The group of potential winners of Paris-Nice was whittled down for the third consecutive day, on an aggressive stage to St Etienne

On a day when the sun finally shone on the Race to the Sun, the overall hopes of Britain?s David Millar were cast to the winds. Cadel Evans, if he is to win the Tour de France this year, still has work to do ? he lost another five minutes.

While Millar and Evans toiled, an elite group of 21 riders, including Robert Gesink, Luis Leon Sanchez and new race leader Sylvain Chavanel, made it to the finish line after forcing a selection on the final climb of the day, the first category Col de la Croix de Chaubouret. Initially, 15 riders made the cut, and they were caught on the line by a further sextet of riders. The next group were almost four minutes behind.

But ahead of this group, early escapee Kjell Carlström of Liquigas had already taken the stage win, outsprinting his companion Clément Lhotellerie after a break that went clear early in the day.

Carlström and Lhotellerie, along with Bradley McGee, attacked after only three kilometres, building a lead that stretched to over 11 minutes at one point. But in the final 50 kilometres, over the steep Lyonnais hills, the race favourites started to show themselves.

French champion Christophe Moreau was the first to put pressure on. The Agritubel leader lost over six minutes in the crosswinds of stage one, but he was in his element today. While race followers expected fireworks on the Col de la Croix de Chaubouret, Moreau went early, on the penultimate climb, the third category Cote de la Croix Blanche.

On the lower slopes of the Croix de Chaubouret, a group of around 25 riders crystallized around Moreau. As attacks from Carlos Barredo and Roman Kreuziger increased the speed at the front, Slipstream leader David Millar was one of the first out of the back. Millar had specifically targeted Paris-Nice, but his climbing form had deserted him at a crucial moment.

Kreuziger made the most dangerous-looking attack, with 22 kilometres to the finish. As he disappeared up the road, Sylvain Chavanel and Damiano Cunego were the only riders able to drag themselves up to him. This trio went over the top of the climb well clear of the remnants of the lead group.

But they were still 1-40 behind Carlström and Lhotellerie, who?d dropped McGee on the long climb.

And on the steady, untechnical descent into St Etienne, a rouleur?s paradise, Chavanel, Cunego and Kreuziger were reeled in by a dozen riders. Cofidis, with three riders having made the cut, were aggressive in pacing the group down to St Etienne. They made a significant impression on the leading duo, but they were more concerned with making sure that everybody who had been dropped previously would stay dropped.

Ahead, through the grimy suburbs of St Etienne, Carlström manoeuvred the inexperienced Lhotellerie to the front, where he was forced to stay until 150 metres to go. The Finn was ruthless, and jumped past his inexperienced rival, to take his first win in three years.

As Pierre Rolland led the pursuing group over the line 43 seconds later, six riders just managed to bridge up but it was Sylvain Chavanel, whose aggression has lit up the race for three days in a row, who took the yellow jersey. The three seconds he gained on the run-in to Belleville yesterday were crucial ? he leads Sanchez by exactly that amount of time.

Stage winner Carlström described the victory as his best ever.

?Paris-Nice is a big race, and this is a big win for me,? he said.

?I didn?t work so hard on the final climb or descent, because I knew I had [team mate] Kreuziger coming up behind. And in the final two kilometres, I just watched Lhotellerie and took his wheel. I didn?t know how fast he was in a sprint, and his attacks earlier had been hard.?

?But I opened the sprint with 170 metres to go, and came past.?

Carlström also admitted that the tactics of Paris-Nice had been unusual this year. Early breaks are often snuffed out before the finish, and he was surprised that him and Lhotellerie made it to the finish.

?It?s been a strange race. Quick Step controlled it well yesterday, but they didn?t catch us today.?


PARIS-NICE STAGE THREE

1 Kjell Carlstöm (Finland) Liquigas 165km in 5-29-47
2 Clément Lhotellerie (Fra) Skil-Shimano st
3 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Crédit Agricole at 43sec
4 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
5 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas
6 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale
7 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
8 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre
9 Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d?Epargne
10 Gorka Verdugo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi all st
46 David Millar (GB) Slipstream at 8-04

PARIS-NICE: OVERALL

1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis 12-37-01
2 Luis León Sánchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0.03
3 Gorka Verdugo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0.08
4 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 0.14
5 Juan Manuel Gárate (Spa) Quick Step 0.18
6 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Silence-Lotto 0.19
7 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale 0.21
8 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
9 Karsten Kroon (Ned) Team CSC 0.22
10 Alexander Efimkin (Rus) Quick Step 0.34

THURSDAY?S STAGE

It?s the big one. Whoever is presented with the yellow jersey at Mont Serein, two thirds of the way up Mont Ventoux, will have put a strong option on keeping it all the way to Nice.

The first 159 kilometres are breakaway territory. Rolling terrain, with a few third category climbs along the way. Escapees will need to gain as much time as possible by the time the race hits Malaucène, at the foot of the Ventoux.

The following 16 kilometres are steeply uphill, with a final flatter kilometre.

The stage is expected to finish between 1615 and 1644 local time.

PARIS-NICE 2008: STAGE REPORTS
Stage two: Steegmans back on top
Stage one: Steegmans rides the storm
Prologue: Hushovd wins

RELATED LINKS
Paris-Nice photo gallery: new photos added daily
Stage one analysis
Millar goes down but isn’t out
Prologue analysis: winners and losers
Big names line up for Paris-Nice and defy UCI
Teams vote to ride Paris-Nice
Paris-Nice preview: does the route suit David Millar?

BLOG: PARIS-NICE
Days two and three
Day one