And then there was one. Dutchman Robert Gesink stamped his authority all over Paris-Nice, with a scintillating ascent of Mont Ventoux, taking the yellow jersey, and virtually eliminating all of his closest rivals.
Only Cadel Evans was able to stay with the rampant Rabobank rider, sucking his wheel for the final kilometres before outsprinting him at the Mont Serein ski station. Race favourite Davide Rebellin, second in 2007, may have to accept the same position this year. The Italian sits half a minute behind Gesink ? by no means out of it, but with three hilly stages left, and Gesink currently climbing faster than anyone in the peloton, his work will be cut out.
Today?s stage was all about the Ventoux. But that didn?t prevent an optimistic quartet of riders ? Aleksandr Kushcynski, Jens Voigt, Bernhard Eisel and Niki Terpstra ? going for a long one, attacking at 11 kilometres.
As the sun warmed their backs, and the torrential rain of the first three days of the race was forgotten, Voigt and his companions set about building enough of a lead to hold off the inevitable overall battle on the Ventoux, but they were only handed enough rope to hang themselves.
At Malaucène, at the foot of the climb, their lead was five minutes. Jens Voigt had had enough of his companions, attacking hard on a false flat section less than a kilometre into the climb.
Behind, Rabobank hared through Malaucène, hoping to set up Gesink, with Dutch champion Koos Moerenhout taking his pace-setting role so seriously that he put 20 metres into the peloton. At the other end of the bunch, David Millar, whose form disappeared yesterday, had still not found it. He was dropped even before Thor Hushovd, his Paris-Nice ambitions taking a fatal blow.
Robert Gesink tugs Cadel Evans to the top of Ventoux
The shallower gradients of the middle of the climb, combined with a strong tailwind, kept a healthy-sized mini-peloton together until six kilometres to go, including race leader Sylvain Chavanel. But when the steepest gradients of the climb reared up, Carlos Barredo took over the pace-setting, and 40 riders became 15.
Then Gesink made his move, and only five riders could stay with him ? Evans, Rebellin, Frank Schleck, Rinaldo Nocentini and Yaroslav Popovych. And one by one, they were dropped.
Except Evans. He dithered briefly when Popovych faltered ? should he pace Popovych, who started the stage ahead of Gesink in the overall, to the finish? But the Ukrainian?s general classification hopes were sacrificed on the altar of a possible stage win, and Evans settled into Gesink?s slipstream.
Gesink didn?t look back once. The yellow jersey was waiting.
Sylvain Chavanel struggled on the Ventoux and lost the race lead
Cadel Evans takes the stage, Robert Gesink gets the leader’s jersey
Robert Gesink looks happy to be wearing yellow. Photos by Luc Claessen/ISPA
|PARIS-NICE STAGE THREE|
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1 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto 176km in 4-32-56
2 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank st
3 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale at 0-33
4 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner st
5 Frank Schleck (Lux) CSC at 0-34
6 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Silence-Lotto at 0-38
7 Juan-Manuel Garate (Spa) Quick Step at 1-03
8 Simon Spilak (Slo) Lampre st
9 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Crédit Agricole at 1-30
10 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step at 1-33
135 David Millar (GB) Slipstream at 21-07
Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 17-10-12
2 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner at 0-32
3 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale at 0-35
4 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Silence-Lotto at 0-42
5 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Quick Step at 1-06
6 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d?Epargne at 2-00
7 Gorka Verdugo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 2-11
8 Alexander Efimkin (Rus) Caisse d?Epargne at 2-30
9 Clément Lhotellerie (Fra) Skil-Shimano at 3-25
10 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis at 3-27
Stage five is a rolling 172km from Althen-des-Palauds to Sisteron.
There?s nothing as hard as the climbs of the previous two days here, but the roads will be rolling and sticky, almost from the start. There are four categorised climbs along the way, and very little in the way of flat. The riders will still climb as high as 1,000 metres? altitude towards the middle of the stage.
It?s a day for escapees, with most of the overall accounts being settled on the Ventoux. The stage is expected to finish between 1615 and 1644 local time.
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?