Westra closes on Wiggins
Bradley Wiggins took third behind Lieuwe Westra on a tough fifth stage of Paris-Nice to retain the race leader's yellow jersey.
Last Updated: 08/03/12 4:58pm
Bradley Wiggins took a gutsy third behind Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) on a tough fifth stage of Paris-Nice which was enough to keep the Team Sky leader in the race leader's yellow jersey.
The 178.5 kilometres route from Onet-le-Chateau to Mende featured no fewer than six categorised climbs, including the finishing 10.2% ramp up the Montee Laurent Jalabert.
Perfectly paced up much of that 3km ascent by team-mate Richie Porte, Wiggins took it up with 700 metres to go before Westra, who started the day just 18 seconds off the lead, jumped clear himself soon after.
The Dutchman never looked like being caught and, though he sat up to celebrate well before the line, he had six seconds in hand on the rest of the field as well as a 10 seconds bonus.
But Wiggins kept on well himself, taking third just behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), to claim a four seconds bonus for third place and that was enough to keep him in yellow.
His lead remains six seconds, though it's now Westra who has moved up to second, with Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) a further four seconds back in third.
Afterwards Wiggins was again full of praise for the work of his team-mates, telling www.teamsky.com: "Once again we took charge of the race; right from the start we took the responsibility and the boys rode fantastic again all day - I can’t thank them enough.
"Then in the final Rigo and especially Richie did a great job on the climb. It was a case of just time trialling to the summit really and I think that put everyone in the red. There was only one guy able to attack off that pace so it was a perfect day.
"It must have been zero with the wind chill. It was cold and the hardest thing was staying warm and eating enough throughout the race. It was tough."
Looking ahead, Wiggins was pleased to have negotiated what always looked the pivotal stage, but warned there's work still to be done.
He explained: "I think the next two days should be kinder. Hopefully the weather will be warmer but today was the dangerous day. I think we’ve shown we’re the strongest here so I think it’s going to come down to Sunday barring any crashes and stupid splits tomorrow. So there’s still a bit of concentrating to do but the harder stages are behind us."
Wiggins was also delighted to hear that Mark Cavendish had bagged stage two at Tirreno-Adriatico over in Italy, the second WorldTour event which is taking place this week, adding: "Right across the board now we’re just ripping it up and performing as a team consistently which is brilliant. It’s what we’re all about."
Veuchelen last to be caught
The day had earlier unfolded in relatively predictable fashion as a four-man break were allowed to go clear virtually straight away.
Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), Simon Clarke (GreenEDGE), David Le Lay (Saur-Sojasun) and Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil) had their advantage capped at 6:50 and with BMC Racing and Movistar doing plenty of work on the front along with Team Sky it was only a matter of time before they were brought back.
That happened soon after the penultimate climb up the second category Cote de Chabrits which had been crested first by Veuchelen, with Kevin Seeldraeyers (Astana) and Laurens ten Dam (Rabobank) having already bridged the gap with 9km remaining.
Veuchelen was then left hanging out on his own until the base of the final climb in Mende at which point Porte took up the running to set up an absorbing finale.