Evans has been around a long time, he was a stagier with Saeco-Cannondale in 1999 and is now 31 – that’s no longer ‘up and coming.’
Into the finale it was Gesink on the front, Evans in back, waiting to pounce.
But the man he beat to the line and who is now leading the GC in ‘The Race to the Sun’ is every inch on the ‘up and up;’ Dutchman Robert Gesink (Rabobank) is only 21 and he’s already won stage 3 of this year’s Tour of California to add to last year’s Tour of Belgium stage win.
The big loser on the day was French over night leader, Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), the French press were ‘bigging him up’ as a possible winner, eleven years after Laurent Jalabert last won in Nice for the home country. Yesterday, I asked Evans’ Silence-Lotto team mate, Dario Cioni a simple question; ‘can Chavanel win?’
Race leader Chavanel rode with pride until the reality of the climb took over.
Dario’s answer was emphatic; ‘No!’ and so it proved as the Frenchman first bluffed his way up the lower slopes, moving up the group that was visibly moving too fast for him, before losing the wheels at seven km to go, to finish an eventual 3-42 down on Evans.
The ‘Giant of Provence’ was in benign mood with clear blues skies, and pleasant air temperatures making for no arm warmers as the peloton pursued the inevitable early break into the start of this daunting climb at Malaucene with around 16 of the 176 kilometres left to go.
Away from kilometre 11 were Bernhard Eisel (Austria & High Road), Aliaksandr Kuchynski (Bulgaria & Liquigas), Niki Terpstra (Netherlands & Milram) plus the almost inevitable Jens Voigt (Germany & CSC).
At this stage of the game, the lead was 3-45, but began to fall fast as tired legs fell prey to Sir Isaac Newton’s horrible discovery – the Law of Gravity.
Voigt dumped his erstwhile buddies, but to no avail, he would succumb too at four kilometres to go.
Early on the climb it was Rabobank riding tempo and causing immediate damage – we would learn why, later in the stage – then it was Gerolsteiner stimulating the lactic production as Davide Rebellin looked cool.
There was nothing cool about Thor Hushovd, Anthony Geslin, French champion Christophe Moureau or dozens of others as one by one they slid off the wheels.
Chavanel was riding too far back in the group to be a winner, although he moved up for a spell as the pace slackened briefly.
At seven to go, it was QuickStep’s Spaniards at the front – Carlos Barredo and Jaun Manuel Garate, they put the stake into Chavanel but this was still early sparring.
At five to go, surprise of the race, polka dot jerseyed Clement l’Hottelerie (France & Skil-Shimano) – who was second yesterday – went on the offensive, only to crack immediately, but the blue touch paper was now lit and five went clear.
It was apparent that the winner would be one of these men – Gesink, Evans, Rebellin, Frank Schleck (Luxembourg & CSC) and Evans’ Ukrainian team mate and race favourite, Yaroslav Popovych.
Voigt jumped the train briefly as it screamed past, possibly hoping to aid Schleck, but there was no chance of a long ride at this tempo as Schleck, then old hand, eternally fit Davide Rebellin eased out of the conductor’s carriage.
At around three to go, the lanky Gesink’s pace was too much for ‘Poppo’ and the Ukrainian mountain man was suddenly making faces.
Gesink briefly distanced Evans, but the Australian looked composed as they took the red kite, their tyres spraying them with icy water from melting snow, which had pooled on the road.
Evans left it very late, but took it with ease, he could be happy with a major salvage job on his Paris-Nice.
Rabobank must be delighted with their man; one protйgй – Thomas Dekker – is enough for most teams, but with Gesink, the Orangemen have a brace of wonderful young talents.
But it would be wrong to say that the GC is won, not with sly fox Rebellin second at 32 seconds and strongman Popovych at 42 in fourth; the surprising Rinaldo Nocentini (Italy & Ag2R) lies third at 35 seconds.
But with the mighty Rabobank behind him, it looks like the tall, slim, young Dutchman will be hard to dislodge.
Results; Paris-Nice 2008 Stage 4
1. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto 4.32.56 (38,691 km/h)
2. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
3. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale 0.33
4. Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
5. Frдnk Schleck (Lux) Team CSC 0.34
6. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Silence-Lotto 0.38
7. Juan Manuel Gбrate (Spa) Quick Step 1.03
8. Simon Spilak (Slo) Lampre
9. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Crйdit Agricole 1.30
10. Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step 1.33
Paris-Nice Overall After Stage 4
1. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 17.10.12
2. Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 0.32
3. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale 0.35
4. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Silence-Lotto 0.42
5. Juan Manuel Gбrate (Spa) Quick Step 1.06
6. Luis Leуn Sбnchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 2.06
7. Gorka Verdugo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 2.11
8. Alexander Efimkin (Rus) Quick Step 2.30
9. Clйment L’Hottelerie (Fra) Skil-Shimano 3.25
10. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis 3.27