Voeckler takes Paris-Nice stage 4 in breakaway.

Voeckler the victor.

A slight miscalculation, an error in timing, not fatal unless you’re a sprinter planning to win the fourth stage of Paris-Nice from Creches sur Saone to Belleville.

To be precise, a thirteen second miscalculation. A handful of ticks when you consider five long hours in the saddle. But a huge mistake none the less as the peloton failed to catch a determined breakaway. These guys are bike racers, not mathematicians.

Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar), who almost pulled off a win yesterday, beat Rémi Pauriol (FDJ) and Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) with a strong kick. Who doesn’t like an attacking rider — Voeckler is practically the Vino of France.

The rule of thumb for nailing back breakaways is 10 kilometers for every minute ahead. At that point in the race they had 1:02 in hand. It was a thrilling chase with Sky, Garmin-Cervelo and Rabobank all taking turns. The time checks shrunk but never disappeared. Going under the flamme rouge, Voeckler and company still had 23 seconds — things were looking as good as instant millionaire.

It was a smart lesson in time management delivered to the chase groups. “We calculated our efforts pretty well. We discussed and agreed that we would only accelerate after the last climb, unless our advantage went under two minutes before that,” said Voeckler. “It happened, so we rode hard on that climb.”

Our man of the match has to be the continually surprising, confident and aggressive Thomas de Gendt. For a guy who’s just 24 years old, he’s got some cojones. First he takes the jersey with a win on stage one and he’s been working overtime to get it back ever since.

This morning he rolled out of bed and jumped in the early break, a Belgian with a mission. Then he gobbled up two intermediate sprints for the delicous bonus seconds. He sticks with the break until the end and puts himself back in yellow. Johan Bruyneel is an admirer, tweeting that “De Gendt is crazy good.”

That kind of agressive riding didn’t escape the attention of Voeckler. “De Gendt was stronger than me,” Voeckler admitted afterwards. “He rode hard because of the advantage he had on GC. I’m not easily impressed but today, De Gendt really impressed me.”

De Gendt says he’s aiming for a top ten and at this point there’s no reason to doubt him. “Stage 5 is very serious one. When the climbs have a gradient of 6 or 7%, that’s no problem for me, but we’ll face 10%, so I don’t know if I can survive. I hope I will,” said De Gendt.  I’m also confident of doing a decent time trial. If it’s the case, then I’ll target the top 10.” That might be cooler than a Jimmy Hendrix portrait done with 5000 guitar picks.

Voeckler was happy with his first Paris-Nice stage win, tres happy. “I’ll give my best until the end but this Paris-Nice is already a successful one for me,”said the so-called French Housewive’s Favorite. “Now I can definitely say that I’m having my best early season ever.”

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