Valverde Powers to Win in Paris-Nice Stage Three

March 6, 2012 Updated: March 6, 2012
Spain's Alejandro Valverde (R) sprints with Australian Simon Gerrans (L) to the 194 km Stage Three of the 70th edition of the Paris-Nice cycling race. (Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)
Spain's Alejandro Valverde (R) sprints with Australian Simon Gerrans (L) to win the 194 km Stage Three of the 70th edition of the Paris-Nice cycling race. (Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)

Alejandro Valverde of Movistar powered past his opponents in an uphill sprint to win Stage Three of the 2012 Paris-Nice cycling race. Movistar had obviously planned to set up Valverde all along; they organized the chase of the three-man break and pushed the pace all the way to the final uphill section of the stage, where Valverde came from fourth wheel to run down Rabobank’s Luis-Leon Sanchez.

Gianni Meersman of Lotto-Belisol made a good sprint to take third, but the most amazing ride of the day came from Australian champion Simon Gerrans. Gerrans was at least a dozen riders back with 200 meters to go when the GreenEdge rider put in a tremendous burst of speed, coming within a foot of catching Valverde at the line.

“I’m thrilled, it’s a very important victory,” Valverde said to cyclingnews.com after the race.. “I have to thank the team again because they have done a phenomenal job and I was able to finish it off. This victory was for them because they deserve it.”

Sky’s Bradley Wiggins comfortably retained the yellow jersey; none of the General Classification leaders had any difficulties.

The 194-km (121 mile) was flat for almost the entire length, with a couple of gentle climbs at the end. The climbs made it unsuited to pure sprinters, and perfectly suited to power riders like Thor Hushovd, Tom Boonen, or Alejandro Valverde. Hushovd, however, was hurting all day—the former world champion is not back on form yet—and Boonen, though he pulled hard at the front for a while near the end, didn’t contest the final sprint, perhaps saving energy to shepherd Levi Leipheimer later in the race.

A trio of riders—Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank), Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun) and Roy Curvers (Project 1t4i)—attacked at the start, opening a gap as great as 4:30, but the flat course didn’t offer them any help. The peloton, mostly driven by Movistar, slowly reeled in the break until 25 km to go, when the team got serious and turned on the speed.

The gap was down to 25 seconds when Jimmy Engoulvent decided to strike out on his own. His mates didn’t last, and ultimately neither did he—six km from the finish the peloton swallowed him up.

Sky's Bradley Wiggins retained the yellow jersey as none of his competitors challenged on this mostly flat stage. (Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)
Sky's Bradley Wiggins retained the yellow jersey as none of his competitors challenged on this mostly flat stage. (Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)

3.9 km from the line Vacansoleil’s Sergey Lagutin attacked, managing to stay away until the final kilometer. His teammate Lieuwe Westra then took a shot, but got nowhere. At 500 meters an Ag2R rider attacked, but got reabsorbed. Luis Leon Sanchez was the first rider to launch a serious attack, but even he went just s little too early, misjudging the effect the incline would have on his speed.

Valverde got the timing right—he had enough power to accelerate away from the pack. Sanchez sat up several meters from the end realizing he couldn’t catch the speedy Spaniard, while Lotto’s Gianni Meersman made a strong effort but couldn’t come within a bike-length.

Then from nowhere appeared GreenEdge rider Simon Gerrans. The Australian had been 100 meter back when Sanchez and Valverde started sprinting, yet managed to close on Valverde at the line, showing tremendous speed. Had Gerrans been a few yards closer entering the final 200 meters he would have won the race easily. As it was, he missed the mark by about nine inches.

Tomorrow’s stage, 183 km (114 mi.) from Brive-la-Gaillarde to Rodez is a little lumpy, with a couple of climbs which could actually be called hills, plus an uphill finish. The final 2.5 km start with a steep little half-kilometer kick of 7.9 percent to weed out the sprinters, and continues uphill to the end. This is a classic Tom Boonen/ Alejandro Valverde sort of finish—a strong man’s finish.

However, with its frequent turns and the intermediate hills, this stage might favor a breakaway. If several strong non-contenders could get away early, or even launch off the last Cat 2 climb, they might stay away.

Unlikely, though; that last few kilometers will sap legs and test wills. Expect a lot of crazed attacks in the final fifteen km, and a lot of effort expended to cover them. The climbs aren’t really steep enough to challenge a pure climber, but it is possible Sylvain Chavanel or Teejay Van Garderen will challenge Leipheimer and Wiggins here.

2012 Paris-Nice Stage Three Results

 

Rider

Team

Time

1 Alejandro Valverde Movistar 4:36:19
2 Simon Gerrans GreenEdge  
3 Gianni Meersman Lotto-Belisol  
4 Luis Leon Sanchez Rabobank  
5 Xavier Florencio Cabre Katusha  

 

 

 

 

General Classification after Stage Three

1

Bradley Wiggins

Sky

9:09:51

2

Levi Leipheimer

Omega Pharma-Quick Step

0:00:06

3

Tejay Van Garderen

BMC

0:00:11

4

Sylvain Chavanel

Omega Pharma-Quick Step

0:00:14

5

Maxime Monfort

RadioShack-Nissan

0:00:18