Voeckler wins in Nice as Martin comfortably holds his lead
Thomas Voeckler wins, Paris-Nice 2011, stage eight
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) won the final stage of Paris Nice today while Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) had no trouble in keeping hold of the leaders yellow jersey despite another tough day in the South of France.
Britain's Bradley Wiggins (Sky) held on to third place as the favourites finished together but in a tiny peloton as the field capitulated over the day's five classified climbs. Following yesterday's cold, wet crash-strewn stage dozens of riders pulled out today as they faced more of the same. In the end only 89 riders finished the week long race. There were 176 starters in Houdan last Sunday.
Third represented Wiggins' best performance on the road since the 2009 Tour, after which he said he saw no reason why he couldn't challenge for races like Paris-Nice as part of his Tour build up. "For Bradley to get third place in a race like this takes a great effort," Team Sky's head Sports Director Sean Yates said on the team's website.
"Too much pressure comes with putting all your eggs in one basket and we're expecting him to spread his efforts in more races this year. He can be proud of his performance here and that will give him confidence for the races to come."
Wiggins' third overall, and second in the time trial, will also earn Great Britain vital world and Olympic qualification points. Ben Swift started the year well for GB riders with his performance in the Tour Down Under, and Wiggins' ride will have earned more points over and above their target.
But as good as Wiggins was, German Tony Martin was better. After a powerful display in Friday's time trial Martin never looked liked losing his lead during the tough final stages. The win was further confirmation of Martin's stage race pedigree, first shown when he won the FDB Insurance Ras in Ireland in 2007. He was second in the 2009 Tour of Switzerland and won the ENECO Tour last year.
It would seem another crack at the Tour de France beckons this year.
Sadly for him his performance will have gone largely unnoticed back at home. Speaking to French daily sports paper l'Equipe, Martin said; "there aren't any journalists from my country here because cycling in Germany is still too shocked by the old doping scandals. It's up to us, German riders, to restore our image, to bring more confidence."
Refreshingly aware of the cause of the sport's problems in Germany, Martin added; "I'm not the new Jan Ullrich." Unfortunately for Martin he only had to look over his shoulder to be reminded of Germany's past as Andréas Klöden (Radioshack) held on to his second place.
Voeckler, winner of stage four, had gone on the attack after just 29 kilometres, no doubt determined to make amends for the 2010 event when he was beaten on the line on the Promenade des Anglais by Amael Moinard. The popular Frenchman was soon joined by nine other riders who worked together to build a lead of over three minutes.
It never got any bigger than that as the bunch controlled the lead, cautious of the fact that Vacansoleil's Matteo Carrara was in the group. The Italian started the day just 2-50 minutes down on the yellow jersey.
The group slowly fractured on the last two category-one climbs of La Turbie and Col d'Eze and lost any momentum it may have had as Voeckler whittled his compatriots down. On the Col d'Eze he was away with just Diego Ulissi for company but obviously didn't want to chance another narrow defeat and attacked on the descent to solo to victory.
Behind the peloton was down to just 21 riders. All the contenders were there and had team mates but there was little action. Only Spaniard Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) chanced his arm. With Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) in trouble, Sanchez seized his chance to move up the general classification. Initially Wiggins gave chase, but eventually gave up, with 48 seconds in hand on Sanchez, and others around to keep the pace high, the threat wasn't too great.
Sanchez took 16 seconds out of the yellow jersey group, finishing 1-06 minutes down on Voeckler, and moved up to fifth on GC. The rest of the contenders rolled in together.
Michael Rogers chases Samuel Sanchez to defend Wiggins' third place
Paris-Nice stage eight; Nice - Nice 124km
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar 3-15-58 hrs
2. Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 23 secs
3. Julien El Fares (Fra) Cofidis at 1-06 mins
4. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
5. David Lopez Garcia (Spa) Movistar all at same time
6. Matteo Carrara (Ita) Vacansoleil at 1-08 mins
7. Gorka Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 1-12 mins
8. Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar at 1-22 mins
9. Simon Spilak (Slo) Lampre-ISD
10. Thomas Vaitkus (Ltu) Astana both at same time
17. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 1-22 mins
57. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky at 5-25 mins
DNF. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Team Sky
Final general classification
1. Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad 34-03-37 hrs
2. Andréas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack at 36secs
3. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 41 secs
4. Rein taaramae (Est) Cofidis at 1-10 mins
5. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 1-13 mins
6. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r la Mondiale at 1-24 mins
7. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) RadioShack at 1-34 mins
8. Levi Leipheimer (USA) RadioShack at 1-36 mins
9. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank at 2-04 mins
10. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek at 2-26 mins
83. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky at 1-05-01