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Paris Nice Stage Two Report
By Locutus
Date: 3/11/2003
Paris Nice Stage Two Report

Stage 2, La Clayette Saint Etienne, 182.5km

It was a wild and chaotic day in the Paris-Nice, as the racers headed for the mountains. Ivan Quaranta (Saeco) abandoned before he actually had to climb, and Daniele Nardello (Telekom), a big lieutenant of defending champ Vinokourov, surprisingly pulled out as well. Andrei Kivilev, one of Cofidis' key riders, also pulled out after a bad crash.

[Editor's Note: We very incorrectly stated in this report at the time of its writing that Andrei Kivilev's injuries appeared to be minor. We regret this grave mistake and apologize for its inappropriateness.]

Update on Kivilev: According to reports from several different sources (L'Equipe as well as Italian news sites) his injuries are not minor, as his face hit the ground and he seems to have suffered a cranial-facial trauma, such that he even fell into coma. He was first taken to Saint-Chamond hospital where he underwent x-rays and more examinations, and was later transferred to the Saint-Etienne Hospital, Neurosurgical unit. Doctors said they have to wait for the situation to evolve in order to be able to make a more detailed diagnosis, although his state of coma now seems to be a little less "dangerous" than it did immediately after crash.

At the head of the race, things got going in the last 50km when four riders got up the road. Nicolas Jalabert (CSC), Christophe Oriol (AG2r-Prevoyance), and David Arroyo (ONCE-Eroski) got away and later David Canada (Quickstep-Davitamon) was able to bridge up. The peloton was led by the Credit Agricole men, trying to preserve the lead of their sprinter Stuart O'Grady. As the riders wound up the final climb of the day, the grueling Cat 1 Croix du Chaubouret, Telekom sprinter Danilo Hondo did a lead out for Alexandre Vinokourov that launched the defending champ on a vicious attack. Ahead, Canada attacked and splintered the breakaway. Marcos Serrano counter-attacked from the peloton and passed Vinokourov. Then it was all brought together.

The rest of the climb was marked by chaos, with attacks shattering the field into small groups. The lead group over the top proved to be the winning breakaway: with the 18km descent into Saint-Etienne in front of them, Dario Frigo and Volodomir Gustov (Fassa Bortolo), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Vinokourov, Alexandre Botcharov (AG2r-Prevoyance), and Mikel Zarrabeitia (ONCE-Eroski) got a gap of around 30" on a group led by Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo). Men expected to do well like Tyler Hamilton (CSC), Gilberto Simoni (Saeco), Richard Virenque and Franck Vandenbroucke (Quickstep) were nowhere to be seen.

The lead group of six held an advantage until the finish. In the final few hundred kilometers, Vinokourov got stuck leading out the sprint. He finally just went for it, using his awesome power to hammer away from the others. Davide Rebellin, known for his sprinting prowess in groups like this, was able to catch his wheel and just come around him at the line to win by a bike-length. Vinokourov held on for second, Botcharov took third, and Frigo crossed in fourth. They managed to hold an 18" advantage over the Merckx group, and took buckets of time from a number of other riders.

Rebellin took the stage and a 3" lead in the overall ahead of Vinokourov. Frigo moved up to 3rd on GC, and with his time-trialing skill he looks to be the favorite now: even Rebellin said after the race that Frigo is now the man to watch. O'Grady lost over 3', but was able to pull on the Green Points Jersey at the end of the day. AG2r is making a strong case for Tour selection, outclassing other hopefuls like Milaneza-MSS, Jean Delatour, and Euskaltel-Euskadi so far in the race. They have sent men up the road constantly, and today's performance by Botcharov (good enough to move him into 5th on GC @ 22") will surely be noted by Jean-Marie LeBlanc.

Axel Merckx had an excellent ride today, showing good enough form to finish the day in the 10th spot on GC at 54". Gilberto Simoni, though he didn't figure in the action, finished only 48" behind the winner in 19th position, which bodes well for his early season build-up for the Giro and the Tour. He won't like finishing so far behind Frigo, but he is well aware that he has bigger fish to fry further down the road. Tyler Hamilton, on the other hand, crossed the line in 66th, 6' 50" behind Rebellin. Though he showed good form in the prologue, the fact that he finished alongside US Postal's big flatlander Pavel Padrnos on the first climbing stage doesn't bode well.

Tomorrow's stage has lots of rolling hills and three Cat 3 climbs. The long downslopes in the second half of the stage could lead to a sprint from a slightly diminished field. The final Cat 3 climb will likely tempt a number of opportunists to have a go, however, so the big question will be whether enough sprinters make it over the climbs so that their teams will help chase down the breakaways. Be here for live coverage first thing!

Links to Daily Peloton Coverage of Paris Nice:

Paris Nice Preview with stage profiles
Paris Nice Prologue report
Paris Nice Stage 1 Live Coverage
Paris Nice Stage 1 Report
Paris Nice Stage 2 Live Coverage

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Paris Nice - Stage Three
Andrei Kivilev

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