HTC-Highroad isn’t missing a step following the departure of André Greipel to Omega-Lotto at the end of the 2010 season. Last year, Greipel and star sprinter Mark Cavendish accounted for exactly half of the team’s season-long haul of 64 wins.
Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad) is already proving a worth “second” to Cavendish and steered clear of a late crash to pull the double Tuesday at the third stage Paris-Nice, winning the sprint against Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) and slipping on the leader’s jersey.
With Greipel gone, Goss will have even more opportunities to shine this season and he’s already showing every intention of taking full advantage.
“It’s terrific. Yesterday it was close, today I had a good run. It was unfortunate that there was a fall but to me it was perfect,” Goss said. “There were tight corners in the finale and I was a little far back in the chicane but in the end I had a good run. The crash disrupted the sprint a little bit but it was alright for me.
There weren’t nearly as many crashes in Tuesday’s 202km run from Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire to Nuits-Saints-Georges as there were in Monday’s nervous stage, but one crash in the final 250m of the stage had a huge impact on the final sprint.
Pre-stage favorite Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) hit the deck on the final corner of a technical run-in to the line after it looked like his rear tire rolled off and brought down a few other riders with him. He eventually walked across the line, but his crash disrupted the sprint.
Goss did well to swing to his left to avoid the spill and then out-distanced Haussler to the line to take the victory.
With time bonuses, Goss moves two seconds ahead of overnight leader Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil), with Haussler and Monday’s winner Greg Henderson (Sky) tied at six seconds back. Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha), third for the second day in a row, slots into fifth at eight seconds adrift.
“To get a stage for the team was the number one goal,” Goss said. “The jersey is a bonus.”
“It was a very scrappy finish, but they seem to suit Matt, he surfs the other teams’ leadouts and then goes for it himself,” added HTC-Highroad’s sports director Allan Peiper. “He just missed out (Monday), but today he really put the score straight.”
Early break runs out of road
Cold, but sunny skies welcomed the pack for the start of the third stage that saw the second-category Becoup climb in the closing 25km that could serve as a trampoline for stage hunters. Romain Sicard (Euskaltel-Euskadi) didn’t start after complaining of knee problems.
Five riders jumped from the gun: Cedric Pineau (FDJ), Jussi Veikkanen (Omega-Lotto), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Romain Hardy (Bretagne Schuller) and Biel Kadri (Ag2r). The quintet held a three-minute lead, but the sprint teams didn’t want to give them too much rope going into the Becoup climb.
Five-time national champion of Finland Veikkanenwas top over the climb to earn the best climber’s jersey after a long day in the saddle, but the group’s adventure soon ended.
Just as the Liquigas-powered pack was reeling in the last of the danglers, French national champion Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) took a solo flier off the front. Catching the wheel was Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), who hung on from the break. The pair worked together to carve a slender, 20-second gap with about 19km to go.
With Wednesday’s hilly stage on tap, the sprinters wanted another shot at victory. Garmin-Cervélo kept the pace high with 16km to go and Martijn Maaskant and Johan Van Summeren taking deep pulls.
Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) punctured with less than 10km to go, which put him under tremendous pressure to try to regain contact with the fast-moving peloton roaring in for the sprint. Voeckler looked back with 5km to go, realized it was a lost cause and sat up. Chavanel, meanwhile, regained contact with 2.8km to go to keep alive his GC chances.
Hilly run Wednesday
Paris-Nice continues Wednesday with the hilly, seven-climb 191km rollercoaster ride from Creches-sur-Saone to Belleville that should prove very difficult to control. The route loops over a string of short but steep hills across the Beaujolais vineyards that should prove tempting enough for stage-hunters and GC contenders alike.
There are three second-category and four third-category climbs, though the last Cat. 3 is 35km from the line, giving teams to organize a chase to limit any damages or perhaps set up any sprinters who’ve made over with the front group.
As for Goss’ overall lead, HTC’s Peiper says the team will take the next stage “segment by segment to see if we can defend it.”
“There’s an early climb, so breakaways are bound to go, and we’ve got two GC guys as well, so it’s a question of playing our cards tactically.”
Goss is hoping he can keep the jersey at least another day.
“Tomorrow’s a tough stage to defend the lead, but it’s not impossible. There are two climbs about 50 kilometers from the finish, so hopefully I can get over them OK and at least hold it for another day.”
Goss has now won seven races this season, including a stage of the Tour Down Under and a stage of the Tour of Oman.
“It’s been a perfect start to the year,” Goss concludes, “I can only hope it keeps going for as long as possible.”
After Goss’s latest win, HTC-Highroad men’s team have now taken 15 victories in 2011.