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Paris-Nice 2008: again exciting till the end - Luis Leon Sanchez wins the last stage, Davide Rebellin wins GC followed by Rinaldo Nocentini

Added: sunday 16 March 2008 at 16:55:00
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    Paris-Nice 2008: again exciting till the end - Luis Leon Sanchez wins the last stage, Davide Rebellin wins GC followed by Rinaldo NocentiniJust like last year for Paris-Nice 2007, the 66th edition of Parijs-Nice again became one full of suspense until the very end!

    Indeed, this morning before the start of the last stage Nice > Nice, the difference between the two first riders in the general ranking - the Italians Davide Rebellin of Gerolsteiner and Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R La Mondiale - was only three seconds.

    The prologue: Amilly > Amilly

    The prologue of this Paris-Nice 2008 was one under a grey sky and with some bits of rain ... the weather heavily influenced the first general ranking of this race to the sun with Thor Hushovd as the first winner.

    > Read my full story on the Paris-Nice 2008 prologue in Amilly

    Monday 10 March 2008 - first stage - Amilly (La Chapelotte) > Nevers

    This stage's start had even more severe weather than the day before and therefore the first part of this stage was skipped: instead of leaving from Amilly, the final start was in La Chapelotte which was where originally the provisioning zone was planned. During this stage there was therefore only one intermediate sprint since the first intermediate sprint was planned in Vailly-sur-Sauldre just before the final start. The stage's length went down from 184,5 km to only 93,5 km.

    After a first solo attack of the Spanish rider Dionisio Galparsoro of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team which - with the Côte de Venoize, third categorie mountain - gave him the right to be the first to wear the polka dot king of the mountain jersey of this race to the sun, there was a nice escape by Bernhard Eisel (Team High Road), Niki Terpstra (Milram) and Peter Velits (Milram) which took 4m10s on the pack. The Française des Jeux team finally started an accelleration of the pack until just before the intermediate sprint in Villequiers where a crash splitted the pack in two groups. Even after this split the 3 front riders were taken back at about 15 km from the finish.

    Just before the finish a few riders tried to escape but without any success ... finally the Belgian Gert Steegmans (Quick.Step) managed to beat Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom) on the finish line.

    In the general ranking Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) kept the first place with 6 seconds ahead of Gert Steegmans (Quick.Step) and 12 of Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom).Thierry Hupond (Skil Shimano) - warming up for the prologue in Amilly

    Tuesday 11 March 2008 - second stage - Nevers > Belleville - 201 km

    After a few failed escape attempts Thierry Hupond (Skil Shimano) managed to leave the pack after 30 kilometers; at kilometer 105 he was no less than 15m10s ahead of the pack. Finally he was taken back at only 20 kilometer from the finish after a 151 km solo.

    The pack was split in several groups and yellow jersey Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) attacked at 15 km before the finish. Three other riders - Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Michael Albasini (Liquigas) and Gert Steegmans (Quick.Step) - followed him and at one kilometer from the finish they had 20 seconds advance on the pack.
    In this group Sylvain Chavanel attacks at 500 meter from the finish, but Gert Steegmans manages to accellerate and take a stage victory! Finally Gert Steegmans abandoned in the last stage today.

    The yellow jersey stayed on Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole)'s shoulders, still leading on Gert Steegmans (Quick.Step) with 3 seconds and Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom) with 23 seconds.

    Wednesday 12 March 2008 - third stage - Fleurie > Saint-Etienne - 165,5 km

    During this stage the sun finally broke through and almost immediately after the start Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), Bradley McGee (CSC) and Clément Lhotellerie (Skil Shimano) attacked; they took a maximum advance of 12m40s. The French and Finish riders managed to get rid of the Australian and at 2 kilometers from the finish they still have one minute on the pack.
    Carlström calmly waited in Lhotellerie's wheel until about 150 meters from the finish when he accellerated and took the stage victory.

    Finishing 43 seconds behind the two first riders Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) took his first yellow jersey in his whole career! He than had 3 seconds on the young Spaniard Luis-Leon Sanchez of the Caisse d'Epargne team and 8 on Gorka Verdugo of Euskaltel-Euskadi.
    Thor Hushovd (Quick.Step) kept his green jersey and Clément Lhotellerie (Skil Shimano) could put on the polka dot jersey.Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale)

    Thursday 13 March 2008 - fourth stage - Montélimar > Station du Mont Serein / Mont Ventoux - 176 km

    During this important Paris-Nice 2008 stage with its finish on the Mont Ventoux, the classical leaders were expected at the forefronts of the race but finally the young Dutch rider Robert Geesink (Rabobank) was the one we saw most and - even though he didn't win the stage - this allowed him also to take over the yellow leader jersey!

    Despite the control of the race by Sylvain Chavanel and his Cofidis team mates, the four riders Bernhard Eisel (Team High Road), Niki Terpstra (Milram), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas) and Jens Voigt (CSC) managed to take an advance of no less than 7m15s.
    In the last climb Jens Voigt easily leaves his fellow front riders and with 2m30s on the pack he starts to believe in a stage victory. That's however without counting on the attack of the pack at about 7 kilometers from the finish in which even Sylvain Chavanel is left behind. Finally 4 riders are in front: Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto), Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Frank Schleck (CSC). Schleck and Popovych have to give up after repeated attacks of the Dutch rider Robert Gesink. Cadel Evans wins the stage just before Robert Gesink.

    Robert Gesink does however win the yellow jersey with 32 seconds on Davide Rebellin and 35 seconds on Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale, photo). No changes for the green and polka dot jersey.

    Friday 14 March 2008 - fifth stage - Althen-des-Paluds > Sisteron - 172,5 km

    Christophe Moreau (Agritubel)This stage started with several short escapes which were all taken back by the pack.

    In the descent of the Col de Murs the four French riders Rémi Pauriol (Crédit Agricole), Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux), Christophe Moreau (Agritubel) and Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom) leave the pack and this provokes a chain reaction: first of all Sandy Casar's place is taken over by Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) and then Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) starts a counter-attack.

    After a few changes in the front of the race, 17 riders form the leading group: David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne), Mathieu Perget (Caisse d'Epargne), Kartsen Kroon (CSC), Alexandre Botcharov (Crédit Agricole), Simon Gerrans (Crédit Agricole), Pierre Rolland (Crédit Agricole), Benoit Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux), Manuele Mori (Saunier Duval-Scott), Aurélien Passeron (Saunier Duval-Scott), Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R La Mondiale), Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom), Maxime Monfort (Cofidis), Carlos Barredo (Quick.Step), Christophe Moreau (Agritubel, photo), Geoffroy Lequattre (Agritubel), Eduardo Gonzalo Ramirez (Agritubel) and Ivan Santaromita (Liquigas): this leading group took a maximum advance of 3m05s.

    The 17 riders feel they're being attacked by the Rabobank and Gerolsteiner teams and Botcharov decides to attack to leave the group. He will be taken back at the first passage of the finish line and it's up to Carlos Barredo and Christophe Moreau to attack. Followed by Rolland, Mori and Kroon they form a group of 5 riders. Barredo decides to continue alone and at one kilometer from the finish he's still 8 seconds ahead, enough to win this stage!

    Not many changes in the general ranking which at that time is still headed by Robert Gesink with 32 seconds on Davide Rebellin and 35 on Rinaldo Nocentini.

    Saturday 15 March 2008 - sixth stage - Sisteron > Cannes - 206 km

    Forelast stage and a completely changed general ranking: the Dutch rider Robert Gesink showed he's not that good as Davide Rebellin in the descent and Rebellin takes over his yellow jersey ...

    The first real escape in this forelast stage was the one led by Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Bobby Julich (CSC), Chris Sorensen (CSC), Matthieu Sprick (Bouygues Telecom), Gert Steegmans (Quick.Step), Kevin Ista (Agritubel) and Clément Lhotellerie (Skil Shimano). Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) tried to follow them for a while, but while the group of 8 riders took 2m55s he was taken back by the pack.

    Clément Lhotellerie secured his polka dot jersey during this escape by passing first on the Col des Leques, the Col de Luens and the Côte du Mousteiret. He then descends back to the pack and leaves the 7 other riders take up to 6 minutes.

    Led by Caisse d'Epargne and Lampre, the pack manages to decrease the distance and Ista and Steegmans leave the 5 others the honor to stay in front before they are all taken back by the pack.

    Rebellin uses the descent of the Col du Tanneron to get rid of the Dutch rider Robert Gesink, who's wearing the yellow jersey. The Italian is accompanied by Luis-Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) and Bobby Julich (CSC).

    At 1 kilometer from the finish it's up to Luis Leon Sanchez to attack, but he's immediately taken back by Sylvain Chavanel. The French rider of the Cofidis team finally wins the stage and makes this Paris-Nice a successful race to the sun after having had the privilege to wear the yellow jersey earlier this week.

    The general ranking before the start of the last stage showed a difference of only 3 seconds between the first, Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), and the second, Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale). Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto) was third, 48 seconds behind the first Italian.

    Thor Hushovd kept the green jersey and Clément Lhotellerie was sure he would keep the polka dot jersey ... he only had to finish the Nice > Nice for that (he was 35 points ahead on Sörensen and there were only 30 points to win during the last stage).

    Robert Gesink still remained the best young rider of this 66th edition of Paris-Nice being 33 seconds ahead of Luis-Leon Sanchez.

    Sunday 16 March 2008 - seventh stage - Nice > Nice - 119 115 km

    Yet another change in the track of this Paris-Nice: due to collapsing road sides between km 88 and km 97 of this stage, the riders took an alternative track from km 88 to Eze and the original track.

    Another change: the start was delayed for a few minutes since the riders wanted to show they're not happy with the way they're being treated for doping checks. The Belgian rider Kevin van Impe of the Quick.Step team had a son last Monday, but unfortunately the baby was born too early and died 6 hours later. Last Wednesday the Belgian rider was discussing the cremation with the funeral director when a dope test official rang. When the Belgian rider told him his venue was quite inconvenient at that time and explained the situation the official didn't really listen: Van Impe could choose between doing the dope test anyway or have this registered as a refused dope test.
    The Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) said about this just before the start of today's stage: We are not against those tests, but we do ask some respect. What happened here is not good and by starting a few minutes late today we want to show our support to Van Impe and ask for something like this to never happen again.
    Luis Leon Sanchez
    In the descent of the Col de Porte, Rinaldo Nocentini slided in a turn and Robert Gesink who was following him fell together with Rinaldo, thus hitting the wall on the side of the road with his left arm.

    At 34 km of the finish the polka dot jersey Clément Lhotellerie (Skil Shimano) attacked and continued his solo race until about 15 km from the finish when he was joined by Javier Benitez (Saunier Duval-Scott). Damiano Cunego and Luis Leon Sanchez joined these two riders before being taken back by the pack at around 4 km from the finish.

    Finally Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) managed to get away just a little bit and this was enough to win the stage with a few meters from Maxime Monfort (Cofidis) and Carlos Barredo (Quick.Step).

    For the general ranking Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) didn't manage to win back the 3 seconds which seperated him from Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner). Rebellin is probably quite happy to finish first this year after finishing second last year when he was beat in the last stage by Alberto Contador.

    The two revelations of this Paris-Nice definitely are Clément Lhotellerie (Skil Shimano) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank).

    by Thomas Vergouwen
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