Not so this year at Paris-Nice. The race was too close going into the final stage for anyone to graciously accept defeat, not with a scant seven seconds separating second-place Laurent Brochard (Jean Delatour) from leader Andreas Klden (Telekom).
The stage eight finale was set-up by a race-breaking 10K individual time trial up the Col d'Eze, Nice, the day before.
Klden, 24, won his first big pro race by taking the mountain time trial and vaulting into first place overall, after quietly hanging around the top 10 in the early stages. Brochard was second, 17 seconds in arrears.
That Klden won was surprising, but not a complete stroke of luck: he won bronze at the Under-23 World Championships time trial in 1996. Since then, he has labored in the long and dark shadow of teammate Jan Ulrich. Inevitably, the comparisons between the two were brought up following Kldens win.
The post-race gossip included far-fetched (at least for now) talk of him succeeding Ulrich as Telekoms stage racer leader talk that was fueled by Ulrichs standard early-season overweight doldrums and his dismal 141st place at the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race, running concurrently with Paris-Nice.
American Jonathan Vaughters (Crdit Agricole) rode to an impressive third-place in the time trial, continuing his ascent to the top ranks of climbers in Europe. Vaughters won the prestigious Mont Ventoux time trial at last years Dauphin Libr stage race, the holy grail for mountain goats.
Frankie Andreu (USPS), sitting in fourth place entering the Paris-Nice time trial, wasnt able to match the top climbers times and dropped over 1 minute to fall to eighth place.
But talk and gracious racing tactics are cheap in pro cycling.
At the start of the final stage, the strategy for Brochards Jean Delatour team was clear: work hard to try to open things up, and try to get Brochard into position to win the stage and its 10-second first-place time bonus, which would take the overall.
Team Telekom, and Mapei's Tom Steels knew exactly what was to come, however, and as the peloton turned on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice for the final kilometers, it was clear that things would end predictably, and not the way Jean Delatour had hoped.
Following a precision lead-out from his Mapei team, Steels won easily, ahead of third-placed American George Hincapie. The overall standings remained unchanged.
Next week the World Cup kicks off with Milan-San Remo, where Hincapie and Steels will be among the favorites. Lance Armstrong will enter the race and work for his teammate Hincapie.
"Lance dropped out of Paris-Nice but he has been able to do some light training," said USPS director sportif Johan Bruyneel.
Final general classification:
|1. Andreas Klden (Ger)||Deutsche Telekom||28.19.50 (41.189 km/h)|
|2. Laurent Brochard (Fra)||Jean Delatour||+0.07|
|3. Francisco Mancebo (Spa)||Banesto||+0.44|
|4. Franois Simon (Fra)||Bonjour - Toupargel||+0.53|
|5. Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Spa)||Kelme - Costa Blanca||+0.56|
6. Jonathan Vaughters (USA)
|7. Martin Rittsel (Swe)||Memory Card-Jack & Jones||+1.15|
|8. Frankie Andreu (USA)||US Postal Service||+1.17|
|9. Dario Frigo (Ita)||Fassa Bortolo||+1.17|
|10. Tomasz Brozyna (Pol)||Banesto||+1.18|