Sat, Mar 10, 2012 - Page 18 News List

CYCLING: Westra wins stage; Wiggins extends lead to 10 seconds

AP, MENDE, FRANCE

Bradley Wiggins celebrates retaining the yellow jersey after the fifth stage of the Paris-Nice in Mende, France, on Thursday.

Photo: EPA

Dutch rider Lieuwe Westra attacked late in the final climb of the day to win the fifth stage of the Paris-Nice race on Thursday, while Bradley Wiggins extended his overall lead to 10 seconds over his main rival, Levi Leipheimer.

Wiggins was well positioned at the front of the pack when Frenchman Arnold Jeannesson launched an attack with 700m to go. Even though Jeannesson is not a threat for overall victory, Wiggins still chased and isolated himself.

Westra took advantage by surging ahead with an acceleration in the final 300m and Wiggins could not follow him. Westra casually looked over his shoulder and tapped his chest as he crossed the line.

Westra moved into second place, six seconds behind Wiggins, but is also not a major threat to the leader.

“It was a day in hell with the cold air and wind all day. I really must thank [my teammates] Richie [Porte] and Rigoberto [Uran], who did an amazing job,” Wiggins said, adding that “it’s looking promising” for the Paris-Nice win.

An early four-man breakaway attacked shortly after the start of the 178.5km mountain stage from Onet-le-Chateau to Mende, which featured three category one climbs and ended with a sharp, sinewy ascent up la Croix Neuve.

With 9km left, the breakaway group was caught up by the chasing pack, with Alejandro Valverde’s Movistar team moving the Spaniard into a strong position for a late attack.

Valverde struggled in the first portion of the final climb up, but Wiggins could not shake him off and Valverde beat the Briton in a sprint to the line to take second place in the stage and shave two seconds off Wiggins’ lead.

Valverde moved up to fourth place and is now 18 seconds behind Wiggins, who is also targeting victory at the Tour de France in July. The 38-year-old Leipheimer, who crossed the line in fourth place, remains third overall.

The sixth stage is an undulating trek from Suze-la-Rousse to Sisteron with a few small climbs, but it should not affect the overall order. The penultimate stage ends with a long category one climb, but the final stage mountain time trial is expected to decide the race winner.

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