remains six seconds ahead of Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) by eleven.

Third place for Westra though, means that the Dutchman jumps from seventh to sixth, overtaking Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

The break goes early again with a new challenger for the mountains jersey

Having made its way as far south as the Correze department, the route switched from the almost due south direction of the first two road stages, taking a south-easterly course across the mountains of the Massif central. The stage would cross two 3rd, and three 2nd category climbs and, although the short, sharp Côte de Bourran would come 2km before the finish, the road would to rise once again in the final kilometre; continuing to do so all the way to the line.

After an unsuccessful attack from Rémy Di Gregorio (Cofidis), the five-man group of Fédrigo, Péraud, Howard, Maté and De Clercq got clear after 6km. De Clercq was the best placed of the five, but since he started the day in 103rd place, 11’24” behind Wiggins, it was decided that none of them were of any danger overall.

By kilometre 29 the five riders were 5’20” ahead, but the peloton immediately began to peg it back; as Maté led them over the 2nd category Côte de Fangas after 62km, it had dropped to 3’10”. The Spanish rider took the points over the top of the 3rd category Côte de Blanquie after 100.5km, and the 2nd category Côte de Quotidiane after 108km, by which time the lead was down to 2’15”.

Rabobank and Lampre-ISD slowly, slowly pull them back

The peloton was being led by Rabobank and Lampre-ISD and, as the leaders descended the narrow, winding roads of the volcanic Cantal department, they continued to tick off the seconds; with 50km to go the gap had been reduced to 1’55”.

All five members of the break were still taking their turns but, as they traversed the predominantly downhill road to the foot of the next climb, the peloton was gradually gaining on them. The intermediate sprint, in Saint-Cyprien-sur-Dourdou with 36km to go, was taken by a track-style out of the saddle sprint from Howard, but the Lampre-ISD and Rabobank-led bunch was just 1’23” behind at this point.

As the roads began to flatten, and straighten, the peloton occasionally had the five fugitives in sight. There was still no hurry though, and, despite Movistar beginning to amass forward with Valverde in tow - plainly visible in the green points jersey - the steady pace continued.

With just over 25km to go, and with the gap now at 55 seconds, Maté suddenly sat up, apparently tired. The next climb was still more than 10km away and, with a six point lead over De Clercq, he was all-but guaranteed the mountain jersey by the end of the stage; his job done for the day, the Spaniard drifted back and was soon caught by the peloton.

Now down to just four, the riders in the lead group began to look over their shoulders as the race cars were pulled out of the gap. The lead was now just 34 seconds with 22km to go, but the pace in the peloton was still low enough for a low speed crash to bring down a number of riders in the middle.

As the peloton bore down on the quartet they looked at one another, then surrendered as Omega Pharma-Quick Step pulled the peloton past them with stage two winner Tom Boonen at its head.

With 20km to go the race was approaching the foot of the penultimate climb to the 3rd category Côte d'Aubert le Crès; as Boonen began to increase his pace, the breakaway riders soon found themselves shelled out the back.

With Maté caught De Gendt wants his polka-dots back

With the prospect of another tough end to the stage, more riders began to sit up; as he had been the day before, former World champion Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) was among the first to wave the white flag, along with fellow sprinters Roman Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM), and - job done - Tom Boonen.

Omega Pharma-Quick Step still had control of the peloton as the climb began, with Belgian climber Kevin De Weert setting a steady tempo. As they passed the 15km to go banner though, Vacansoleil-DCM took over, with Thomas De Gendt launching himself up the road shortly afterwards.

The Belgian, who had held the polka-dot mountains jersey since the stage one time trial was determined not to give it up without a fight. He would have to take first place over both of the remaining climbs however, to stop Mate from taking it from him.

De Clercq took the Côte d'Aubert le Crès unopposed and, within two kilometres had opened up a 15 second lead over the peloton. Seeing the potential danger of the coming roads, Team Sky pulled Wiggins to the front, but Omega Pharma-Quick Step was not willing to give up control yet and French champion Sylvain Chavanel took over.

With 10km to go De Gendt was 20 seconds ahead; traversing the rolling roads towards the city of Rodez was proving difficult for one rider alone however and he couldn’t get any further.

Inside the final 8km EUS jumped away in pursuit of De Gendt with SAU and Di Gregorio on his wheel, with Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) bridging up to them. Team Sky was having none of this though, and quickly closed them down, swallowing up De Gendt in the process.

Road furniture ends Gerrans’ hopes; Klöden makes a bid for glory

With 6.5km to go, as Movistar took hold of the peloton, a small crash on a corner brought down the previous day’s runner-up Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) as he rode into a traffic island. The Australian champion was up and okay, but his chance of taking anything on the stage had now gone.

As they traversed the outer limits of Rodez, no one team was able to take total control, with Movistar battling with Omega Pharma-Quick Step, GreenEDGE and Rabobank. A tight exit to a roundabout threatened to cause chaos, and a number of riders had to hop onto the grass verge at the side of the road, but thankfully nobody crashed this time.

Spanish champion Jose Joachim Rojas (Movistar) was pulling the peloton hard towards the final climb, but it was Klöden that put in a sudden attack over the top. The German was a few seconds clear of Rojas and Valverde as he took the climb, but was pulled back by a hard chase from Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD).

Team Sky then tried to take control into the final 500 metres but, as the sprint began Bole surged forward. Florencio came around the Slovenian champion, but faded quickly and Meersman, who had timed it much better than he had the day before, surged forward to take the sprint comfortably.

Bole recovered a little to overtake Florencio again, with Westra also coming past the Spaniard with a late surge to take third.

Wiggins was safely in the same group and, with the time bonuses swallowed up by the first three, held on to his yellow jersey by the same six second margin over Leipheimer.

Maté crossed the line in last place, along with crash victim Guillaume Levarlet (Saur-Sojasun), some 15’30” later, but had done just enough to take the polka dot jersey away from De Clercq.

Result stage 4
1. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
2. Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre-ISD
3. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
4. Xavier Florencio (Spa) Katusha Team
5. Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Saur-Sojasun
6. Simon Geschke (Ger) Project 1t4i
7. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
8. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
9. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Team Astana
10. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky

Standings after stage 4
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky
2. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step @ 6s
3. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team @ 11s
4. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quick Step @ 14s
5. Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan @ 18s
6. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
7. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team @ 20s
8. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team @ 29s
9. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team @ 33s
10. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Team Astana @ 36s

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