March 11, 2016 (Romand-sur-Isere) – Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) avenged the bitter disappointments of the first half of Paris-Nice when he outpaced the best sprinters of the peloton to take stage 4 in Romand-sur-Isere in style on Thursday. The Frenchman, third in stage 1 and disqualified from stage 2 after a heated battle with Michael Matthews (Orica-Greendge), was in a class of his own this time, outsprinting the bunch ahead of Belgium’s Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) and Germany’s Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal). Fifth in the wheel of Norway’s Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Matthews retained his race leader’s yellow jersey ahead of a 198-km fifth stage to Salon de Provence including the Mont Ventoux ascent.
Four on the move
The stage started from Julienas at 12:00 with 28 of the 161riders expected at the podium unfortunately forgetting to sign the start list. At kilometre 5, as the peloton could still see Mont Brouilly, to which Paris-Nice will return next year after yesterday’s cancellation, four men broke clear. Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie), Matthew Brammeier (Dimension Data), Florian Vachon (Fortuneo) and Evaldas Siskevicius (Delko Marseille Provence) parted company with the bunch, led by Michael Matthews’s Orica-Greenedge team-mates as well as the sprinters teams of Katusha, Cofidis and Etixx-Quick Step. Their lead topped at 4:50 at kilometer 17, shortly before Col de Brouilly, which Siskevicus reached in the front, on his way to conquering the polka-dot jersey.
Siskevicius takes polka-dot
The peloton kept the four escapees within a three-minute gap and Siskevicius collected four more points at the top of cote de Givors (km 108). The sprint in Serrieres (Km 143), won by Voeckler, spurred the bunch into reaction and the gap quickly diminished, going under a minute with 40 km to go. In the Cote de Saint-Uze (km 163), the leading group split and Voeckler seized his chance to go on his own. Siskevicius retained enough strength to reach the top in second place to pick five more points and secure the polka-dot jersey on 15 points. After the climb, several attacks took place and Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto Jumbo) and Delio Fernandez (Delko Marseille Provence) chased Voeckler down. Voeckler was finally dropped with 20 km to go.
Bouhanni too strong
Chavanel, Vanmarcke and Fernandez were briefly chased by Lieuwe Westra (Astana) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) in the final 15 km as stage 1 winner Arnaud Demare, plagued by a knee injury, was forced out of the race. The trio managed to keep a 15 seconds edge with two kilometers left as Katusha were doing most of the chasing work. But when Cofidis finally took over in the final two kilometres, the break was doomed and the three were overtaken in the final kilometer. Perfectly led out by his team-mates, Bouhanni launched the sprint alongside Kristoff, then took the wheel of Theuns and easily swept past for his third stage victory on Paris-Nice after the ones collected in 2013 in Nemours and 2014 in Mantes-la-Jolie.
Former under-23 world champion Alexey Lutsenko surged 15 km from Salon de Provence to move six seconds short of the Paris-Nice yellow jersey, still held by Michael Matthews at the end of stage 5 on Friday. The Kazah earned the stage laurels with a 21seconds lead over what remained of the pack after a succession of climbs including the Ventoux early in a 198-km ride from St Paul-Trois Chateaux. Australia’s Matthews salvaged his overall lead thanks to his third place in the stage in the wheel of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), who won the bunch sprint for second place.
The race started at 11:12 without Sergio Paulinho (Tinkoff). On the gun, seven riders, Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-Quick Step), Arnaud Courteille (FDJ), Lars Boom (Astana), Wouter Wippert (Cannondale), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Matthias Brandle (IAM) and Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie) broke clear and were joined by Jesus Herrada (Movistar) at kilometre four. Their lead topped at 11:05 (km 27). The first sprint of the day saw Lars Boom take the three points while Herrada made his KOM intentions clear by reaching the Col de la Madeleine in the front.
Down to five
The eight tackled the Ventoux with an eight-minute lead over the peloton. In the first corners of the climb, Brandle lost ground. In the peloton, most of the leading sprinters climbed at their own pace – Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Marcel Kittel (Etixx) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) were among those dropped and they never made it back. Greipel later called it quits, as did Frenchman Alexis Gougeard (AG2R) with flu. At the front, Courteille and Herrada parted company with their companions, the Spaniard going for the polka-dot jersey. Herrada reached the top in the lead, ahead of Courteille with Duchesne on their heels. The three were chased down by Boom and Vandenbergh in the descent, while the pack reached the summit six minutes behind.
Duchesne on his own
In the long descent, the gap between the five front riders and the bunch remained stable but was down to 3:25 at the Col du Pointu (km 131) which Courteille reached ahead of Herrada. In Lourmarin, Vandenbergh took the sprint honours but the group split at the foot of Cote de la Roque d’Antheron (2nd cat), when Duchesne went solo. He reached the top of the Cote de la Roque d’Antheron on his own, followed by Herrada and Courteille. In the climb, Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale) shook the peloton while Alberto Contador was seen near the front of he pack for the first time in this Paris-Nice.
In the final ascent of the day, Col de Seze (2nd cat, km 169.5), Duchesne retained 33 seconds over the pack, from which Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) surged in the descent. While the succession of climbs allowed Herrada to strengthen his KOM jersey, it was fatal to Trek-Segafredo team leader Frank Schleck, involved in an earlier crash, who was forced to call it a day. Lutsenko caught Duchesne and went on his own with 15 kms left in the stage. The 2012 under-23 world champion retained 40 seconds with 10 km to go. Katusha tried briefly to bridge the gap for Kristoff but gave up for lack of support and let Lutsenko go for a splendid solitary win.
1. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 4:42:29
2. Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
3. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal
4. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha
5. Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
6. Ben Swift (Gbr) Team Sky
7. Nikolas Maes (Bel) Etixx – Quick-Step
8. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal
9. Youcef Reguigui (Alg) Dimension Data
10. Roy Curvers (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin
44. Antoine Duchesne (Can) Direct Energie
1. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team
2. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha
3. Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
4. Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre – Merida
5. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
6. Pieter Serry (Bel) Etixx – Quick-Step
7. Vicente Reynes (Spa) IAM Cycling
8. Leonardo Duque (Col) Delko Marseille Provence KTM
9. Oliver Naesen (Bel) IAM Cycling
10. Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
84. Antoine Duchesne (Can) Direct Energie 0:50
GC after Stage 5
1. Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge 19:24:58
2. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team 0:00:06
3. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin 0:00:18
4. Patrick Bevin (Nzl) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:00:23
5. Jon Izaguirre (Esp) Movistar Team
6. Geraint Thomas (Gbr) Team Sky
7. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Astana Pro Team 0:00:28
8. Dries Devenyns (Bel) IAM Cycling 0:00:29
9. Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff Team 0:00:31
10. Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team
51. Antoine Duchesne (Can) Direct Energie 0:01:52