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With not much more than a month of the European season gone, Tom Boonen today took his total of wins for the year into double figures when he blew past Stefan Schumacher and Allan Davis to win stage four of Paris-Nice in Rasteau.
It was the Belgian world champion's third win in four days and came despite him suffering a skip on his chain just as he was starting to unleash his sprint on the rise to the finish. Momentarily thrown forwards on his bike, Boonen quickly regained control and set about going the long way around Davis, who had jumped past Schumacher and had looked set for the win as Boonen faltered. Such is the Belgian's current level of confidence and superiorty, though, that he still managed to get a bike length clear at the line.
"Everything was fine before the final sprint. My team-mates had done a great job and suddenly my chain skipped," Boonen confirmed after the stage. "I nearly went over and crashed. I was unable to shift down onto the 11, but I still managed to keep pedalling and win.
"For sure, things are going fine. We're very strong. The problem is that at Milan-San Remo, which is our main goal, we won't be to control the race alone as is the case here. We'll be the favourites and everybody will be out to get us. I would say that Alessandro Petacchi retains a 60 per cent chance of winning San Remo, while my chances are 40 per cent."
There was no notable change in the overall standings, as race leader Floyd Landis's Phonak team and second-placed Patxi Vila's Lampre squad ensured that no one got too much of an advantage. In this they were slightly helped by two separate demos which brought the race to a temporary halt before its halfway point. Soon after the second of them, T-Mobile's Bas Giling and FDJ's Eric Leblacher got clear, but never threatened to stay away from the hovering pack.
They were caught on the final third-cat climb of the day, where precocious Italian Vincenzo Nibali made a scorching attack that Frenchmen Sylvain Chavanel and Thomas Voeckler followed but were clearly unable to assist with such was Nibali' speed up the climb. The trio worked together coming down the descent and stayed clear until a couple of kilometres out when Quick Step and Davitamon pulled them back. From there it was just a case of whether anyone would be able to beat Boonen, and once again no one could.
Stage 4, Saint Etienne-Rasteau
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic 193km in 4.40.29 (41.29kph)
2 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros
3 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner
4 Elia Rigotto (Ita) Milram
5 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto
6 Sebastian Siedler (Ger) Milram
7 Lilian Jgou (Fra) Franaise des Jeux
8 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) T-Mobile
9 Jrme Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
10 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Crdit Agricole
1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems 19.26.57
2 Patxi Vila (Spa) Lampre 0.09
3 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel 1.13
4 Antonio Colom (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 1.23
5 Frank Schleck (Lux) CSC
6 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner 1.33
7 Jos Azevedo (Por) Discovery Channel 1.35
8 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel 1.37
9 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Crdit Agricole 1.39
10 Jos Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel 1.40
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