Wiggins leads into deciding Paris-Nice TT

Sat, 10 Mar 19:40:00 2012

Bradley Wiggins clung on his six-second advantage on Saturday and will need to keep his wits about him if he is to become the first British rider in 45 years to win the Paris-Nice race.

Sky team rider Bradley Wiggins of Britain (L) and leader yellow jersey holder rides in the pack following the start of the fourth stage of the 70th Paris-Nice cycling race between Brive-La-Gaillarde and Rodez, March 7, 2012 - 0

The Team Sky rider topped the overall standings following the race's penultimate stage, which was won by Belgium's Thomas De Gendt after a spectacular 171 kilometre break.

Wiggins's slim advantage over De Gendt's Vacansoleil team mate Lieuwe Westra leaves the race wide open, which will conclude on Sunday with an uphill 9.6 km individual time trial from Nice to Col D'Eze.

Spain's Alejandro Valverde moved up to third in the standings, 18 seconds down, after American Levi Leipheimer dropped out of contention having crashed three times on Saturday.

The last and only British rider to win Paris-Nice was Tom Simpson in 1967, a few months before he died on the slopes of the Mont Ventoux during the Tour de France.

If he is to replicate Simpson's feat, Wiggins will need to hold off Westra.

"Lieuwe is, in this moment, one of the best climbers in this race and two days ago he was better than Bradley Wiggins on the climb," De Gendt said.

"I think six seconds is not much. Tomorrow is his first uphill time trial but I think he's going to surprise himself and I'm sure he's going to win the race."

Belgian De Gendt dropped breakaway companion Rein Taaramae of Estonia on the stage's final climb, the first category Col De Vence, then rode solo for nearly 90 minutes to Vacansoleil's third win of the race. Swedish team mate Gustav Larsson won the first stage while Dutchman Westra claimed stage five.

"We've already had two wins and I didn't want to fall behind the rest, so I thought I'd better try my luck as well," said De Gendt.

"After stage two my chances of a good overall classification disappeared but today was a good day for an attack."

Paris - Nice : Stage 7

Taaramae was second in the 219.5-km stage from Sisteron to Nice, with Germany's John Degenkolb leading in the pack for third.

"He (Taaramae) crashed at the beginning of the stage and when I speeded up on the climb (Col de Vence) at first he couldn't keep up with me," added De Gendt.

"Then he came back to me, attacked three times and finally I got past him and got away alone."

Leipheimer, who started the stage lying third overall, crashed three times and dropped out of the top 10.

Guided down a fast descent by three other Omega Pharma-QuickStep riders after his second crash, one of Leipheimer's team mates skidded into a police motorbike rider who was standing guard over another earlier crash. This provoked another multiple pile-up and Leipheimer's third fall.

More than 16 minutes down at the finish, and 129th on the stage, Leipheimer's team manager, Brian Holm, told French television: "We think he's ok physically but it's incredible bad luck."

Reuters

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