Davide Rebellin at last won Paris-Nice, a race which seemed to elude him in recent years, since he had to be content with podium places in 2003, 2004 and 2007.
But it was a close call for the experienced Italian, who only beat compatriot Rinaldo Nocentini by three seconds, the slimmest gap ever in the history of the Race to the Sun.
Rebellin, who had lost the race on the last day in 2007, perfectly controlled the 115-kms final stage, won on the Promenade des Anglais by Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez, already winner of a stage on la Croisette in Cannes last year.
Franceâ€™s Clement Lhotellerie, the revelation of this Paris-Nice, spent most of this final stage overlooking Nice in the front and earned a fine reward for his endless efforts â€“ the best climberâ€™s polka-dot jersey.
Stage 7 : Nice â€“ Nice 115 kms
Weather : sunny.
122 riders at the start.
Km 18.5 â€“ Plan du Var
Km 107.5 â€“ Eze
Climbs of the day
Km 51 â€“ Col de la Porte (1st cat)
Km 88 â€“ La Turbie (1st cat)
Km 105.5 â€“ Col dâ€™Eze (1st cat)
The start was given at 13:54 to 122 riders. As David Moncoutie and Gert Steegmans winner of stage 1 and 2, quickly abandoned, a group of 35 riders broke clear and held a maximum lead of 1:30.
Its composition was as follows : Charteau, Losada Agualcil (Caisse dâ€™Epargne) Lorenzetto (Lampre), Albasini, Corioni, Santaromita (Liquigas) Van den Broeck (Silence Lotto), Julich, Kolobnev, Kroon, Sorensen and Voigt (CSC), Pauriol (C.A.) Gilbert, Jegou (FDJ), Benitez, Cobo Acebo, Passeron (Saunier Duval), Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Possoni (High Road), Huguet (Cofidis), De Maar, Flecha (Rabobank), Arrieta, Dupont (AG2R) Cretskens, Tosatto (Quick Step) Lequatre (Agritubel), Grabsch, Schroeder (Milram), Euser, Lowe, Pate, Peterson (Slipstream) Goesinnen, Hupond (Skil-Shimano).
On the Col de la Porte (1st cat, km 51), the group quickly dissolved in several little bunches. Remi Pauriol and Morris Possoni broke clear and were joined by Jose Benitez near the top.
King of the mountains Clement Lhotellerie moved away from the peloton and chased behind the leaders, followed by Igor Anton (Euskaltel) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre).
At kilometre 57, on the descent, second-placed Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) crashed with former race leader Robert Gesink (Rabobank). Overall leader Davide Rebellin (Geroslteiner) ordered the peloton to wait for them.
LHOTELLERIE STEALS THE SHOW
On the last part of the descent (km 69), another group of 15 riders took the reins. It featured Pauriol, Possoni, Benitez, Lhotellerie, Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Albasini, Julich, Anton, Pineau, Dupont, Tosatto, Lowe, Losada Alguacil, Santaromita and Van den Broeck.
At the bottom of the climb to La Turbie, Lhotellerie attacked twice (km 79) and moved away on his own. Cunego was the only one to try and react and took with him ten of his former companions, Albasini, Santaromita and Vandenbroeck losing contact. At the top (km 88), Lhotellerieâ€™s lead was 35 seconds, with the peloton1:35 behind.
Lhotellerieâ€™s show continued on the Col dâ€™Eze (km 97.5), which he reached in the lead, followed by Jose Benitez, who joined forces with him in the descent.
SANCHEZ ON HIS OWN
On the way down to Nice, Benitez and Lhotellerie tried hard but were caught with 8 kms to go by a group led by Cunego and Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse dâ€™Epargne), who had made it back on the chase in the descent.
The race regrouped in the streets of Nice as the peloton rode at full speed under the impulsion of Rebellinâ€™s team-mates. Sanchez continued his effort and surged again with three kilometres left to finish on his own and narrowly resist the return of Belgiumâ€™s Maxime Monfort (Cofids) and Spainâ€™s Carlos Barredo (Quick Step).
Davide Rebellin finished in the same time as second-placed Rinaldo Nocentini and retained his three-seconds lead to win Paris-Nice with the slimmest margin in the race history.
"Iâ€™m very happy because for many years I had to be content with second or third places and I never won. It was a hard race today and I must thank my team-mates. There were a lot of attacks today but we managed to control Nocentini well. In the end, the stage result had no longer any importance. Witht he Tour du Haut Var and Paris-Nice, Iâ€™ve already won two beautiful races this season and I now hope to grab a nice classic like the ones Iâ€™ve won in the past."
Top five placings of the 115-kms 7th and final stage of Paris-Nice:
1. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spain, Caisse d’Epargne)
2. Maxime Monfort (Belgium, Cofidis)
3. Carlos Barredo (Spain, Quick Step)
4. Christophe Moreau (France, Agritubel)
5. Alexander Emfinkin (Russia, Quick Step)
Rebellin wins the 66th edition of Paris-Nice.
Luis Sanchez wins the 7th stage in Nice.
Luis Sanchez attacks. Winner last year in Cannes, the Spaniard can win on his own.
The leading group is now in sight for the peloton.
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:
Â« A lot of things happened again yesterday. Clement Lhotellerie is now certain to keep the polka-dot jersey and the descent towards Cannes was eventful, to say the last. We could see Rabobank suffer a lot. They were not capable of defending the jersey. Gesink found himself on his own and they were not able to control the situation.
In Rebellinâ€™s place, I would also have attacked in the descent. Itâ€™s something Iâ€™ve done more than once in my time. When you know a rival is not well, itâ€™s a great opportunity to finish him off. Now, nothing is definite since Rebellin only leads by three seconds. We saw last year that things could happen in the last stage. But unlike in 2007, Rebellin can count on a team which has not had to work all week for him and it is important. Â»