Twenty four hours after Alberto Contador took a stunning victory at Mende, his Discovery Channel team-mate Yaroslav Popovych made it two Paris-Nice stages out of two for the American squad.
Whilst Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) was able to stay in the lead, the Italian came close to losing control of the race – and with two tough stages left to race, after today?s spectacular attack by Popovych and a mere six second advantage over Contador to play with, Rebellin must be far from confident he will finally be able to win.
?The idea was to go for the stage win, to give Alberto a rest after yesterday and to make Rebellin suffer.? Popovych told reporters at the line. ?And we succeeded with all three strategies.?
A former junior World Champion and Giro podium finisher – as well as the rider responsible for giving Discovery their only stage win in the 2006 Tour – Popovych was one of seven riders that broke away in the first hour of racing of the lumpy 178 kilometre stage from Sorgues to Manosque.
Gerolsteiner were content to limit the gap to around four minutes for most of the day?s racing, but when Popovych loped off the front alone 40 kilometres from the line, events suddenly lurched dangerously close to being out of control.
The Ukrainian?s advantage already made him the yellow jersey on the road, and try as the German squad might, what quickly became apparent as a collective lack of firepower made pulling Popo back in time look like mission impossible.
Fortunately for Gerolsteiner, a mixed bag of support form other teams – some expected, like Caisse D?Epargne, others, like Lampre, rather less so – gave the German squad some much-needed back-up, and the combine began whittling away at Popovych margin.
The Ukrainian was – logically enough, given he had been off the front for over 150 kilometrees – flailing badly by this point, but he stil had enough fuel left in the tank to handle the last slight uphill into Manosoque cross the line 14 seconds ahead of the peloton. Second was Saunier Duval sprinter Francisco Ventoso, who crossed the line hammering at the bars in frustration at having let slip such a good chance for a stage win.
Ventoso?s team-mate, Britain?s gc contender David Millar, had a mixed day: puncturing in the final hour – exactly the wrong moment – he got a quickish wheel change from the neutral service wagon and managed to get back onto a second group which only rejoined the main bunch after 10 kilometres of frantic chasing.
The big loser of the day was Rebellin, whose team has now been shown to be extremely vulnerable. Small wonder that the Italian was extremely chary about making declarations after the podium ceremonies and shot off on his bike without a single word to newspaper journalists.
?A lot of people used up a lot of energy today.? Contador told CW. ?The more I think about it, the more I regret losing that time on the stage to Limoges when the bunch split in the last kilometre.?
?But hey, we?ve got two stage wins in the bag already and there?s a lot of hard racing ahead.?
If he looks at the race manual for Saturday?s 200 kilometre trek from Brignoles to Cannes tonight, Rebellin is sure to be feeling less than optimistic: tomorrow [Saturday] there are nine classified climbs, one of them first category and four second category.
In fact, about the only flat section of the entire day is the last eight kilometres along Cannes plush seafront. What?s more, after Friday?s display of collective weakness by Gerolsteiner, his rivals will surely be planning on giving him a tough time every metre of the way.
PARIS-NICE: STAGE FIVE RESULTS
1 Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) 178km in 4.11.51
2 Francisco Ventoso (Saunier Duval) at 14secs
3 Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r)
4 David Lopez Garcia (Caisse d?Espargne)
5 Jerome Pineau (Bouygues Telecom)
6 Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
7 Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas)
8 Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner)
9 Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d?Epargne)
10 Tadej Valjavec (Lampre-Fondital) all same time
19 Roger Hammond (T-Mobile) at 14secs
20 David Millar (Saunier Duval) at same time
PARIS-NICE: OVERALL STANDINGS AFTER STAGE FIVE
1 Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) in 21.52.39
2 Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) at 6secs
3 Tadej Valjavec (Lampre-Fondital) at 23secs
4 Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) at 31secs
5 Sebastien Joly (FDJ) at 32secs
6 Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) at 35secs
7 David Millar (Saunier Duval) at 42secs
8 Frank Schleck (CSC) at 42secs
9 David Garcia (Caisee d?Epargne) at 43secs
10 Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) at 46secs
52 Roger Hammond (T-Mobile) at 5.46