Thursday, 10 March 2011

Voeckler victorious in case of third time lucky

Following a fantastic breakaway, French champion Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) succeeded with a win on stage 3 yesterday after years of failed attempts of victory at Paris-Nice. Staying out of reach of the ever present peloton for 185km of the 191km route, Voeckler out-sprinted compatriot Remy Pauriol (Cofidis) and Belgian Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil). Twice beaten in 2009 and last year and breaking his collar bone in 2009, victory was a sweet taste in a once bitter mouth. This seasons Tour du Haut Var winner, Voeckler has his rival De Gent to thank for setting the pace for the final 20km as he desperately fought to regain the yellow jersey from Matt Goss. Taking advantage of the days seven climbs, Pauriol was successful in snatching the polka-dot jersey for himself.

Nikolas Maes, injured in yesterday’s sprint pile-up and Gert Steegmans, winner in Belleville in 2008 were the only two riders who failed to start the 191km stage from Crêches-sur-Saône to Belleville. After a vain attempt by seven brave riders, a successful break came at the 6km mark in the form of the trio of Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), former race leader Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil) and Remi Pauriol (FDJ). At the first climb, the Col de Grand-Vent, they were joined by Remy Di Gregorio (FDJ) and Francis de Greef (Omega Pharma Lotto) (Km 14).

The gruelling pace set almost at the gun, the likes of Russian sprinter Denis Galimzyanov, 5th overall, who gave up after 20 kms, were quickly dropped; the break gaining momentum after the first climb, their lead reached 4:15 after 40 kms. On the Col des Ecorbans, 25 kms later, the gap had risen by a minute to a day’s maximum of 5:15.

Reaching the summit in prime position on almost all of the climbs, Pauriol had made his ambitions for the polka-dot jersey well known. As the rugged terrain slowed the pace for the peloton, Team Sky and Garmin-Cervelo started sharing chasing duties with HTC-HighRoad to bring the tempo up once more. By the last climb (Col de Fontmartin, km 156) the tempo had move up a gear and some 30 riders, including polka-dot jersey holder Jussi Veikkanen, paid the toll to a hard day’s ride, drifting at the back.

At the front De Gent hammered down hard leaving the peloton to give up the chase with 2km remaining. As the final sprint came it was Voeckler who took the stage win, but the successes were shared as De Gent regained the yellow and Pauriol grabbed the polka dot jersey.

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