Lieuwe Westra soars to take Paris-Nice stage five on the Montée Jalabert
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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Lieuwe Westra soars to take Paris-Nice stage five on the Montée Jalabert

by Ben Atkins at 10:49 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results, Paris-Nice
 
Ever-aggressive Dutchman jumps away from leaders group to move up to second overall

lieuwe westraLieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) continued his irresistible march up the overall Paris-Nice rankings, taking an impressive solo victory in the fifth stage between Onet-le-Château and Mende. The ever-aggressive Dutchman, who finished third on the previous day, jumped away from the group of overall favourites on the steep final climb to La Croix-Neuve-Montée Laurent Jalabert, and nobody was able to respond.

Race leader Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) gave chase, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Simon Spilak (Katusha) lined up on his wheel, but the British champion couldn’t catch the flying Dutchman.

Westra sat up to celebrate his victory long before the line, pointing to his team sponsor on his jersey, when he might have sprinted for more seconds; Valverde came around Wiggins to take third place, six seconds later.

“I felt good in the last hour and the goal was not to lose time on the final climb,” said Westra afterwards. “But with one kilometre to go Wiggins attacked and he didn’t get away so I decided to attack myself. I took 100 metres on the group and they didn’t catch me, unbelievable!”

The ten second time bonus for Westra - where Valverde took six and Wiggins four - means that Westra moves up to second place overall, and is now just six seconds behind Wiggins , who holds his yellow jersey for another day. Leipheimer slips from second to third place, and Wiggins’ bonus sees his deficit extended to ten seconds, while Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) slips to sixth after losing contact on the climb; although the American holds on to the white jersey.

“The team did a great job and this win is fantastic,” said Westra. “Until Sunday I must try not to lose time and then we will see what happens in the time trial.”

The final battle between the overall contenders came after a long breakaway from Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil-DCM), Simon Clarke (GreenEDGE), David Le Lay (Saur-Sojasun) and Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar) - and a counterattack from Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) and Kevin Seeldraeyers (Astana) - was chased down in the closing kilometres of the mountainous 178.5km stage.

Veuchelen was the most determined, and was only caught as the final, steep, three kilometre climb to the finish began; on a good day for Vacansoleil-DCM though, the Belgian was rewarded with the polka-dot mountains jersey.

Paris-Nice hits the real mountains and four riders escape early

After two hilly days, Paris-Nice properly hit the mountains of the Massif central on stage five. The 178.5km stage would take in two 3rd category, one 2nd category, and three 1st category climbs, finishing on the top of the final one, the iconic Croix-Neuve-Montée Laurent Jalabert.

The four-man move of Veuchelen, Clarke, Le Lay and Arashiro escaped after just 2km, and was immediately allowed to build a lead by the peloton. Seeldraeyers and Eduard Vorganov (Katusha) were not so lucky however, and were prevented from joining up with the break when it was just 30 seconds clear.

After 10km the quartet was 2’45” ahead, which had stretched to more than six minutes as Veuchelen led them over the 3rd category Col d'Aujols after 15.5km. With Le Lay the best placed overall, in 34th place 3’26” behind Wiggins, he was the virtual leader on the road; Team Sky decided that he needed to be kept in check just a little; the gap was up to 6’50” by kilometre 21, but this was as wide as the British team would allow.

With the lead static at just over six minutes, Veuchelen again led over the 1st category Côte de la Malène after 96km, and the 3rd category Côte du Cayla after 103.5km. Mountains leader Luis Angel Maté (Cofidis) was scrapping for the final points with Veuchelen’s Vacansoleil-DCM teammate Thomas De Gendt (who’d held the polka-dot jersey until the previous day) in the peloton behind them; De Gendt was winning, making it easier for Veuchelen to close in on the jersey.

Movistar and BMC Racing decide that the foursome’s time is up

As they tackled the rolling roads on the approach to the foot of the 1st category Côte de l'Estrade, the Movistar and BMC Racing teams took over from Team Sky on the front of the peloton. Between them the two teams began to make serious inroads into the quartet’s lead; with 50km to go it was down to 5’15”, with 40km to go it was down to 3’45”.

With 37km to go Maté jumped off front of peloton; his attack was short-lived, but it led to a counter move from Ten Dam and Seeldraeyers. As Movistar domestique Jose Ivan Gurierrez calmly led the peloton, the two riders were allowed to get away; the gap was down to 2’20” with 35km to go though, and the Spanish rider’s pace was shelling dozens of riders on the climb.

Ten Dam and Seeldraeyers were now hovering 20 seconds ahead, but making slow progress on the four up the road.

Veuchelen led the foursome over the top of the climb, as he had all the way up, with the two chasers 1’20’ behind. De Gendt jumped out of the front of the peloton to take the final point, despite an initial challenge from Maté, 1’40” back, with the peloton ten seconds behind him.

The peloton regrouped on the long, gentle descent to the foot of the 2nd category Côte de Chabrits, with Movistar pulling numbers forward to work alongside Gutierrez. With 15km to go, the two chasers were just 45 seconds behind the leaders, but the peloton was now only 1’25” back and gaining fast.

As they rolled past the 10km to go banner, just as the climb was about to begin, the four leaders advantage was just 50 seconds over the peloton, with Seeldrayers and Ten Dam just 15 seconds behind them and about to make contact.

The junction was made with 9.2km remaining but, at the rate the peloton was gaining, it surely wouldn’t be long before they were all together.

Katusha took over the work on the front from Movistar, and began to lift the pace further. Again, the less able climbers were shelled out the back as a result, with Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) - who had crashed early in the race - among those to be dropped, along with Maté in the polka-dot jersey.

Veuchelen’s day in the sun is over as the final climb begins

This increase in pace closed the gap to mere seconds by the time the leading six were approaching the top. Seeing the peloton over his shoulder though, Veuchelen attacked with 400 metres still to climb and opened up enough of a lead to take the points. Arashiro and Ten Dam followed him over a few seconds later, but the rest were back in the fold by now.

Movistar was back in control now, with Team Sky and Omega Pharma-Quick Step lurking behind, but they refused to let the presence of the riders up the road interfere with the pace that they wanted to set for themselves.

Ten Dam found himself swept up quickly, but the other two persisted and, as Veuchelen hit the town of Mende with 3.5km to go, he was still 15 seconds clear. The climb was about to start though, which saw Arashiro quickly swallowed up; Veuchelen lasted just 100 metres of the steep gradients, grinding to a virtual standstill as he didn’t seem to have enough gears.

Richie Porte was leading the peloton for Team Sky, and quickly thinned out the already reduced peloton. Janez Brajkovic (Astana) was the first to go, with Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis) following soon afterwards.

Team Sky keeps control on the climb but Westra has other ideas

As they approached the final two kilometres, Movistar tried to take over, but Porte refused to yield the front; Wiggins then tucked in behind the Australian’s wheel and he continued his fierce pace.

The front group was now down to less than twenty riders, with Cunego, Van Garderen, Westra, Leipheimer, Valverde visible near the front. The relentless pace on the steep climb saw a continuous stream of top riders distanced, with Basque climber Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and - fourth overall - French champion Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) both struggling.

As the group entered the final kilometre Porte was still leading. Arnold Jeanneson (FDJ-BigMat) attacked but, since the Frenchman trailed Wiggins by 52 seconds, he was of no immediate danger overall so Porte continued his pace.

Jeannesson managed to get 50 metres clear but, with 500 metres to go Wiggins made a move himself and pulled the rest up to the FDJ-BigMat rider; this was the signal for Westra to counter though, and he was away. Wiggins now without teammates and was having to chase alone, with Valverde, Leipheimer, Jeannesson, Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) and Simon Spilak (Katusha) tucked in behind him.

As Westra rounded the final corner, he sat up to celebrate, smoothing his jersey to show his sponsors names when he might have sprinted for time. He cruised over the line however, to take his first victory of the season, making his 2012 Paris-Nice stage results read: 19th, 16th, 10th, 3rd, and 1st.

Valverde came around Wiggins to outsprint the yellow jersey for second place, six seconds later, with Leiphiemer and Spilak just behind them; Cunego and Jeannesson were a further ten seconds back, having been dropped by Wiggins in the final metres of the climb.

Result stage 5
1. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 6
3. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky
4. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
5. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team
6. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-ISD @ 16s
7. Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ-BigMat
8. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale @ 24s
9. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Team Sky
10. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar @ 30s

Standings after stage 5
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky
2. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM @ 6s
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step @ 10s
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team @ 18s
5. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team @ 37s
6. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team @ 39s
7. Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan @ 46s
8. Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ-BigMat @ 1’06”
9. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quick Step @ 1’16”
10. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Team Astana @ 1’21”

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