The start was given at 11:48 to 143 riders. Roy Curvers
(Skil Shimano) did not start. The peloton was nervous from the start and the first break developed after 8 kms, involving
Finn Kjell Carlstrom (Liquigas), Australian Bradley McGee (Team CSC) and France’s Clement Lhotellerie (Skil Shimano).
The move gained momentum and
the trio’s lead reached 11:30 at the top of the 3rd category côte de Plantigny (km 28). Lhotellerie was first at the
top ahead of McGee and Carlstrom. The lead reached a maximum of 12:40 at kilometre 36 when the peloton started to raise the
tempo (the first hour average speed had been a modest 36 kph). The first intermediate sprint in Brindas (km 79) was won by
Carlstrom followed by Lhotellerie and McGee. The peloton maintained an eight-minute gap until the 2nd category Cote de St
Martin-en-Haut, which Lhotellerie crossed in the lead, the bunch trailing by 6:35.
The main bunch rapidly reacted
when Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Luis Leon Sanchez (GCE) seized the reins. The junction took place 25 kms from the
finish when the real selection started.
On the Col de la Croix de Chabouret,
while McGee was dropped by his breakaway companions, Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) chased on his own behind the leaders, rapidly
followed by Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), who joined forces in the climb. The main favourites followed
in a bunch of some 15 riders, including Rebellin, Luis Sanchez, Popovych, Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Igor Anton (Euskaltel)
Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2R), Karsten Kroon (CSC), Yann Huguet (Cofidis), Gorka Verdugo (Euskatlel), Pierre Rolland (C.A), Monfort,
Barredo and Moreau. At the top of the Croix de Chaubouret, on which Lhotellerie secured his best climber’s gear, the
two leaders led Cunego, Chavanel and Kreuziger by 1:15 with the Rebellin group 1:55 behind.
While Lhotellerie and Carsltrom
resisted, the Rebellin/Moreau group caught Chavanel, Cunego and Kreuziger in the descent. The two escapees, in front for 157.5
kms, held solidly until the finish line, on which Carlstrom easily outsprinted Lhotellerie for the first victory of a Finn
Sylvain Chavanel took the leader’s
yellow jersey, with a slim 3-second lead over Luis Sanchez with Verdugo third, eight seconds behind. At first CSC's Karsten
Kroon was second overall, two seconds behind Chavanel but the Dutch rider dropped back in
the overall standings after receiving a penalty of 20 seconds.
Following the penalty, Kroon now is 9th overall, 22 seconds behind Chavanel.
okay spotted of the officials. Karsten did get a little bit too close to the cars on the final climb," admitted CSC sports
director Kim Andersen.
Stage winner Kjell Carlstrom said: "At first, the peloton let us go. We took it easy but with
the first climbs, we knew the peloton would start working harder. On the last climb, Lhotellerie tried to attack several times
and I really had a bad moment for a while. I tried to stay calm and follow his wheel and in the descent, I started to think
about the sprint. He was the one who made the attacks in the climb, it was logical I should be the one to attack in the sprint."
A happy Sylvain Chavanel said: "I did not feel too well in the beginning but much better
towards the end. I decided to take the reins and I was helped by Cunego. Unfortunately, we were too far from the finish and
the small chasing group caught up with us. I only lead by a couple of seconds but I enjoy it very much. I know I can win Paris-Nice.
Tomorrow, the Ventoux is a hard climb but I’m now racing to win this race. It’s the first time I wear a yellow
jersey and it’s great."