Clad in the tricolore jersey of French champion, Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) won the fourth stage of Paris-Nice this afternoon, outsprinting his breakaway companions into Belleville.
The other beneficiary from a disordered day’s racing was opening stage winner Thomas De Gendt. The Belgian made it into the break again and put in a ride of great strength, tirelessly driving the break to the line in the closing 25 kilometres to make sure of regaining the race lead.
The succesful escape formed just a few kilometres out of start town Crêches-sur-Saône, containing De Gendt (Vacansoleil), alongside fellow perennial aggressor Voeckler, Remi Pauriol (FDJ), Remy di Gregorio (Astana) and Francis De Greef (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
The quintet pulled out a lead of several minutes over the seven categorised climbs in the day’s route.
Behind, British champion Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) came off with 45km to go, having to change bikes. He would go on to finish thirteen minutes down on the leaders.
With the breakaway’s lead dropping, Vacansoleil man De Gendt came through time and time again to keep the speed up. De Greef couldn’t handle the pace, dropping back to the bunch.
Although De Gendt won both intermediate sprints to become virtual race leader, he didn’t need the buffer in the end.
With yellow jersey Matt Goss clinging to the rear of the pack, HTC-Columbia offered little help to the bunch’s pursuit, and the chasing efforts proved in vain.
De Gendt led the break into the finale before Thomas Voeckler burst past, beating compatriot Pauriol for his third win of the year.
Tomorrow’s hilly fifth stage through the Ardeche ought to bring the overall contenders to the fore, with the Col de la Mure coming nine kilometres from the finish in Vernoux-en-Vivarais.
Paris-Nice 2011, stage four: Crêches-sur-Saône to Belleville, 191km
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar
2. Remi Pauriol (Fra) FDJ
3. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM
4. Remy di Gregorio (Fra) Astana
5. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin-Cervelo at 13secs
6. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas
7. Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil-DCM
8. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis
9. Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre
10. Danilo Wyss (Swi) BMC all same time
66. Bradley Wiggins (Gbr) Team Sky
125. Geraint Thomas (Gbr) Team Sky at 13-34
132. Dan Lloyd (Gbr) Garmin-Cervelo
157. Jeremy Hunt (Gbr) Team Sky at 20-02
General classification after stage four
1. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM
2. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar at 10secs
3. Remi Pauriol (Fra) FDJ at 16secs
4. Matt Goss (Aus) HTC-Columbia at 21secs
5. Remy di Gregorio (Fra) Astana at 24secs
6. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin-Cervelo at 27secs
7. Jeremy Roy (Fra) FDJ at 30secs
8. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Cofidis at 31secs
9. Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team Europcar at 32secs
10. Jens Voigt (Ger) Leopard-Trek at 35secs
Back in yellow:Thomas De Gendt