The Croix Neuve climb in Mende bears the name of Laurent Jalabert but Alberto Contador could also claim it as his own after winning the 4th stage of Paris-Nice in the same fashion as he won on it three years ago.The Tour de France champion surged 1.6 kms from the finish line never to be seen again in a stage amply dominated by Spanish riders, who took the top four places of the day.Alejandro Valverde was second ahead of Samuel Sanchez, both ten seconds adrift, Joaquin Rodriguez and Franceâ€™s Thomas Voeckler completing the top five.Overall, the 2007 Paris-Nice winner leads Valverde by 24 seconds while Czech Roman Kreuziger is third, a further second behind.
The start was given at 11:41 to 168 riders. After several attempts, a break of seven riders took shape at kilometre 12, involving Jerome Pineau (Quick Step), Amael Moinard (Cofidis), Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel), Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil) Jean-Marc Marino (Saur Sojasun), Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano) and Julien Loubet (AG2R). The peloton gave the seven the go-ahead and the gap increased to reach a maximum of 5:20 at kilometre 55. The cold conditions took their toll again, leading Kevin Van Impe and Heinrich Haussler to call it quits. On the first three climbs of the day Amael Moinard collected points for the mountains classification while Marino tried to defend Laurent Mangelâ€™s polka-dot jersey.
Astana set the pace
The Astana took over from Jens Voigtâ€™s Saxo Bank at the front of the peloton and the gap regularly decreased. It was only just over two minutes with 25 kms to go. At the foot of the Cote de Chabrits (km 166), the pack was on the heels of the escapees, who were caught with 11 kms to go. On the Cote de Chabrits, the Astana led the way behind Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil) and all the favourites reached the last climb in the main pack.
Pistolero on target
On La Croix Neuve, Christophe Le Mevel (FDJ) was the first to move, quickly followed by Contador, who went with 1.6 kms to go. Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) and race leader Jens Voigt (also Saxo Bank)were among the first to be dropped. With one kilometre to go, Alejandro Valverde and Samuel Sanchez were the only two riders left to chase, 10 seconds behind the 2007 winner. Contador crossed the line on his own, ahead of Valverde and Sanchez.
The reigning Tour champion also took the yellow jersey away from Jens Voigt, who finished 43 seconds off the pace.
"I maybe attacked a little bit early but itâ€™s always difficult to tell the right time to strike. I struggled in the first half of this Paris-Nice with my crash but a new race begins today. Yet there are still three hard days ahead of us."
1. Alberto Contador (Spain, Astana)
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spain, Caisse dâ€™Epargne) 10 seconds behind
3. Samuel Sanchez (Spain, Euskaltel) 10 secs
4. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spain, Katusha) 12 secs
5. Thomas Voeckler (Fra, Bbox) 18 secs
Alberto Contador (Astana) won the 4th stage and took the race leader’s yellow jersey.
The front of the race are tackling the last climb. All the favourites are together.
Results at the top of the Cote de Chabrits (km 166)
1. Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil) 7 points
2. Daniel Navarro (Astana) 5 pts
3. Xavier Tondo (Cervelo) 3 pts
4. Alberto Contador (Astana) 2 pts
5. David Lopez Garcia (Caisse dâ€™Epargne) 1 pt
Laurent Mangel (Saur Sojasun), the polka-dot jersey holder, has been droped by the peloton.
Every day, before the stage, Bernard Hinault gives his views about the day’s stage and the riders to watch
We had a great end to the stage yesterday and we saw that the cold was starting to take its toll. In any case, in spite of all the doubts about Contador, he showed he was still there. He was able to follow the move by Nicolas Roche when Luis Leon Sanchez or Alejandro Valverde were not.
I was above all impressed by the young Peter Sagan. At 20, he is the good surprise. He was already strong in the prologue but he confirmed yesterday. He showed great energy because he was able to follow the very best in this steep climb but also real tactical sense to outmaneuvre experienced riders in the finale. Of course, Roman Kreuziger is his leader but his team director would be ill-advised to sacrify his chances. He is lucky to have two cards to play which is ideal to stay in a position of strength. In any case I hope he will have the guts to assert himself. I would not mind being a little mouse to overhear the race briefing in the Liquigas team bus tomorrow.