Nicolas Roche moved up one place to fifth overall at the end of stage two of the Criterium Dauphine in Lyon yesterday.
Roche finished ninth on the stage as HTC sprinter John Degenkolb claimed stage victory. First-year professional Degenkolb edged out local hero Sammy Damoulin of Cofidis and Roche's team-mate Sebastian Hinault in an uphill sprint to the line to rack up his fifth win of the year.
"I am very happy with this victory," said the 23-year-old German. "It's my first year as a pro rider and it's been a super start. I have four wins before this but this is my first victory in a World Tour race. It's a super season already."
The final kilometres were chaotic yesterday, with much of the peloton swinging wide on a roundabout in the final kilometre and a half, resulting in a fall for second overall Jurgen van den Broeck. The stage-one winner and King of the Mountains leader was given a bike by his team-mate, though, and did not lose any time overall as his accident was within the final three kilometres.
Roche now lies just 17 seconds off race leader Alexandre Vinokourov going into today's individual time trial, which will be held on the same course as the penultimate stage of this year's Tour de France.
"I'm happy enough with my form so far," said Roche yesterday. "I'm taking every day as it comes but tomorrow's time trial will be the big test. It's the most important stage for me as it's identical to the Tour time trial stage. I want to focus and do a good ride there as it's going to be a key stage of the Tour this year."
Roche's cousin Daniel Martin got caught in a split in the peloton with 25km to go, dropping down the standings to 117th overall.
"Some guy just sat up and let the wheel go," said Martin yesterday. "I didn't personally think it was that hard at the time and it surprised me. By the time I realised he'd let the wheel go they were going so fast there was no chance of closing the gap."
Martin's misfortune may put him out of the overall hunt but the former Irish champion is still hopeful of taking a stage win. "I came here to try and win a stage," said the 24-year-old. "The overall would have been a bonus but the way my luck's been going, everything seems to be going wrong.
"I had a lot of luck this year, but luck comes and goes and hopefully I'll have some good luck again this week. It could actually be a blessing in disguise and I'll be able to go for a stage at the weekend."
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