Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) avenged past disappointments on Paris-Nice to win the 191-kms 4th stage to Belleville after a fantastic breakaway ride in the Beaujolais hills on Wednesday. On the line, the French champion outsprinted compatriot Remy Pauriol (Cofidis) and Belgian Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil), who took part with him in a brave and fruitful move of more than 185 kms.Voeckler was twice beaten into second place in stage finishes in 2009 and last year, even breaking his collarbone two years ago. But the Frenchman, also winner of the Tour du Haut Var this season, can thank first stage winner De Gendt, who set the pace for most of the last 20 kms in the desperate but successful attempt to claim back his yellow jersey from Australia’s Matt Goss.As for Pauriol, he took advantage of the seven climbs on the day’s menu to take over the best climber’s polka-dot jersey. The three of them, accompanied by France’s Remy Di Gregorio, amply proved that boldness pays off.
Five to go
The race started at 12:14 without two Quick Step riders, Nikolas Maes, injured in yesterday’s sprint pile-up and Gert Steegmans, winner in Belleville in 2008. After a vain attempt by seven riders, a serious break took place after six kilometres at the initiative of French champion Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), former race leader Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil) and Remi Pauriol (FDJ). In the first climb, the Col de Grand-Vent, the three were joined by Remy Di Gregorio (FDJ) and Francis de Greef (Omega Pharma Lotto) (Km 14). De Gendt, second overall at the start, two seconds behind Matthew Goss (THR), was first at the top, ahead of Pauriol and Di Gregorio. The pace imposed from the start led several riders to be dropped, like Russian sprinter Denis Galimzyanov, 5th overall, who gave up after 20 kms. The break gained momentum after the first climb and 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.
Pauriol takes polka-dot jersey
Pauriol was first at the top of most climbs, revealing his ambitions for the polka-dot jersey. As for De Gendt, he did not miss his chance to win the first bonus sprint in Lamure-sur-Azergues (km 82.5) and pick three crucial seconds for the GC. The rugged terrain accounted for another slow average speed (35 kph after three hours) but the tempo was raised when Team Sky and Garmin-Cervelo started sharing chasing duties with HTC-HighRoad (km 120). On the 2nd category Col du Fut d’Avenas (km 146), Pauriol secured the polka-dot jersey while the gap was being trimmed down (1:20 at km 150). The last climb (Col de Fontmartin, km 156) saw the tempo move up a gear and some 30 riders, including polka-dot jersey holder Jussi Veikkanen, paid the toll to a hard day’s ride and drifted at the back.
With 15 kms to go, De Greef could not hold the steady pace imposed by De Gendt, who collected three more seconds in the sprint in Fleurie (km 175.5). The first stage winner kept pushing harder and harder, so hard that the peloton gave up the chase with two kilometres to go. De Gendt was still in the lead when the four escapees launched the final sprint in which Thomas Voeckler, the best of the lot in terms of speed, won easily.
But the three riders at the podium each took a piece of the day’s cake. Stage for Voeckler, yellow jersey for De Gendt and polka-dot garment for Pauriol.
“At first I just wanted to go for the sprint and take seconds, thinking that if Goss was in the peloton, I might take back the jersey. We just kept riding and they could not catch us. I had good legs, I wanted to ride in the front. I didn’t expect it to go so well. I was riding just for the yellow jersey. If I wanted to win the stage, I would have played it smarter. To take the jersey is also nice. Tomorrow is a hard stage, I have thirty seconds on the first real climbers. Maybe it will be enough, maybe not. I don’t think so…”
I had been waiting for this since 2003. I was second twice in the past years and I tried again yesterday. Today, I said to myself to try my luck far from the finish as the last climb was far from the line. I had good riders with me. It was close but it was good enough. In the Tour de France 2004, I swapped the French champion jersey for the yellow jersey and it would be good to do it again on Paris-Nice. But with the time trial on Friday I don’t have the slightest chance to win Paris-Nice. I’m already happy to have won a stage for the team. I will try to win another one. Our week is already good.
French champion Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) wins the 191-kms 4th stage of Paris-Nice. Remy Pauriol (FDJ) is second and Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil) is third.
De Gendt still leads for the final sprint.
... and the lead is stable.
...and Voeckler, De Gendt, Pauriol and Di Gregorio still lead by 26 seconds.
... and the peloton is led by Leopard-Trek riders, 35 seconds behind the four escapees. Matt Goss is still at the back of the pack.
Every morning before the start, Bernard Hinault gives his views about the day’s stage and the riders to watch:
Yesterday, the attackers were unable to take advantage of the possibilities of the course, notably because of the slow pace in the bunch which helped the sprinters team-mates to keep fresh for the final sprint. Voeckler tried, he blew the peloton a bit, but it was not enough to cause havoc. In the finale, I have the impression that Sagan was going for victory before he crashed. Today, with the several climbs on the course, there could be an animated race. Team HTC should be working to defend their yellow jersey, but they also must keep the rest of the week in mind and above all Tony Martin’s ambitions. If I were their team director, I would send a guy to the front. It would block the race a little bit and there would be a bit of a mess before another team decide to lead the chase. Nobody uses that sort of trick anymore. I wonder why.