After the Queen Stage of Paris-Nice, which finished at the Mont Serein ski station on Mont Ventoux, Rabobank’s Robert Gesink has taken over the race lead. Cycling Weekly asks, is he going to keep it?

As expected, Gesink made his move on Mont Ventoux, coming second on the stage, but putting half a minute into his main rivals. With three stages remaining, he looks safe in the yellow jersey.

Gesink eliminated his rivals one by one on the steep upper slopes of the climb, except Evans, who was so far down overall that Gesink could ignore his presence. He now leads Davide Rebellin by 32 seconds, Rinaldo Nocentini by 35 seconds and Yaroslav Popovych by 42 seconds. The rest are over a minute behind.

WHY DIDN?T EVANS WAIT FOR POPOVYCH?

In the final selection of six riders, four were in the top 10 overall ? Gesink, Popovych, Rebellin and Nocentini. When Rebellin and Nocentini were dropped, Popovych looked to have the upper hand ? he was ahead of Gesink overall, and he had team mate Cadel Evans to help him.

But Evans took his role a little too seriously, and set a pace that was too fast for Popovych on the steep upper slopes of the climb. Popovych lost a bike length, Gesink noticed, and the Dutchman attacked. This put Evans in a quandary ? should he drop back, pace Popovych and help him limit his losses, or sit on Gesink?s wheel and go for the stage win?

He went for the latter, which was a double risk, given that the Australian is a well-known non-sprinter, and that Gesink was really motoring on the climb.

Evans did win, which makes Silence-Lotto?s Paris-Nice a success. But there may be unresolved issues within the team. Popovych lost more time on the flat section from the top of the climb to the finish line, where he could really have done with some help, and it was only when he was caught by Rebellin, Nocentini and Schleck that he got it. If he does end up losing the race by a handful of seconds, the time loss on this section will have been crucial.

We will know on Sunday whether Evans did the right thing or not. With Gesink in such a strong position, he probably did.

SHOULD EVANS HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE BREAK AT THE END?

No. Gesink wanted to gain time, and Evans had no interest in helping him, with Popovych half a minute behind. As Gesink said, ?That?s bike racing.?

HOW CAN GESINK BE BEATEN?

There are three stages left, two of which are very hard and hilly. With three riders within a minute, he is still vulnerable. While Gesink is the favourite, the shortlist of possible winners still extends to Davide Rebellin, Rinaldo Nocentini and Yaroslav Popovych.

Gesink has the advantage because his main rivals can?t climb as fast as him, and with climbs close to the end of stages six and seven, they?d best not wait until these points to attack him ? he?ll go with anything that moves. And they can?t let Rabobank dictate the pace of the race.

Instead, they must look to the general terrain to help them. The roads of the Côte d?Azur and Provence are twisty, narrow and hilly, making chasing breaks very hard work. Rebellin, in second place, is a strong, dogged and clever rider, and Rabobank will need to keep a close eye on him. Popovych is a bit more predictable as a rider, while Nocentini is an unknown quantity and very strong on the shorter climbs.

STAGE FOUR WINNERS ?

Robert Gesink

Flew up the Ventoux, putting half a minute on his overall rivals in the final three kilometres of the climb.

Cadel Evans (pictured)

Typical, you wait a year for a win, then two come along at once. His Tour rivals must be feeling pretty intimidated now.

Jens Voigt

Early escapee held off the chasers far longer than expected ? and then did a turn on the front for Frank Schleck once he was caught.

?AND LOSERS

Davide Rebellin

Looked like the winner, until Gesink put him and the other survivors on the rack. Not out of the race yet, though.

Slipstream

Another torrid day for Jonathan Vaughters? boys. It?s on to plan B ? stage wins or bust.

Luis Leon Sanchez

Tipped as a possible winner, couldn?t follow the pace when it mattered.

All photos by Luc Claessen/ISPA

PARIS-NICE 2008: STAGE REPORTS

Stage four: Evans above

Stage three: Flying Finn takes the win

Stage two: Steegmans back on top

Stage one: Steegmans rides the storm

Prologue: Hushovd wins

RELATED LINKS

Paris-Nice photo gallery: new photos added daily

Stage three analysis

Stage one analysis

Millar goes down but isn’t out

Prologue analysis: winners and losers

Big names line up for Paris-Nice and defy UCI

Teams vote to ride Paris-Nice

Paris-Nice preview: does the route suit David Millar?

BLOG: PARIS-NICE

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