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Stage 5: Maurs - Mende
Terrain Type: Uphill finish, with a steep 3 kilometer climb to the line.
GC Importance: A key day for the general classification contenders to try to gain an advantage.

Running east from Maurs to Mende, this stage offers an opportunity for the general classification riders to stake their claim on the Yellow Jersey. The profile includes five categorized climbs and the finale is a steep drag to the line. Forty kilometers of gradual climbing precede the final climb. It’s short, but the average gradient of 10% will certainly leave a mark. Paris-Nice last visited this finish in 2007, when the final climb launched Alberto Contador to victory. The stage finish in Mende will provides a preview of stage 12 of the 2010 Tour de France, and the city also hosted the Tour de France in 1995 and 2005.

The stage starts how it intends to go on with a steady climb from the start. The first categorized climb of the day comes after 35 kilometers of racing. The Côte de Montsalvy climbs for 4.2 kilometers at an average gradient of 6%. If the break has not escaped before now, the Côte de Montsalvy should offer the attackers a perfect excuse. For the general classification riders, this first climb provides a nice warm-up for the obstacles to come.

Rolling terrain follows the descent from the Côte de Montsalvy and the road rises gradually toward the town of Saint Côme d’Olt. The category 3 Côte de Lassouts summits at kilometer 94.5 after climbing 7.5 kilometers at an average gradient of 3.6%. After a short descent, it’s on to the next climb, the Côte de la Crouzette, a category 3 bump. The Côte de la Crouzette is short and not especially steep: 3.9 kilometers at 3.6%.

After a short descent, the course begins its long, steady climb to the finish. It’s around 40 kilometers of uphill riding to the finish in Mende. Two back-to-back climbs provide the finale for this stage. The category 2 Côte de Chabrits summits with 3.5 kilometers to race after climbing 2.4 kilometers at 6.8%. The descent is short, just .5 kilometers. Then, it’s a steep ramp to the finish. The finish line comes after 3 kilometers of climbing at an average gradient of 10.7%. It’s not an especially long climb, but after two hilly stages of racing, it should separate the general classification contenders.

In the 2007 running of this stage, Alberto Contador won solo ahead of David Rebellin and David López Garcia. Current World Champion Cadel Evans finished fourth that day, 13 seconds behind Contador. Alejandro Valverde, who has a knack for sprinting fast uphill, should mount a solid challenge to Contador. There may be a bit of rivalry at Caisse d’Epargne as Valverde’s team-mate Luis Leon Sánchez wears dossard #1 of last year’s winner. Samuel Sánchez of Euskaltel-Euskadi could also do well on this finish, though he finished 40 seconds behind Contador in 2007. Certainly, it’s a finish for the climbers, and there can be no hiding for the general classification riders.

Gavia (updates to this preview will be made during the race and especially the day before the stage with current analysis)<-->