Alberto Contador controlled his rivals with calm, experience and class to win his second Paris-Nice, three years after the first in 2007, and top an all-Spanish podium.The Tour de France champion seized the reins in the final Col dâ€™Eze, preventing all attacks from his opponents, and crossed the line with the other favourites to triumph with a 11 seconds lead over compatriot Alejandro Valverde while title-holder Luis Leon Sanchez (also Caisse dâ€™Epargne) finished third, 25 seconds adrift.The final stage was won by Franceâ€™s Amael Moinard, who was adamant to prove his polka-dot jersey was amply deserved. On the line, the Cofidis rider upstaged Thomas Voeckler (BBOx), his breakaway companion in the three first category climbs on the final dayâ€™s menu.The green jersey stayed on the back of the revelation of this 68th edition, 20-year-old Peter Sagan of Slovakia.
LL Sanchez moves up
The start was given at 11:39 to148 riders. After several breakaway attempts, the first sprint saw Peter Sagan (Liquigas) take the three points and strengthen his green jersey. Title holder Luis Leon Sanchez collected two points to secure a place on the podium. A crash at kilometre 30 forced six riders â€“ Martin, Lloyd, Garcia Acosta, Spzialetti, Porte and El Fares â€“ out of the race.
In the Col de la Porte, Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Omega Pharma Lotto) tried their luck but were reined in by the Astana before the top. Valverde also briefly tried to join a break, unsuccessfully.
Voeckler and Moinard shine
On the Col de la Porte, polka-dot jersey holder Amael Moinard (Cofidis) and Thomas Voeckler (Bbox) broke clear (km 49) and reached the top 20 seconds ahead of the yellow jersey group. Christophe Riblon (AG2R) chased for awhile before being caught. The two escapees reached the climb to La Turbie (km 81) with a two minutes edge on the bunch, a gap they maintained at the top.
Contador in control
The gap started to decrease on the descent and the trend continued in the Col dâ€™Eze. Joaquin Rodriguez, led by his Katusha team-mates, was the only one to dare attack Contador halfway up the climb, prompting the yellow jersey to set the tempo himself. The Tour de France champion checked his rivals until the finale while the attacks in the peloton â€“ notably by Jarez Brajkovic and Luis Leon Sanchez helped the two escapees maintain a gap of a few seconds until the line.
Voeckler attacked with 400 metres to go and was pipped by Moinard on the line. Valverde had to be content with third place and his second runner-up spot on Pairs-Nice, like in 2005.
I was already super happy with my polka-dot jersey and the stage win on top of it is just extraordinary. It was a difficult day with Thomas for we did not have a huge gap and also he attacked on the Col dâ€™Eze climb. I didnâ€™t worry because I know the climb well and I was confident I could make it back. I played it by ear. In the finale he put a ltitle bit of pressure on me two kilometres from the line, but I never panicked. I let him go because there was headwind and I waited for the line to pip him. I was right for I won.
Itâ€™s very difficult to win a race when youâ€™re the favourite. When everybody is after you and you win, itâ€™s a liberation. Today its was short but intense as I had to reply to every attack. It was a great emotion on the podium as it would have been a pity to lose a big race like Paris-Nice on sprint bonuses.
Asked about his teamâ€™s strength on this Paris-Nice and his hopes for the next Tour de France, Contador said:
The first thing to do is not to get carried away and to analyse things calmly without losing sight of your priorities. As the years go by, Iâ€™ve progressed in terms of experience and maturity. My legs are fine, my head is too, I hope the team will be even stronger in July to help me win the Tour.There are about seven or eight riders who can win the Tour because of their individual or their collective strength. Iâ€™m one of them.
1. Alberto Contador (Spain, Astana)
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spain, Caisse d’Epargne) 11 seconds behind
3. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spain, Caisse d’Epargne) 25 secs.
Top five placings in the 119-kms 7th and final stage of Paris-Nice.
1. Amael Moinard (France, Cofidis)
2. Thomas Voeckler (France, BBox)
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spain, Caisse d’Epargne) three seconds behind
4. Nicolas Roche (Ireland, AG2R)
5. Reine Taaramae (Estonia, Cofidis)
Alberto Contador (Astana) wins the 68th edition of Paris-Nice.
Amael Moinard wins the 7th and final stage.
Moinard and Voeckler under the red flame with a 14 seconds lead over the Contador group.
Everyday before the stage, Bernard Hinault gives his views about the dayâ€™s race and the riders to watch.
Yesterday, the Caisse dâ€™Epargne riders never tried to confront Contador for it was not certain at all that they could drop him in the Col de Vence. As a result they did not really expose themselves and yet they are a little bit closer thanks to Valverde, who collected a few seconds with his second place. Itâ€™s rather cunningly played as they moved all the pressure to the last stage today. With two riders in contention, they can attack each at a time to try and upset Contador and itâ€™s perhaps the only way to do it. Recent years have shown that Paris-Nice can be won by the slimmest margins. It is not over yet.