Paris-Nice (st. 2)
A 21-rider split caused by the win gives the two Spaniards a 2.30 advantage and allows the Spanish champion contest the stage win, only beaten by Belgian Tom Boonen
The day which seemed to be the easiest in the route of the 70th Paris-Nice might become of the most decisive for the final outcome in the French race. A split started by crosswinds halfway the 185k stage from Mantes-la-Jolie to Orléans left 21 riders on the lead group, with Movistar Team putting their two top men ahead: Alejandro Valverde and José Joaquín Rojas -Iván Gutiérrez, who was initially inside, was cut by a mechanical-. Alongside Valverde, some of the biggest favourites for the overall win –Wiggins, Leipheimer, Van Garderen, Monfort, Thomas- were also up-front, but some of the other favourites ended up losing two and a half minutes after more than two hours into the pursuit behind the top guns.
Stage-wise, Rojas fought until the very end of his first success of the season, but eventually had to surrender to the strength by Belgian Tom Boonen (OPQ), who profited from the support by three other teammates into the 21-rider group. Valverde was 9th after earning two bonus seconds into an intermediate sprint, thus jumping into the 11th place overall -Rojas sits in 10th- just 30 seconds behind Brit Bradley Wiggins (SKY), the new race leader. The first complicated finish in the French race will come on Tuesday as 194 kilometers are covered from Vierzon to the Lac de Vassivière, with the final 5k on a 4% average gradient.
REACTION / José Joaquín Rojas: “The day’s overview is tremendously positive, as well for me as for the team, because we were able to contest the stage and rule out some top riders for the GC. I was really affected by a virus last week and had to give up in Almería. I couldn’t restart training until last Thursday and was really doubtful about my condition, so I’m really satisfied with today’s result. We knew that it was going to be a really hard day with wind and rain, and we tried to be as close to Alejandro as possible to protect him. With 10k to go the gap was stable, and I stopped taking relays to eat something and recover with the sprint in mind. I had a really clear idea about Boonen being the man to follow and, even through i could gain terrain over him at the end, he was the strongest at the finish. Now there are some complicated finishes, but my mission here is trying to help Valverde, and only chasing my chances if the race circumstances are favourable, just like today. It will be an elimination race, several GC guys went down today, and Alejandro is keeping all his chances for now.”