Robert Gesink emerged as the new sensation of Dutch cycling when he seized the reins of Paris-Nice on the Ventoux at the end of the 4th stage won by Tour de France runner-up Cadel Evans.
The two were left together in the last two kilometres of the most gruelling climb of this edition, on which Franceâ€™s Sylvain Chavanel lost more than three minutes and his yellow jersey.
Gesink, 21, now leads the overall standings with a 32 seconds lead over Davide Rebellin, with another Italian, Rinalo Nocentini, third a further three seconds behind.
Paris â€“Nice Stage 4 : Montelimar â€“ Mont Serein (176 kms)
Intermediate sprints :
Km 108.5 â€“ Rasteau
Km 147.5 â€“ Bedoin.
Km 24 - Cote de Puy-St Martin
Km 49.5 â€“ Cote de Bourdeaux
Km 62.5 â€“ Cote de Serre de Turc
Km 154.5 â€“ Col de la Madeleine
Km 175 â€“ Mt Serein
VOIGT LEADS EARLY BREAK
The start was given at 11:52 to 149 riders. Philip Deignan (AG2R) did not start. After 11 kms, four men broke clear - Belarus Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Austriaâ€™s Bernhard Eisel (High Road), Germanyâ€™s Jens Voigt (CSC), and Dutchman Niki Terpstra (Milram) â€“ much to the satisfaction of the peloton, who let them go.
Their lead grew steadily: 3:30 on the Cote de Puy St Martin (Km 24), 5:20 on the 3rd category Cote de Bourdeaux (km 49.5) and 6:30 on the Cote de Serre de Turc (km 62.5).
At the first intermediate sprint in Rasteau (twice a stage finish in 2004 and 2006), won by Kuschynski, ahead of Eisel and Voigt, the lead of the break was unchanged at 6:30 after reaching a maximum of 7:15 at kilometre 75.
At the second sprint in Bedoin (km 147), again won by Kuschynski ahead of Eisel and Vogt, the gap had decreased to 5:15.
In Malaucene, at the bottom of the final climb, the breakâ€™s lead had been cut down to 3:30.
Seeing the gap going down, Voigt broke clear from his three former companions, who were caught by the peloton one by one. The veteran German found himself alone in front of the bunch with 10 kms to go.
From the beginning of the climb, while riders like Christophe Moreau, Alexandre Botcharov or Igor Anton were dropped, Sylvain Chavanel seemed to struggle a bit but he kept his place in the chasing group.
The chase was first led by Davide Rebellinâ€™s Gerolsteiner team-mates, then by Qucik Step riders, working for Carlos Barredo and Juan Manuel Garate.
GESINK STRIKES HARD
Seven kilometres from the finish line, yellow jersey holder Chavanel was dropped and quickly lost ground.
With five kms to go, Robert Gesink (Rabobank) attacked and only Yaroslav Popovych, Cadel Evans (both Silence Lotto), Frank Schleck (CSC), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) and Davide Rebellin were able to take his wheel.
Rebellin was dropped one kilometre later, as Gesink, Popovych and Evans caught Voigt.
Three kilometres from the finish line, only two men were left to battle it out for stage victory: Gesink and Evans.
The Tour de France runner-up outsprinted his young rival for stage victory, but the Dutchman earned the best possible consolation â€“ the overall leaderâ€™s yellow jersey.
Cadel Evans : "Itâ€™s good when you win but my goal was to put Popvych in the best possible position in the overall standings. My job is done.
I could see in the last climb that Robert Gesink is a very, very strong young rider.
Now Iâ€™d really like to continue helping Popo, He still has a chance of doing a very, very good Paris-Nice.â€ť
Robert Gesink: â€śI hoped for it and my team with me, we worked very hard. I was really good today. The long climbs are good for me because I can keep the pace, When Popo went off, I just went for the finish. Iâ€™m really happy to have the jersey even if Cadel Evans did not let me win the stage. Thatâ€™s cycling, and I understand.
Of course, I hope to come back here and win on the Ventoux some day.
I have a very strong team and I hope to keep the jersey in the next few days.â€ť
Robert Gesink is the new Paris-Nice leader.
Sylvain Chavanel, the Paris-Nice leader at the start, finished 3:42 off the pace.
Top five placings in the 176-kms 4th stage of Paris-Nice between Montelimar and Mont Serein.
1. Cadel Evans (Aus, Silence Lotto)
2. Robert Gesink (Netherlands, Rabobank)
3. Rinaldo Nocentini (Italy, AG2R)
4. Davide Rebellin (Italy, Gerolsteiner)
5. Frank Schleck (Luxembourg, CSC)
Cadel Evans wins the 4th stage of Paris-Nice ahead of Robert Gesink.
Gesink was first at the top of the climb, one km from the finish.
Every morning before the start, Bernard Hinault gives his views about the issues at stake and the riders to watch on the dayâ€™s stage :
"I really enjoyed seeing riders with character in yesterdayâ€™s stage. After Hupond, Lhotellerie stole the show. The Skil-Shimano team is really doing well in this race but how come these two riders are not in a French team?
As for Sylvain Chavanel, he really pleases us these days. Itâ€™s a shame he only find confidence at 27, he certainly wasted a couple of good years. Today, weâ€™re going to see if he is the boss. He doesnâ€™t have to attack, he will have to handle his rivals and stay on his guard. He has a dozen of rivals to watch and itâ€™s tricky because a true climber could very well attack from the bottom and make a huge gap on the finish line."