|Alexandre Vinokourov was the surprise winner of today’s fourth stage of Paris-Nice which finished at the top of the 1st-category Mont Faron climb above the port of Toulon.
The Kazakh was one of a group of 25 riders who came to the foot of the final 8km climb in pursuit of lone breakaway Felix Garcia Casas (BigMat). Also there were race leader Didier Rous (Bonjour) and yesterday’s winner Laurent Jalabert (CSC), and Jalabert it was who launched the initial attack from this group 4km from home.
Rous fell back immediately, and Garcia Casas was quickly caught and dropped as Jalabert surged away with Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis), Sandy Casar (FDJ), Jens Voigt (Credit Agricole) and Vinokourov.
Jalabert had admitted he hadn’t felt all that great on the climbs yesterday, and that his stage win was down to his knowledge and speed on the descents more than anything. It soon appeared this was the case again as he was hit by a Kazkh one-two, and this despite having switched to a lighter climbing bike 35km from the finish.
First off, Kivilev attacked 2km from the top of the narrow, winding lane up Mont Faron. His compatriot Vinokourov countered and then responded with an attack of his own that was simply on another level to anything previously seen in this race.
Jalabert said afterwards he was shocked and impressed by the power Vinokourov showed, as in those last 2km the Telekom rider not only made the stage victory safe but also took the lead overall despite a late flurry of action from Jalabert who came through to finish second on the day. Rous was just over a minute down and slipped to third, which was hardly a just reward taking into account the damage his Bonjour team-mates had done earlier in the day.
The peloton had started racing into a headwind with Bonjour setting the tempo. But when the wind started to come across the French team were joined at the front by CSC and BigMat and a number of echelons formed. Jalabert, Rous, Voigt, Vinokourov and Garcia Casas were among those well placed overall who made it into the front group, while all of the other big names were dropped.
The gap between the two groups went out to two minutes, came back to 1-45 with 40km to go, but stretched to three minutes by the foot of the penultimate climb with 28km left. Race over as far as a number of the favourites were concerned.
The big losers in the main group were iBanesto’s Javier Pascual Rodriguez and last year’s winner Dario Frigo (Tacconi). Pascual flew up Mont Faron faster than anyone to hold his place in the top 10 overall, and Frigo was not far behind him. Final victory now looks beyond this pair, but they’ll be looking to redeem themselves on the stage to the Col d’Eze on Saturday that takes in eight categorised climbs.
Vinokourov’s lead on Jalabert is only 6 seconds, but the Kazakh’s performance today suggests he’s in better form than the Frenchman, and indeed almost everyone else within realistic striking distance.
Stage 4, Pertuis-Mont Faron
1 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) Telekom 175km in 3-55-13
2 Laurent Jalabert (CSC) at 27
3 Andrej Kivilev (Cofidis) at 32
4 Sandy Casar (FDJ) at 37
5 Jens Voigt (Credit Agricole) at 45
6 Mario Aerts (Lotto) at 55
7 Aitor Garmendia (Team Coast) at 1-00
8 Didier Rous (Bonjour) at 1-08
9 Stéphane Heulot (BigMat) at 1-13
10 Vladimir Miholjevic (Alessio) at 1-28
1 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) Telekom 17-33-23
2 Jalabert at 6
3 Rous at 49
4 Casar at 54
5 Voigt at 56
6 Kivilev at 58
7 Aerts at 1-01
8 Garmendia at 1-22
9 Heulot at 1-29
10 Javier Pascual Rodriguez (ibanesto.com) at 1-32
KoM: Cyril Dessel (Jean Delatour)
Young rider: Casar