Remy Di Gregorio beat bad weather, slippery roads and self doubts to win the longest stage in Paris-Nice this year in Biot thanks to a bold move 13 kms to the finish line.The 26-year-old rider from Marseille, who knows the region’s roads well, was without a team at the end of last season after failing to hold his promises at team Francaise des Jeux. Hired by Astana this season, the lost hope of French cycling lifted the gauntlet to snatch a great win at long last.Fourth in the 4th stage after taking part in long break, Di Gegorio showed new strength of character to win with a six seconds led over Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel), Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran and the top two riders in the overall standings, Andreas Kloeden (RadioShack) and yellow jersey holder Tony Martin (HTC-High Road).The longest stage of the race this year was also the toughest as several crashes took place on slippery roads and many riders were forced to call it quits like Frank Schleck or Peter Sagan.
Kroon and Berthou in the rain
The start was given at 12:12 on a fast tempo. While some riders called it quits (Lequatre, Capecchi), Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) strengthened his green jersey by winning the first sprint in Lorgues (km 30.5). In the first climb of the day, Cote des Tuilieres (2nd cat, km 47.5), Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) attacked, followed by Sebastien Minard (AG2R), then by Jurgen Roelandts (OLO) and Ivan Santaromita (BMC). At the top of the climb, the four were joined by Grega Bole (Lampre).
But Astana riders led the chase and the five were caught in the next climb, Cote du Mont-Meaulx (km 63). After several attempts involving Astana (Vinokourov) and Rabobank (Weening), two men, Dutchman Karsten Kroon (BMC) and Eric Berthou (Bretagne-Schuller), finally broke significantly at kilometre 82. Their lead topped at 6:50 shortly before the ascent of the Cote de Cabris (1st cat, km 102.5).
Westra still going strong
In that climb, pre-race favourite Sandy Casar (FDJ) gave up. Yet his FDJ team-mates made a brave team-effort to help Remi Pauriol strengthen his polka-dot jersey by adding six points to his tally. In the Col du Ferrier (km 112.5), Pauriol tried to repeat the move but was caught off-guard by nearest rival Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) and had to settle for 4th place. Headwind and drizzles accounted for a slow average speed (28.4 kph in the third hour) until the whole Garmin-Cervelo team took the chase over to maintain the gap around 3:50. In the last climb, Cote de Gourdon (2nd cat, km 151), Westra surged again with Spain’s David Lopez Garcia and reached the top two minutes behind the leading duo. The Dutchman’s effort was stopped short when he slid and crashed in the descent, made extremely slippery by the pouring rain. Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Cervelo) was the most seriously hurt in several crashes and gave up with a suspected knee injury. Peter Sagan (Liquigas) was the main of several riders to call it quits.
Kroon caught, Di Gregorio goes
The two escapees entered the final circuit (km 169) with a two-minute lead over the split peloton. Vinokourov and Luis-Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) were among the riders lying in the second part of the bunch, 50 seconds behind the group including all the jersey holders.
At kilometre 180, Kroon went on his own. The experienced Dutchman, 35, resisted well but his lead was progressively trimmed down by the whole Movistar team, who led the chase for most of the last 40 kms. With 20 kms to go, Haussler crashed for the third time but it was more serious this time as the points leader’s victory hopes vanished.
Kroon was tamed after a 120 kms break (Km 202) and Di Gregorio lifted the gauntlet as his team-mate Robert Kiserlovski was crashing at the back. He maintained a lead of under 20 seconds and kept the peloton at bay until the finish line. Tony Martin retained his overall lead with 26 seconds over Kloeden and 41 seconds over Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky).
For sure, I was missing moments like this. I waited so long to win a beautiful stage like this. It’s great. It took a lot of work and a lot of questioning. I’m glad to offer this victory to those who kept believing in me. I really went for it. I wondered at one stage whether I should wait for Vino, who was at the back, but Grivko and Roman (Kreuziger) saw I had good legs and told me to stay at the front. I had not right to miss out and the finale was so long. It was close, but to win like this you must take measured risks. With a 100 metres to go, it was a real relief.
I’m working with great leaders in this team. I learnt a lot with a rider like Alexandre. I’m already in my 7th pro year but I learn a lot by seeing how he rides.
1. Remy Di Gregorio (France) Astana
2. Samuel Sanchez (Spain) Euskaltel
3. Rigoberto Uran (Colombia) Team Sky
4. Andreas Kloeden (Germany) RadioShack
5. Tony Martin (Gemrany) HTC-Highroad.
France’s Remy Di Gregorio (Astana) wins the 215-kms 7th stage of Paris-Nice between Brignoles and Biot-Sophia Antipolis.
But the rider from Marseille still leads by 20 seconds under the red flame!
Bad crash for Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) who is lying under a parked lorry.
... and Di Gregorio maintains his lead (18 seconds).
Every morning before the start, Bernard Hinault gives his views about the days’ stage and the riders to watch :
We expected Tony Martin to take the yellow jersey. He won’t be easy to dislodge. Now Kloeden is 36 seconds back in the GC and that is not huge. Especially with Brajkovic, they can really disturb HTC-Highroad’s plans. It remains to be seen whether Martin is well looked after on roads that are going to be very winding. If the RadioShack riders attack repeatedly, he won’t be able to react everytime. For Jean-Christophe Peraud, it is worth keeping fighting. He managed to get back in contention in the TT and now to try something, you need to be cunning. If he keeps quiet and sneaks into a move with Brajkovic for instance, he can steal victory.