Today's Paris-Nice stage 3 ended with a short, fast climb to le Lac de Vassivière. Alejandro Valverde, known for his rocket-fast finish, knew exactly what to do with it. Valverde won the stage in a sprint ahead of Simon Gerrans of GreenEdge and Gianni Meersman of Lotto-Belisol.
"I must really thank my team because they did phenomenal work all day and in the final. I am thinking of the final victory, but I am already satisfied to have won here," said Valverde after the stage.
Bradley Wiggins, meanwhile, finished safely in the field to defend his race lead. Wiggins leads Levi Leipheimer by 6 seconds and Tejay van Garderen by 11 seconds. Valverde also climbed to sixth in the general classification, thanks to the 10 second time bonus at the finish.
After yesterday's stage, Ted King quipped that the race should be renamed Paris-Stress-Nice, because there was no way to get to Nice without passing through the land of Stress. Yesterday, it was all crosswinds and crashes and big, yawning time gaps. For King and his Liquigas team, in particular, it was a hard day as team leader Ivan Basso crashed just before the crosswinds put the race in the gutter. Basso went to the hospital as a precaution, but proved able to start (and finish!) the race today.
Andy Schleck, who suffered mightily yesterday, did not start today. According to a press release from the team, Schleck is ill with "acute" gastroenteritis. Which, is not all fun when mixed with a stage race. "I really wanted to try, but against sickness you cannot do a lot. This is bad news, I wanted to perform well in Paris-Nice, but I better not jeopardize the rest of the season," he said.
Unlike yesterday, today's stage was relatively routine. A break of three riders attacked at kilometer zero. The three included Michael Morkov of Saxo Bank, Jimmy Engoulvent of Saur-Sojasun, and Roy Curvers of Project 1t4i. Working smoothly together, the threesome built up a maximum advantage of just under five minutes. And, they stayed away for 180 kilometers. Just short of the final uphill jaunt to le Lac de Vassivière, the loneseome threesome were caught by the main field.
The catch came largely due to the work of Movistar, who must surely have seen how perfectly this finish suited Valvere. The Spanish team went to work on the Côte de Bourganeuf with around 30 kilometers to go and quickly shrank the gap to the break. Sensing that the break was doomed, Engoulvent made a solo attempt with 14 kilometers left to race, but really, Movistar was not going to let that stand. Engoulvent never picked up more than 10 seconds.
Despite a few efforts to anticipate the sprint, Valverde waited until around 500 meters to go. Then, he went. The victory at le Lac de Vassivière is Valverde's second ever Paris-Nice stage win.
And here is video of the last 10km, if you couldn't catch coverage elsewhere.
Check back later for photos.