La Motte-Mont Faron
14.02 - stage 4: La Motte-Mont Faron 110km- a stage with a definite sting in its tail - the cat one climb at Mont Faron. Last year Bartoli won in glorious style - whoever wins here will be favourite to take the overall.
The climb of Mont-Faron at the end of the afternoon was bound to lead to a reshuffle in the General Classification; and so it was no surprise when two men of no threat to the overall made an early escape.
Luxembourger Benoit Joachim (US Postal) and Français Magnien (Brioches-La Boulangère) eighth in the general classification were the “fuyards” of the day. However the team who did most work to chase the escapees down had no real interest in the overall.
All afternoon, Médéric Clain and Frédéric Bessy (Cofidis) worked hard at the front of the peloton to ensure the escapees did not gain too much advantage. The Cofidis team, who had success with Jo Planckaert last week in the l'Etoile de Bessèges, were keen to ensure their team gained the stage victory today.
The narrow but steep roads of Mont Faron perfectly suit the style and characteristics of David Moncoutié. The Parisian made his first big impression in a race on the Mont in 1999 and is regularly in the top 5 places.
Joachim and Magnien were caught at the foot of the climb and the favourites and contenders jostled to the front of the peloton as the race started to go up hill.
David Moncoutié launched the first hostilities. His attack blows the peloton apart and only the strong can hold his wheel. Bettini (Quickstep), Brochard(AG2R), Chavanel (Brioches La Boulangère), Martinez (Phonak), Michael Boogerd, Beat Zberg (both Rabobank), Jens Voigt (Crédit Agricole), Félix Garcia-Casas (BigMat-Auber 93) all made the selection. The Yellow jersey, Bram De Groot, found the pace just too much in spite of his team mates moral support: he would finish in 30th place at 1'35".
With Brochard in dangerous mood, the virtual yellow jersey Bettini became isolated as first Vandenbroucke, then Virenque chased down attacks.
Then 1500 meters from the finish, David Moncoutié put in the killer attack. Miguel Martinez (Phonak) nearly held his wheel but held on for second place. Boogerd, Zberg, Bettini, Brochard and Chavanel follow, only separated by a few seconds.
Bettini has had a remarkable beginning to the season. In seven days of racing, he has been classified six times in the first five.
Talking to Gazzetta dello Sport the new race leader Bettini said:
"I have only done this climb once before in 1998. With 3 km to go I was cooked, and the last attack of Brochard, I could not respond. Then I remembered that the climb is gentler towards the end (the slope in last the 2 km is 11%) and I rejoined Brochard, Moncoutie, Martinez, Boogerd and Zberg. I did not have the legs to win the stage, but I am delighted to be able to take the leader's jersey.”
The race, Bettini agrees, will be decided in the team time trial on Sunday from Gemenos to -Marseille over 42km.
"We are down to seven men because Clerc has had to withdraw. Both myself and my teammates will still have to give our very all."
Tomorrow's stage, La Garde-Berre l'Etang 114km, will probably be one for the sprinters -then again...
Results Stage 4
1. David Moncoutié (FRA, Cofidis) 109 km in 2h35'34" (42,0 km/h)
2. Miguel Martinez (FRA, Phonak) à 9 sec.
3. Michael Boogerd (PBS, Rabobank) à 11 sec.
4. Beat Zberg (SUI, Rabobank) m.t.
5. Paolo Bettini (ITA, Quick Step-Davitamon) m.t.
6. Laurent Brochard (FRA, Ag2r Prévoyance) à 14 sec.
7. Sylvain Chavanel (FRA, Brioches La Boulangère) à 23 sec.
8. Jens Voigt (FRA, Crédit Agricole) à 31 sec.
9. Félix Garcia-Casas (FRA, BigMat-Auber 93) à 35 sec.
10. Thor Hushovd (NOR, Crédit Agricole) à 42 sec.
Classement général :
1. Paolo Bettini (ITA, Quick Step-Davitamon) en 9h11'04"
2. Laurent Brochard (FRA, Ag2r Prévoyance) à 13 sec.
3. Sylvain Chavanel (FRA, Brioches La Boulangère) à 22 sec.
4. Thor Hushovd (NOR, Crédit Agricole) à 37 sec.
5. Thomas Voeckler (FRA, Brioches La Boulangère) à 58 sec.
6. Mirko Celestino (ITA, Team Saeco) à 1'10"
7. Bram De Groot (PBS, Rabobank) à 1'23"
8. Miguel Martinez (FRA, Phonak) à 1'28"
9. Michael Boogerd (PBS, Rabobank) à 1'32"
10. Beat Zberg (SUI, Rabobank) à 1'34"