March 7, 2012 – Belgium’s Gianni Meersman of the Lotto team claimed victory in the fourth stage of Paris-Nice on Wednesday, with Britain’s Bradley Wiggins (Sky) holding on to the leader’s yellow jersey.

Meersman crossed the finish line in Rodez ahead of Slovenia’s Grega Bole, who had launched the final sprint, and Dutchman Lieuwe Westra.

Spain’s Xavier Florencio pipped Frenchman Jonathan Hivert on the line to claim fourth place.

Wiggins kept nearest rival Alejandro Valverde in his sights in the final climb. The Spaniard finished in eighth position, two places ahead of Wiggins, but the 20sec time difference between the two men remained unchanged.

“Our objective today was to let a breakaway get away until the end,” said Wiggins. “But Rabobank went for it, because the gap was three minutes. It was perfect for us. We stayed on their wheels and we were able to rest the guys in the team for the next stages. The final was crazy – there were roundabouts, it was really dangerous, but I was OK and I stayed in the top five the whole time.”

Having finished third in the previous stage, 26-year-old Meersman registered his second success of the season after winning a stage in the Tour of the Algarve in Portugal earlier this year.

“First place is what counts,” said Meersman, who was plagued by injuries between 2007 and 2009.

“Yesterday (Tuesday), everyone said it was good when I finished third, but what matters is being able to lift your arms. You don’t make sacrifices to finish second or third. This winter I’ve trained a lot for the sprints. I have to thank the team, who worked really hard.”

Thursday’s fifth stage takes the peloton on a spectacular 178.5km ride to Mende, which culminates in a 3km climb.

1. Gianni Meersman (BEL/Lotto) 4hr 21min 01sec
2. Grega Bole (SLO/LAM) same time
3. Lieuwe Westra (NED/VAC) s.t.
4. Xavier Florencio (ESP/KAT) s.t.
5. Jonathan Hivert (FRA/SAU) s.t.
6. Simon Geschke (GER/PRO) s.t.
7. Nicolas Roche (IRL/ALM) s.t.
8. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) s.t.
9. Francesco Gavazzi (ITA/AST) s.t.
10. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/SKY) s.t.

Overall standings
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/SKY) 13hr 30min 52sec
2. Levi Leipheimer (USA/OPQ) at 0:06sec
3. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) 0:11
4. Sylvain Chavanel (FRA/OPQ) 0:14
5. Maxime Monfort (BEL/RSH) 0:18
6. Lieuwe Westra (NED/VAC) 0:18
7. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 0:20
8. Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP/MOV) 0:29
9. Simon Spilak (SLO/KAT) 0:33
10. Robert Kiserlovski (CRO/AST) 0:36