Lotto-Belisol's Gianni Meersman won stage four of this year's Paris-Nice in Rodez this afternoon after a frantic finale.
The Belgian outsprinted Lampre's Gregor Bole and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) after a rather unorganised and messy end to the stage, which featured several roundabouts, pinchpoints and narrow roads.
Bradley Wiggins sprinted to 10th place on the stage, and retains his six second lead of Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
The day's main breakaway began just 6km into the stage, as Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) managed to break clear. Leigh Howard (GreenEdge), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) and Lotto-Belisol's Bart De Clerq joined them soon after, and the quintet quickly amassed a lead of over five minutes. They survived out-front until the final 20 kilometers.
Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil-DMC) attacked at the summit of the Cote d'Albert le Cres with 13km remaining, but he too couldn't withstand the pace of the peloton.
Yesterday's stage runner-up Simon Gerrans was ruled out of contention after crashing on a tight corner, before last year's second-place finisher Andreas Kloden tried to boost morale in his illness-hit RadioShack-Nissan-Trek squad with an attack on the third-category Cote de Bourran with 2km remaining.
After the German faded within the final kilometre, Rigoberto Uran marshalled Wiggins into the finishing straight, before the sprint for the stage victory began. Xavier Florencio (Katusha) looked good for the win until Bole, and then Meersman, overpowered him.
The tough tests for Wiggins continue tomorrow, with the fifth stage finishing on the first-category Côte de la Croix-Neuve (Montée Laurent Jalabert), famed for its severity.
Paris-Nice 2012 stage four: Brive-la-Gaillarde to Rodez, 178km
1. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto-Belisol in 4-21-01
2. Gregor Bole (Svk) Lampre-ISD
3. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
4. Xavier Florencio (Spa) Katusha
5. Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Saur-Sojasun
6. Simon Geschke (Ger) Project 1T4i
7. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r-La Mondiale
8. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar
9. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Astana
10. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky all at same time
General classification after stage four
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky in 13-30-52
2. Levi Leipheimer (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 6 secs
3. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC at 11 secs
4. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 14 secs
5. Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan-Trek at 18 secs
6. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM at 18 secs
7. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 20 secs
8. Jose Rojas (Spa) Movistar at 29 secs
9. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha at 33 secs
10. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana at 36 secs
Leigh Howard leads the escape group
Bradley Wiggins and Simon Gerrans
Gianni Meersman wins
Bradley Wiggins safely in yellow
Paris-Nice 2012: Latest news
Stomach bug sweeps through Paris-Nice peloton
Andy Schleck out of Paris-Nice with stomach problems
Andy Schleck off pace in Paris-Nice time trial
Paris-Nice 2012: Who will win?
Froome to miss Paris-Nice due to illness
Wiggins for Paris-Nice; Cavendish for Tirreno-Adriatico
Paris-Nice 2012: Race preview and information
Paris-Nice 2012: The Big Preview
Paris-Nice 2012: Stage reports
Stage three: Valverde wins, Wiggins keeps lead
Stage two: Wiggins rides into lead
Stage one: Wiggins second to Larsson in opening time trial
Paris-Nice 2012: Photo galleries
Stage three gallery by Graham Watson
Stage two gallery by Graham Watson
Stage one gallery by Graham Watson
Paris-Nice 2011: Coverage index
Paris-Nice 2010: The Big Preview/links to coverage
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Nick Bull is an NCTJ qualified journalist who has written for a range of titles, as well as being a freelance writer at Beat Media Group, which provides reports for the PA Media wire which is circulated to the likes of the BBC and Eurosport. His work at Cycling Weekly predominantly dealt with professional cycling, and he now holds a role as PR & Digital Manager at SweetSpot Group, which organises the Tour of Britain.
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