Valverde takes stage, Wiggins still ahead
Tue, 06 Mar 15:39:00 2012
The sprint finish was well-controlled by Valverde's team-mates on the way to Lac de Vassiviere, and the Spaniard's 10-second time bonus for the stage victory saw him move up to sixth place in the general classification.
Valverde had targeted the third stage of the Paris-Nice before the race started and the Spaniard duly delivered, claiming his fourth win of the season.
He was very nearly beaten by a late surge from Gerrans on the uphill finish, but held him off by less than a wheel. Belgium's Gianni Meersman took third place.
"It was really hard today, everybody was knackered," said Wiggins afterwards.
The stage had begun without 2011 Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck, who withdrew from the race citing a stomach upset.
Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank), Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun) and Roy Curvers (Project 1t4i) had escaped from the peloton earlier in the 194km stage, building up a lead which at one point reached five minutes, but Leipheimer's Omega Pharma-QuickStep team and Team Sky reeled them in with around 6km remaining.
Uzbekistan's Sergey Lagutin pulled away in the final section, a 5.2-km climb at an average gradient of 3.9 percent, but he failed to sustain the pace.
Valverde, who had looked forward to the final climb, surged ahead and beat Gerrans to add to his Tour of Andalusia and Tour Down Under victories.
Valverde wins stage, Wiggins still ahead