No change. After four hectic stages in Paris-Nice, the top contenders called a truce on Thursday, with Frenchman Jeremy Roy taking the biggest win of his career from a break of three.
Running through wild and rugged terrain down the eastern side of the Massif Centrale, stage five from Annonay to Vallon-Pont-d?Arc had more than enough mountains to split the race apart.
But all of its seven classified climbs were to be found in the first half of stage five’s 204 kilometre trek. That made it an exceptionally good day for the breakaways, and the last real opportunity for the gc contenders to take a breather before Paris-Nice?s decisive three final stages.
The day?s honours went to Jeremy Roy (Francaise des Jeux). The Frenchman was arguably the weakest of the three riders, all of them low down the overall classification, that went clear at kilometre 13 but he was also the most cunning.
In the last half-hour of racing, fellow-breakaway Tony Martin (Columbia-Highroad) had chanced his arm with a couple of long-range charges. But both times, he was brought back.
Then when Roy, the slowest to respond to the German?s attacks, went with seven kilometres to go, Martin and the third of the trio, Thomas Voeckler (Bbox-Bouygyes) were faced with a classic dilemma.
Martin was by far the strongest, whilst Voeckler was the fastest sprinter. Martin therefore knew that unless he made the Bbox rider do his share of the work, any effort on his part to bring back Roy would gift Voeckler the stage.
The German time triallist did the right thing, working just enough to bring Roy within shouting distance, but not enough to give Voeckler an armchair ride to victory. But Voeckler would not, or could not, do his fair share of the work – possibly because if he had brought a German back into contention, rather than letting a Frenchman win, he would have been slated in the media.
Whatever the case, Roy took the stage, Voeckler placed second, Martin got the consolation prize of the King of the Mountains jersey and the overall favourites rolled across the line around two and a half minutes back, content to wait to do battle. And they won?t have to wait long.
Stage six of the race is almost certainly the most decisive of them all. 182.5 kilometres long and running from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to the summit finish of La Montagne de Lure, the two big challenges are the altitude and the fact that it is a completely unknown climb.
Dubbed the Ventoux?s little sister, La Montagne de Lure lies 1600 metres above sea level, making it the highest ever summit finish for Paris-Nice. (Last year?s climb of the Mont Serein, whilst 15 kilometres long and steeper, was ?only? 1411 metres high).
That means the weather could play a crucial role. Even if sunny weather is forecast for southern France for Friday, it can turn nasty at the drop of a hat in that area. And just like on the Ventoux, strong winds could have a real effect on the racing.
The 13.8 kilometre Lure has other similarities to the better known Ventoux, too. The summit is apparently a desolate, exposed place, reached by a steady, strength-sapping ascent across vast empty screeslopes.
The key thing, though, is that the Lure has never before been tackled in a bike race. For the riders, therefore, calculating their strength in unknown terrain will be very tricky.
Sylvain Chavanel?s hold on the yellow jersey is very slight, making attacking an even more tempting prospect. The Frenchman?s just six seconds ahead of closest rival – and climber – Juanma Garate (Rabobank) and 36 seconds ahead of arch-rival Alberto Contador (Astana).
Chavanel?s Quick Step director Wilfried Peeters was in a pessimistic mood today, saying that the team?s only real objective was the white best young rider?s jersey for Kevin Seeldrayers in Nice.
Peeters appeared to accept that Chavanel will lose the lead on Friday. But with eight riders at less than a minute, including Briton David Millar (Garmin), currently a solid seventh overall, the question is – to who?
Paris-Nice stage five: Results
1. Jérémy Roy (Fra) Francaise des Jeux 204km in 4hr 58min 47sec
2. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bbox Bouygues same time
3. Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-Highroad at 3sec
4. Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Cervélo at 2min 33sec
5. Murilo Fischer (Bra) Liquigas
6. Romain Feillu (Fra) Agritubel
7. Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Skil-Shimano
8. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Silence-Lotto
9. Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Lampre
10. Sébastien Hinault (Fra) Ag2r
61. David Millar (GB) Garmin
65. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Cervélo all same time
141. Daniel Fleeman (GB) Cervélo at 12min 56sec
Overall classification after stage five
1. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step in 18hr 32min 56sec
2. Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Rabobank at 6sec
3. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Rabobank at 36sec
4. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana same time
5. Kevin Seeldrayers (Bel) Quick Step at 37sec
6. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 45sec
7. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 50sec
8. Antonio Colom (Spa) Katusha at 55sec
9. Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Katusha at 57sec
10. Jens Voigt (Ger) SaxoBank at 1min 03sec
45. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Cervélo at 4min 08sec
143. Daniel Fleeman (GB) Cervélo at 33min 37sec
Stage five: Roy takes solo win, Chavanel still leads
Stage four: Vande Velde takes trong lone win for Garmin
Stage three: Chavanel sweeps into power
Stage two: Haussler blasts to stage two win
Stage one (prologue): Contador wins, Wiggins second
Martin pulls out of Paris-Nice
Prologue analysis: Contador the unstoppable?
The Big Preview: Paris-Nice 2009
Fleeman to ride Paris-Nice
Why Paris-Nice 2008 was simply a great race
Stage five photo gallery, by Graham Watson
Stage four photo gallery, by Graham Watson
Stage three photo gallery, by Graham Watson
Stage two photo gallery, by Graham Watson
Stage one TT photo gallery, by Graham Watson
Paris-Nice 2008 photo gallery