Thursday, 10 March 2011

Kloeden outsprints rivals to take win on stage 5

In an exciting ride in the Ardeche hills, two time Tour de France runner up (2004, 2006) Andreas Kloeden won the 193-kms 5th stage of Paris-Nice following a brilliant team effort by the Radio-Shack boys. Eleven years after his sucess in the Race to the Sun, the German outsprinted his seven breakaway companions to cross the line in Vernoux-in-Vivarais ahead of Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) and little-known Italian Matteo Carrara (Vacansoleil). Coming ahead of the 27km individual time trial in Aix-en-Provence, we could see an all-German showdown as Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) finished fourth in the stage.

The decisive move took place on the perilous descent of the Col de la Mure, nine kilometres from the finish, as eight riders broke clear, never to be seen again. In the finale, Kloeden was able to count on team-mate Janez Brajkovic, who set him up perfectly for a textbook sprint victory.

As the horrendous pace was set almost at the off, the likes of De Weert and Offredo were forced to abandon as they were dropped off the back. Remi Pauriol (FDJ) and Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) took early chances to strengthen their respective jerseys; the polka-dot jersey holder first at the top of Cote des Ayats (3rd cat, km 29) and Haussler winning the Kivilev Memorial in St Chamond (km 38).

With the battle starting in the Col de la Croix de Chaubouret, Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R), Roman Kreuziger (Astana) and a few other riders launched an unsuccessful attempt. Dutchman Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) took advantage of the move to break on his own, crossing the line in front with a 35 seconds lead over a group of four men: Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ), David Lopez-Garcia (Movistar), Hubert Dupont (AG2R) and Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervelo). Romain Hardy (Bretagne-Schuller) joined the four in the descent (km 68) their efforts fruitful as they caught Westra soon afterwards.

The six held a maximum lead of 4:10 shortly before Annonay (km 79) as teams RadioShack and Rabobank led the chase, bringing the time gap down to around 2 minutes. With the pace increasing again on the Col de Montreynaud (2nd cat, km 136) Dupont, Westra and Lopez-Garcia dropped their three other breakaway companions.

At the front of the peloton, several prominent riders tried to bridge the gap – Sandy Casar and Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) and Jens Voigt (Leopard-Trek) – before being reined in in the Côte de Vernoux (km 143). As the race hit the Col de Comberon (km 150) Westra dropped Lopez-Garcia, then Dupont but the Frenchman came back in the descent, quickly followed by the main pack.

Shortly after the junction, FDJ riders seized the peloton’s reins and imposed fearsome pace in the descent. Arthur Vichot crashing in the process (km 160, he was forced to abandon his race. The move however placed four FDJ men in a seven-man breakaway which included Pierrick Fedrigo, Sandy Casar, Cedric Pineau, Jeremy Roy (all FDJ) Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Simon Spilak (Lampre) and Yuri Trofimov (Katusha).

But as they hit the bottom of the last climb, the gruelling Col de la Mure, the escapees were caught, Astana taking the reins over from FDJ and following attempts by Remy Di Gregorio and Roman Kreuziger, their team-mate Robert Kiserlovski of Croatia broke with Italy’s Matteo Carrara (Vacansoleil).

The duo were caught near the summit by Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), who reached the top in the front. As they hit the descent, a group of eight emerged: Tony Martin (THR), Matteo Carrara (Vacansoleil), Xavier Tondo (Movistar), Robert Kiserlovski (Astana), Andreas Kloeden and Janez Brajkovic (both RadioShack), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel). Led by Martin and Brajkovic, the group maintained a 20 seconds lead over the closest chasing bunch and were left to battle it out in the finale. Brajkovic, the 2010 Dauphine Libere winner, launched the sprint for Kloeden, lifting his arms in the air, seeing his team-mate had made it across the line.

Tomorrows stage will be an individual time trial of 27km from Roges to Aix-en-Provance. The last time Paris-Nice featured such a long individual time trial was in 1968. Contenders for the final victory should be well placed at this stage of the race and they will have to let their legs do the talking. Those who are able to do so will try and make the difference in a stage which is tailored for specialists. The parcours crosses the heart of the Pays d’Aix and stays mostly flat along the Durance river, but the effort required on the Côte de la Cride could break the rhythm of pure power riders. Following todays action we could very well see a German dominated stage.

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