Day 3: Citroen sweeps podium

Sebastien Loeb has become the first Frenchman to win the Monte Carlo Rally in a French car since Jean Ragnotti took victory with the Renault 5 turbo in 1981. Citroen have also taken a one-two-three; the last time that happened in Monte Carlo was 1989 with Lancia

Day 3: Citroen sweeps podium

Sunday was all about getting to the finish for Loeb, who started the day with an advantage of 1m07s over team-mate Colin McRae.

But the final day of the Monte Carlo Rally contained a true sting in the tail: two runs over the famed Col de Turini stage. Conditions are always notoriously mixed on the Col, which at over 1600 metres is the highest point of the event.

This means that any tyre choice will inevitably be a compromise between speed on asphalt and grip on snow and ice. Loeb opted for studded tyres, the safest possible option designed for maximum grip on the slippery stuff. He was relatively happy to relinquish some of his lead in return for the security of extra traction.

"What's the point in taking risks?" he said. "You never know what might happen." It's a good point, as the spectators occasionally throw snow on the roads to deliberately spice up the action.

In the end, Loeb carried off a comfortable victory. "It was not easy," said the Frenchman. "Marcus Gronholm kept up a good pace at the start of the rally and the conditions were very slippery. But my confidence grew as the roads became drier, and by the end of the rally I was able to back off a bit to keep the advantage."

In any case, Loeb was not about to be presented with a challenge from team-mate Colin McRae. "I'm quite happy to be where I am in second and take the eight points," he said. McRae set fastest time on the opening stage of the day, but steered clear of trouble to make sure his car got to the finish behind Loeb.

Their team-mate Carlos Sainz could not afford to take things quite so easily though. He suffered from a brake problem on both the two opening stages of the day, with a brake disc eventually shattering. He dropped time, and was crucially passed by Ford's Markko Martin.

The young Estonian arrived at service eight seconds ahead of Sainz, feeling much better after his stomach upset of yesterday. On the penultimate stage (Turini again) Sainz set the fastest time, but that still put him 3.4s behind Martin heading into the final test.

The pace of the Citroen turned out to be a bit too much for Martin to deal with, and he ended the rally fourth, 3.3 seconds behind Sainz. "I just went flat-out," said Sainz. "I had no other choice."

Richard Burns finished fifth, salvaging something from Peugeot's annual Monte Carlo nightmare after a somewhat lonely run on the final day. But there was excitement behind him, as Peugeot privateer Cedric Robert just edged out Ford's Francois Duval for sixth by 0.4 seconds.

"It's like I've been living a wonderful dream for the last three days," said Robert, who has been suggested for an outing in a works Peugeot 206 by Team Director Jean-Pierre Nicolas.

Completing the points-scoring places - down to eighth under this year's new system - was Hyundai driver Armin Schwarz. "It's an important psychological boost," he said. "It's been a very tough event, and I think we deserve this reward."

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