Lieuwe Westra heads for the finish line whilst a select group led by yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins chases.
It was a perfect day for Dutch team Vacansoleil-DCM. Their rider Frederik Veuchelen was in the four man breakaway that went right from the start and he won enough points on the climbs to take the mountains jersey. With a man up the road Westra was able to sit tight. Sky lead the chase for much of the day before Movistar and BMC took over and the bunch was thinned by the high pace in the last third of the stage.
As soon as the climb started Veuchelen was caught and Sky’s Richie Porte set an asphyxiating pace that saw many big names gasping for air as they went out the back. Porte’s intense riding discouraged any attacks and set up Wiggins nicely for the finish. The first to attack was FDJ-BigMat’s Arnold Jeannesson. The Frenchman is another one to carry the burden of “French hope” but his ability is real. Only he struggled to get a gap. On a climb as steep as this an acceleration takes a big effort and he paid.
Everyone was waiting for Alejandro Valverde to strike but he was unable to attack. Instead Westra lifted himself out of the saddle and jumped. A moment’s hesitation and the big Dutchman was away. Westra has been riding well all week. 19th in the prologue and he made the group of 21 riders who exploited the crosswinds on Stage 2. But today was his best result. With several wins to his name, he has been better known as a time triallist, for example winning the Tour of Belgium prologue last year. Maybe the mountain finish surprised him too since he sat up to savour the win, pointing at his jersey in a victory salute routine that lost him a few precious seconds. He’s only six seconds down on Wiggins and some say his celebrations cost him the yellow jersey. But I’m not so sure.
Thomas Voeckler made the top-10. If you missed the TV, you only need to image the scene as he honked his way up the final climb, as if his knees were waving to the spectators. Voeckler was interviewed by French TV before the stage saying “je suis un peu juste” which translates from French into English as “my form is bit short” but from Voecklerish into English it means “I fancy this stage”.
If Westra was the winner today, Wiggins did well. Not a pure climber, the high pace on the steady ramp suited him and at times his legs were a rotary blur as he spun a low gear up the climb. Can he win the race? Yes. But Paris-Nice always reserves surprises and he knows his lead is only a puncture away from disaster.
Note today’s stage took in some of the roads described in Tim Krabbé’s book De Renner, The Rider. This time a Dutchman won.
1 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM 4:52:46
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:06
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
5 Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha Team
6 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – ISD 0:00:16
7 Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ-Bigmat
8 Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:24
9 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling
10 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:30
11 Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan
12 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team
13 Richie Porte (Aus) Sky Procycling 0:00:42
14 Alexandre Geniez (Fra) Project 1T4i
15 Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil-DCM
16 Maxime Bouet (Fra) Ag2R La Mondiale
17 Javier Moreno Bazan (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:48
18 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana Pro Team
19 Fränk Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan
20 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2R La Mondiale