|Laurent Jalabert brought back memories of his two stage wins at last yearís Tour de France as he won the third stage of Paris-Nice in St Etienne this afternoon. It was a good day all round for the French as national champion Didier Rous ended up in the yellow jersey after responding to Jalabertís late attack to finish second in the late three-rider break that also featured iBanestoís Aitor Osa. Jean Delatourís Cyril Dessel also got on the podium as the new KoM leader.
Jalabert admitted after the stage that heíd been suffering in the final kilometres of the 1st-category Chaubouret climb that was the last hill on a very up and down day. Impassive as ever on the bike, Jalabertís discomfort didnít show, and when he attacked on the descent into St Etienne he looked anything but a rider still short of his best form.
The pack was already shifting very quickly coming into a left-hander, but Jalabert pinged out of the bunch as if heíd been fired on elastic. The TV bike was certainly caught out as it suddenly found its lens filled by a cycling superstar gesturing angrily for some space on the road. For a moment Jalabert appeared to lose momentum as Osa got on his wheel, but given a free road the CSC team leader soon left the Spaniard, who dropped back to Rous, the only other rider to give chase.
From the bottom of the climb it was only 3km to the finish in the city thatís home to Michelin. Jalabert eased before that point to let Rous and Osa come up to him, but the Spaniard had no intention of working with the two French riders no matter how much waving through and head-shaking they performed. So Rous and Jalabert swapped turns as Osa sat in.
Rous led all the way up the final straight until the 150m mark, when Jalabert accelerated past him for a straightforward win. Osa received his just desserts for doing nothing when Rous managed to hold on to second place and take the seconds he needed to deny Jalabert the overall lead as well.
The bunch came in 10 seconds behind this trio and was led by Peter Van Petegem and Jo Planckaert, who must have had high hopes of winning themselves before Jalabert messed up their plans. All of the favourites were in this group, but Rous and Jalabert now have a small but significant gap on them.
Earlier in the stage Richard Virenque had made his first appearance of the season. The Domo star took a small group of riders across to the leader Martin Hvastija (Alessio) on the penultimate climb. Also pushing with Virenque was prologue winner Laszlo Bodrogi, but he succumbed on the Chaubouret, as Virenque and Bonjourís Mickael Pichon increased their pace as the bunch closed in.
These two Frenchmen were caught 2km from the summit of the Chaubouret, but there was ultimately consolation for Virenque in seeing the stage won by his close friend.
Stage 3, St Etienne-St Etienne
1 Laurent Jalabert (France) CSC-Tiscali 147.5km in 3-59-29
2 Didier Rous (Bonjour)
3 Aitor Osa (iBanesto) both st
4 Peter Van Petegem (Lotto) at 10
5 Jo Planckaert (Cofidis)
6 Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom)
7 Paolo Bossoni (Tacconi)
8 Laurent Dufaux (Alessio)
9 Dario Frigo (Tacconi)
10 Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel)
12 Cadel Evans (Mapei)
18 Richard Virenque (Domo)
20 Christopher Jenner (Credit Agricole)
28 Alex Zuelle (Team Coast)
38 Alex Basso (Fassa Bortolo) all st
107 Alex Julich (Telekom) at 8-38
144 Alex Hunter (Mapei) at 16-08
151 Robbie McEwen (Lotto) st
157 Matthew Wilson (FDJ) at 22-25
163 Baden Cooke (FDJ) at 25-25
1 Didier Rous (France) Bonjour 13-11-13
2 Jalabert at 2
3 Javier Pascual (Ibanesto) at 20
4 Juan Carlos Dominguez (Phonak)
5 Andreas Kloeden (Telekom) both st
6 Frigo at 21
7 Zuelle st
8 Inigo Cuesta (Cofidis) at 22
9 Osa at 24
10 Angel Vicioso (Kelme) at 25
19 Jenner at 32
30 Basso at 36
35 Virenque at 39
38 Evans at 41
99 Julich at 8-55
133 McEwen at 16-07
136 Hunter at 16-29
153 Wilson at 25-29
154 Cooke at 25-46
Points: Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo)
Mountains: Cyril Dessel (Bonjour)
Young Rider: Vicioso