By William Fotheringham, VeloNews Correspondent
The heavy back roads of the Var left no impression on the overall classification of Paris-Nice on Friday, which means that no less than 15 riders were poised within one minute of the race leader Peter Van Petegem (Mercury-Viatel) going into Saturday’s vital time trial to the Col d’Eze.
The stage into Saint Raphael did however provide a welcome respite for the new Belgian team Domo, under pressure since they failed to show at Het Volk two weeks ago.
Their Pole Piotr Wadecki spent 115 of the 150 miles in front with Bonjour’s Francois Simon and Matteo Tosatto of Fassa Bortolo, disposed of the Frenchman with a cunning attack at the five kilometers to go flag, and then won a tight two-up sprint with Tosatto, stage winner at Sisteron last year.
“It’s the greatest win of my career and for the team as well as we haven’t won a lot since the beginning of the season,” said Wadecki.
“The final kilometer was really very hard. There was a strong head wind and we had to wait as long as possible before sprinting,” added the Pole.
Mercury-Viatel’s Van Petegem retained the overall leader’s white jersey, with an 11-second lead on Germany’s Jorg Jaksche, with Lituanian Raimondas Rumsas and Italy’s Dario Frigo in third and fourth.
Van Petegem, who has lead throughout the race, was unsure whether he could hold his own following Saturday’s 10km time trial at Eze pass on the penultimate day of the race.
“I feel good physically and have a good team around me. But at Eze pass you’re on your own,” said the Belgian.
“We’ll see. I don’t have any first hand knowledge of this climb. In the prologues and small time-trials I can hold my own. But here I’m heading into the unknown.”
There were tense moments for young American Floyd Landis, who finished with skinned buttocks after falling early in the stage and then again at the one kilometer to go board after putting in sterling work for Van Petegem in the final run-in. But he fared better than Jonathan Vaughters, who abandoned suffering from fatigue.
1. Piotr Wadecki (Pl), Domo-Farm Frites, 240.3km in 6:24:12; 2. Matteo Tosatto (I), Fassa Bortolo, s.t.; 3. Francois Simon (F), Bonjour, at 0:36; 4. Emmanuel Magnien (F), La Francaise des Jeux, at 1:10; 5. Thor Hushovd (N), Credit Agricole; 6. Jo Planckaert (B), Cofidis; 7. Fabrizio Guidi (I), Mercury-Viatel; 8. Philippe Gaumont (F), Cofidis; 9. Fabian De Waele (B), Lotto-Adecco; 10. David Etxebarria (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi; 11. Pascal Chanteur (F), Festina; 12. Christophe Mengin (F), La Francaise des Jeux; 13. Torsten Schmidt (G), Gerolsteiner; 14. Serge Baguet (B), Lotto-Adecco; 15. Tristan Hoffman (G), CSC-World Online; 16. Kim Kirchen (Lux), Fassa Bortolo; 17. Franck Rénier (F), Bonjour; 18. Patrice Halgand (F), Jean Delatour; 19. Arvis Piziks (Lat), CSC-World Online; 20. Ludovic Auger (F), Big Mat;
55. Bobby Julich (USA), Credit Agricole; 63. Peter Van Petegem (B), Mercury-Viatel; 91. Floyd Landis (USA), Mercury-Viatel, at 3:37.
Abandoned: Christophe Capelle (F), Cyril Saugrain (F); Jakob Piil (Dk); David Millar (GB); Nicolas Dumont (F); Jonathan Vaughters (USA); Massimiliano Mori (I); Henk Vogels (Aus); Francesco Secchiari (I)
1. Peter Van Petegem (B), Mercury-Viatel, 15:13:03.
2. Jorg Jaksche (G), ONCE, at 0:11.
3. Raimondas Rumsas (Lit), Fassa Bortolo, at 0:15.
4. Dario Frigo (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 0:16.
5. Andrei Tchmil (B), Lotto-Adecco, at 0:27.
6. Mario Aerts (B), Lotto-Adecco, at 0:29.
7. David Moncoutie (F), Cofidis, at 0:29.
8. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), Telekom, at 0:33.
9. Laurent Dufaux (Swi), Saeco, at 0:33.
10. Patrice Halgand (F), Jean Delatour, at 0:36.
11. Jose Azevedo (P), ONCE.
12. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), iBanesto.com, both s.t.
13. Tobias Steinhauser (G), Gerolsteiner, at 0:39
14. Dave Bruylandts (B), Domo-Farm Frites, s.t.
15. Michele Bartoli (I), Mapei-Quick Step, at 0:45
16. Rolf Huser (Swi), Coast, at 0:57
17. Emmanuel Magnien (F), Francaise des Jeux, at 1:11
18. Stephane Heulot (F), Big Mat, at 1:12
19. Laurent Brochard (F), Jean Delatour, at 1:20
20. Bingen Fernandez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:29
23. Julich, at 1:42
28. Wadecki, at 2:10
49. Landis, at 5:49