Fortunately for Davide Rebellin, history did not repeat itself.
Last year the Italian was put under unrelenting pressure by the Discovery Channel squad, which eventually forced him to concede his slim six-second advantage to Alberto Contador on the final stage.
After such an aggressive, unpredictable and uncontrollable Paris-Nice, Rebellin must have feared a nasty dose of déjà vu. The Gerolsteiner rider led Ag2r?s Rinaldo Nocentini by just three seconds going into the final 119-kilometre stage in Nice.
It was a wafer-thin advantage that could have been wiped out in the blink of an eye. But perhaps of more concern than the obvious threat, Nocentini, was the possibility of another ambush from riders a little further down the overall classification, like the one that did for Robert Gesink on Saturday.
Gerolsteiner succeeded where Rabobank failed, though, by keeping tabs on the important riders and breathing a sigh of relief when Luis Leon Sanchez put in a hard, stage-winning attack a couple of kilometres from the finish on the Promenade des Anglais.
Maxime Montfort of Cofidis and Carlos Barredo of Quick Step tried unsuccessfully to bridge the gap at the death, which was enough to see all the time bonus seconds snapped up before the group containing Rebellin and Nocentini hit the line.
Having finished on the podium three times in the past, it was a cool victory for one of the least flappable riders in the peloton. At 36, Rebellin has bags of experience but the thing that made the difference was that he was never isolated all week.
On the final stage he could always count on Bernhard Kohl, the Austrian, who went beyond the call of duty to stay with the lead group on the Col d?Eze so he could help on the run-in, and the Swiss Olivier Zaugg.
In a race made exciting by the lack of any strangulating team tactics, it was a rare show of co-ordinated strength by the boys in pale blue.
|REBELLIN AT PARIS-NICE|
2008 ? 1st
2007 ? 2nd
2005 ? 10th
2004 ? 2nd
2003 ? 3rd
Rebellin?s win was not without its moment of class either. On the descent of the first climb of the day, the Col de la Porte, both Nocentini and Gesink ? second and fourth overall ? crashed, but Rebellin ordered the group to slow and allow them to get back on.
The stage was again enlivened by the red and white stripes of the Skil-Shimano squad ? who must now be confident of a Tour de France place when the selection is made next week.
Clément Lhôtellerie, a worthy king of the mountains winner, attacked on La Turbie and stretched his lead to more than a minute-and-a-half before being joined by Jose Benitez of Saunier Duval.
They survived the Col d?Eze but were caught with eight kilometres to go.
Luis Leon Sanchez, a rider who had harboured hopes of winning the yellow jersey, had to make do with a stage win by attacking hard from under the noses of the Gerolsteiner riders, who were doing a sterling job to keep it all together.
It was fitting that the final dash to the line was laced with suspense as Montfort and Barredo tried to catch Sanchez.
And, after a searing week of racing, it was also apt that the margin of victory ? just three seconds ? was the narrowest in the history of Paris-Nice.
Luis Leon Sanchez takes the final stage. Photos by Luc Claessen/ISPA
|PARIS-NICE: STAGE SEVEN|
1 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d?Epargne 119km in 2hr 51min 12sec
2 Maxime Montfort (Bel) Cofidis
3 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step both same time
4 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Agritubel at 5sec
5 Alexander Efimkin (Rus) Quick Step
6 Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Quick Step
7 Simon Spilak (Cze) Lampre
8 Alexandre Botcharov (Rus) Crédit Agricole
9 Peter Velits (Svk) Milram
10 Jose Benitez (Spa) Saunier Duval all same time
1 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 29hr 02min 48sec
2 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale at 3sec
3 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Silence-Lotto at 48sec
4 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 51sec
5 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d?Epargne at 1min 09sec
6 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Quick Step at 1min 12sec
7 Gorka Verdugo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 2min 17sec
8 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step at 2min 24sec
9 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis at 2min 39sec
10 Alexander Efimkin (Rus) Quick Step at 3min 21sec
Points competition Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole
King of the mountains competition Clément Lhôtellerie (Fra) Skil-Shimano
Best young rider Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
PARIS-NICE 2008: STAGE REPORTS
Stage six: Gesink sinks
Stage five: Quick Step make it three
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
Gesink: I need to learn how to descend
Interview: Cadel Evans
Millar out of Paris-Nice
Stage four analysis
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?
Day four, five and six
Days two and three
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Sports journalist Lionel Birnie has written professionally for Sunday Times, Procycling and of course Cycling Weekly. He is also an author, publisher, and co-founder of The Cycling Podcast. His first experience covering the Tour de France came in 1999, and he has presented The Cycling Podcast with Richard Moore and Daniel Friebe since 2013. He founded Peloton Publishing in 2010 and has ghostwritten and published the autobiography of Sean Kelly, as well as a number of other sports icons.
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