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Wiggins pulls out of Paris-Nice

BRITISH cyclist Bradley Wiggins pulled out of the Paris-Nice race yesterday after learning of the death of his wife's grandmother.

Wiggins didn't start in yesterday's fourth stage, a 173.5-kilometer route from Vichy to Saint-Etienne, his Garmin-Slipstream team said.

Wiggins, a two-time Olympic pursuit champion and time-trial specialist, finished second in Sunday's time-trial opener. But he slipped out of overall contention after losing more than 11 minutes to the race leaders in Tuesday's third stage.

Garmin-Slipstream, which is one of only two American-based teams competing in the Pro Tour race series this year, lost another rider earlier this week when an illness forced Dan Martin out of the race.

On Tuesday, Sylvain Chavanel won a final sprint to take the third stage to snatch the yellow jersey.

The French rider came from behind to beat Juan Antonio Flecha of Spain in the last meters, completing the 178-km stage in 4 hours, 33 minutes, 12 seconds.

Alberto Contador finished in the pack, 1:09 behind Chavanel to lose the overall lead.

"Chavanel has now a one-minute (lead), (Juan Manuel) Garate 30 seconds," Contador told the Astana team Website. "It can be complicated, but we still have five difficult days to go. It could have been worse."

Maciej Bodnar of Poland broke away after 15 kilometers, followed by Jurgen Roelandts of Belgium, Tom Veelers of the Netherlands, and Frenchmen Christophe Le Mevel and Stephane Auge.

The small group built a lead of 6:55 at the 62-km mark.

But the Rabobank team produced a sudden acceleration after completing the last climb of the day up the Col de la Bosse to reel in the group 31km from the finish and toughen the race. "I was not feeling great in the beginning of the stage. I was really cold," Chavanel said. "But when Rabobank made their move, I was on my guard and we managed to collaborate."

Contador was caught by surprise by the Rabobank move and had to ride hard to not lose too much time.

"When the sprinters' teams started to work, we lost a bit of concentration," Contador said. "Always when it becomes quiet in the peloton, you can be surprised suddenly."

The in-form Spaniard, who won the Tour of Algarve last month in Portugal, is expected to recapture the yellow jersey in the last four stages which feature category 1 climbs.


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