Was it a clever plan for race leader Robert Gesink to let a handful of dangerous men escape, or are there already chinks in the Rabobank rider?s armour?

The plan in stage five of Paris-Nice was to let a group of riders well down on the general classification escape, fight out the finish between themselves, and take the pressure off Rabobank. With two hard days to come at the weekend, the last thing Rabobank needed was a hard day on the front of the peloton.

But that is what they got. And they gave Carlos Barredo a free ticket into the top six into the bargain. The Spaniard won the stage, having given a quartet of fellow escapees the slip into Sisteron. And his Quick Step team, having now won three stages, look dangerous ? Juan Manuel Garate also lurks in fifth.

The peloton was unsettled for the first hour of the stage, with attacks coming and going. And after 50 kilometres, 17 riders formed the break of the day. As well as Barredo, Maxime Monfort and Pierre Rolland, both in the top 15, had made the group. Christophe Moreau and Karsten Kroon were there, while Crédit Agricole, with Rolland, Simon Gerrans and Alexandre Botcharov,

The chase started almost immediately, and the 17 riders spent 100 kilometres slowly chiselling out a three-minute lead through the dusty Provençal landscape. With Barredo only four minutes down overall, Rabobank had to rely on reinforcements. Gerolsteiner rider Davide Rebellin?s second place was under threat, so understandably, they contributed to the chase. Less understandably, Bouygues Telecom also lent a hand. As the peloton lined out, riders were shed from the back, but they made little impression on the escapees? three-minute lead.

Ahead, the group split into two pieces on the hilly finishing circuit around Sisteron. Barredo, Moreau, Kroon, Rolland and Manuele Mori went clear on the Côte des Marquises, with 15 kilometres to go. And then Barredo launched two solo attacks inside the last 10 kilometres.

At the finishing line, the Spaniard was all smiles. Was he happy at his biggest ever win, or at the 1-40 that now separates him from Robert Gesink?s race lead?

Carlos Barredo makes it a trio of wins for Quick Step at this year’s Paris-Nice. All photos by Luc Claessen/ISPA

PARIS-NICE STAGE THREE

1 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step 172km in 3-58-01
2 Karsten Kroon (Ned) CSC
3 Manuele Mori (Ita) Saunier Duval at 0-04
4 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Agritubel st
5 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Crédit Agricole st
6 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Crédit Agricole at 1-33
7 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Cofidis at 1-34
8 Alexandre Botcharov (Fra) Crédit Agricole st
9 Ivan Santaromita (Ita) Liquigas st
10 Mathieu Perget (Fra) Caisse d?Epargne st

PARIS-NICE: OVERALL

Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 21-10-30
2 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner at 0-31
3 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale at 0-35
4 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Silence-Lotto at 0-42
5 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Quick Step at 1-05
6 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step at 1-40
7 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d?Epargne at 2-00
8 Gorka Verdugo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 2-11
9 Alexander Efimkin (Rus) Caisse d?Epargne at 2-30
10 Clément Lhotellerie (Fra) Skil-Shimano at 3-25

SATURDAY?S STAGE

Stage six sees the riders heading back into the hills for 206 kilometres from Sisteron to Cannes on the Mediterranean coast.

With seven categorised climbs, it?s going to be a hard day in the saddle for the survivors of the race. Once the peloton start the climbing for real, on the second category Col des Leques at 73 kilometres, there?s barely any respite until the finish.

The final climb of the day, the famous Col du Tanneron, is a steep climb, that could damage a tired peloton. But from the top of the climb, there are 20 kilometres to the finish ? plenty of time for escapees to get pulled back.

The stage is scheduled to finish between 1625 and 1655 local time.

PARIS-NICE 2008: STAGE REPORTS
Stage four: Evans above
Stage three: Flying Finn takes the win
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
Millar out of Paris-Nice
Stage four analysis
Stage three analysis
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
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