Spaniard only beaten at mountain-top finish by Dutchman Lieuwe Westra (VCD) - Movistar Team leader 4th at GC, 18 seconds behind winning after another show of teamwork
Alejandro Valverde was not able this time to get the superb teamwork from Movistar Team to fruition. The telephone squad took again charge of the race tempo in the decisive part of the fifth stage in Paris-Nice, finishing atop La Croix-Neuve in Mende after a hard trek of 178 kilometers, the last three over the steep, 10% average ramps of the race’s first real mountain-top finish. Following the work from all his team-mates, especially from Imanol Erviti and Iván Gutiérrez, the group came together into the finishing climb, where the strong pace by the race leader splitted the group of favourites, with only about ten riders to resist before the attack by Dutchman Lieuwe Westra (VCD).
His move with 500m from the finish allowed him taking the solo victory, while Valverde overtook Wiggins and Leipheimer at the final rush and reduced his gap in the GC by two seconds. The Spaniard now sits 18 seconds back with three stages remaining – the first of those being the sixth in the Course au Soleil, from Suze-la-Rousse to Sisteron for an identical 178.5km, another up-and-down parcours with four categorized climbs and a final circuit with a short ascent just 12k from the finish.
REACTION / Alejandro Valverde: “It wasn’t my best day on the bike, but it turned out well for me. We’re still on the fight, we reduced the gap to the leader jersey and keep climbing on the GC. We knew that it was a stage to try and gain advantage and we worked for it. The team was sensational once again, but the pace in the finale was really hard, you could see it by all the favourites getting dropped. The race was difficult due to the rhythm, the route and, above all, the cold weather. We’ve got to stay positive, and I’m satisfied about my result. The mountain TT on the last day doesn’t do bad for me, even through I’d prefer it to be harder, but there are still two complicated finishes finishes before. We’re racing on full steam from the prologue and you can’t get relaxed neither for a second. The routes on the weekend are hard, especially on Saturday, with long climbs and almost 220k.”
Cavendish wins first sprint in Italy
On the other hand, the first point-to-point stage in Tirreno-Adriatico, a marathon 230 kilometers from San Vincenzo to Indicatore / Arezzo, saw World road champion Mark Cavendish (SKY) taking a sprint cut by a crash with 1.5k left. The incident got all Movistar Team riders out of contention -none of them really affected by the chute itself- except for Fran Ventoso, who couldn’t still find a whole to sprint and took the 16th spot. Another stage for pure sprinters comes on Friday, with 178k from Arezzo to Terni.