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The Colombian makes impressive late acceleration on final climb to the finish in Fayence and catches world champion Rui Costa just before the line to take both the stage victory and the overall lead

Photo: Sirotti












14.03.2014 @ 16:56 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

One day after taking a surprise win on an easier stage, Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) proved that he still excels on the climbs when he emerged as the strongest in today's queen stage of Paris-Nice. Having been held back by a crash from his teammate Alexis Vuillermoz, he had to make a late acceleration to get back up to world champion Rui Costa whom he caught just before the line to take both stage victory and the overall lead away from Geraint Thomas (Sky) who could only manage 4th.


Carlos Betancur continued his domination of the Paris-Nice when he took an impressive win in today's queen stage of the French race just 24 hours after his first-ever WorldTour victory. In a finish that was tailor-made for his punchy characteristics, he made one of his trademark acceleration to catch Rui Costa just before the line and so make it two in a row.


The animated and fast stage all came down to the final very steep 1.6km climb to the finish in Fayence and it was all about biding the time on the slopes as several riders kept accelerating off the front, only to be brought back. However, Betancur's teammate Alexis Vuillermoz made an attack right from the bottom and dangled a few metres ahead for most of the climb.


Stage 3 winner Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp) seemed to have made the right move when he launched an attack to bridge across to the lone leader with Costa on his wheel. Behind Betancur chose to stay calm, sitting on the wheel of race leader Thomas that closed the gap just before the final hairpin bend with less than 500m to go.


Disaster struck for Vuillermoz who hit the deck while Slagter was equally unfortunate to drop his chain. Those two incident allowed Costa to open a gap and the world champion entered the finishing straight as the lone leader.


Betancur knew that he had to react and launched a furious acceleration to catch Costa just before the line. The world champion had no response and had to settle for another second place in a 2014 season dominated by runner-up spots.


Behind, Thomas fought valiantly to save his lead but he was narrowly beaten by Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) when the pair rolled across the line 3 seconds later. As Betancur had started the stage only 5 seconds back and scored 10 bonus seconds for the win, it was enough for the Colombian to take the race lead ahead of the final two stages. He now enjoys a comfortable 8-second lead over Thomas while Costa moves into third, 3 seconds further adrift.


Betancur faces his first defence of the jersey in tomorrow's penultimate stage that is a very hilly affair. However, the stage ends with two laps on a 19km finishing circuit that is always up or down but has no major climbs ahead of the final slight uphill section to the finish.


The queen stage

The 72nd edition of Paris-Nice continued with its queen stage which was a mammoth 221.5km run from Saint-Saturnin-les-Avignon to Fayence. The race had a mostly flat start with only a single category 3 climb but things got difficult in the finale where two climbs preceded the finishing circuit. That one consisted of the category 1 Cole de Bourigaille before the final 19km was mostly downhill. However, the stage ended with a short, very steep 1.6km ramp to the finish in Fayence.


For the sixth day in a row, the race took off under beautiful sunshine as the riders headed out on the longest stage of the race. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) was the only non-starter, with the Australian champion heading home to prepare for Milan-Sanremo.


A fast start

After yesterday's stage where Geraint Thomas had been isolated in the finale, it was no surprise to see that several teams were keen to put Team Sky under pressure right from the beginning. The start of the stage was raced at a very fast pace as several attacks were launched in the opening part of the race.


After 2km, 9 rider had a gap but they were brought back before they could be identified. At the 10km mark, Niki Terpstra (OPQS) tried a solo attempt but he had no luck either.


A first group

The aggressive racing continued for a very long time, and the riders got to km 30 before it seemed that the right move might have got away. Thor Hushovd (BMC), Sylvain Chavanel (IAM), Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE), Gert Steegmans (OPQS), Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar), Michel Koch (Cannondale), Albert Timmer (Giant-Shimano), and Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne) made up a very strong group that was 30 seconds ahead after 31.5km of racing.


The peloton refused to let them go and so Chavanel took off on his own. Koch, Yates, and Timmer took off in pursuit while their former companions were all caught.


Chavanel scores points

On the day's first climb, the pace was kept high but Chavanel managed to crest the summit in first position to extend his lead in the mountains classification. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) attacked in a quest to bridge across and crested the summit in second ahead of Koch.


At the top the peloton was only 15 seconds behind and they brought all escapees back on the descent, with Chavanel being the only exception. The Frenchman battled on on his own and took maximum points in the first intermediate sprint. Behind. John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) took second to extend his lead in the points classification while Zdenek Stybar (OPQS) scored the final and very important bonus second for his GC campaign.


Chavanel gives up

After 46km of racing, Chavanel decided to give up and sat up to wait for the peloton. The first hour had been raced at an impressive 46.4km/h and the attacking racing wouldn't stop yet.


At the 52km mark, Amael Moinard (BMC) made an ill-fated solo attempt and it wasn't until the 69km mark that the right break finally went away. Stephen Cummings (BMC), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE), Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre-Merida), Pim Ligthart (Lotto Belisol), Giovanni Bernaudeau (Europcar), Gregory Rast (Trek), Aleksandr Kuchynski (Katusha), Adrien Petit (Cofidis), Allessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) and Florian Vachon (Bretagne) took off and as the peloton took a breather, they built a gap that gradually reached 2.55 after 90km of racing.


Sky lead the chase

Enrico Gaparotto (Astana) made a small attempt to bridge across but didn't have any luck while behind Sky started to stabilize the gap. With Keukeleire being on 29 seconds down on GC, the team could not allow them to much leeway.


While Mark Kump (Tinkoff-Saxo) left the race, the gap reached a maximum of 3.05 after 98km of racing but since then the peloton has started to chase . After 147km, the gap was down to 2.10 and at the bottom of the Cote des Tuilleres it was 1.45.


Astana up the pace

On the climb, Astana has started to tighten the screws and put six riders on the front of the peloton. The gap continued to come down and was only 1.15 when they hit the bottom of the Coe des Tuilleres. On the slopes, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Chavanel attacked and they quickly started to close the gap to the leaders.


1km from the top, they were 25 seconds back and a few moments later, Ligthart beat Keukeleire, Bernaudeau, Cummings, and Kuchynski in the sprint. Voeckler was the first to make the junction but Chavanel finally also closed the final bit of the gap to make it a 12-rider front group.


Ag2r take over

Behind, Ag2r took over the pace-setting to set up Betancur for the win and Samuel Dumoulin did a huge work to lead the peloton, with the Sky train looming just behind. In the front group, Chavanel accelerated over the top of the third climb to score another 4 points while Ligthart made sure to be 3rd ahead of Voeckler. Bernaudeau had done all the work as he was sacrificing his own chances for teammate Voeckler.


On the descent, Sky took control of the peloton, with Luke Rowe leading the group on the downhill section. Dumoulin got back to the front and for a little while the duo swapped turns as the gap was now just 50 seconds.


The break splits up

In the front group, several riders refused to contribute to the pace-setting, prompting Voeckler to make a small unsuccessul attack. A little later, the break finally split when Ligthart, Voeckler, and Chavanel took off, with De Marchi bridging the gap after a short chase.


Xabier Zandio was now doing the main work in the peloton for Sky and brought back the chase group. He was replaced by Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra who started to heat things up for OPQS.


Kiriyenka on the front

In the final intermediate sprint, De Marchi was first across the line ahead of Voeckler and Ligthart while the peloton was now really speeding up as the battle for position had kicked off in earnest. As they hit the bottom of the Col de Bourigaille, Sky took control with Vasil Kiriyenka setting a fierce pace as the peloton started to splinter on the very steep bottom section.


Chavanel rode hard in the front group to escape on his own while Voeckler sat up to wait for the peloton. The next to get caught was Ligthart and a little later, De Marchi was also back in the fold.


Serpa takes off

While John Degenkolb assumed his position in the grupetto, Fabian Wegmann set the pace for Garmin-Sharp. Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida) was the first to open the action and he was joined by Vuillermoz.


They quickly closed the gap to Chavanel and rode straight past the IAM rider who got caught just as Chris Anker Sørensen (Tinkoff-Saxo) made a move. Matthias Frank (IAM) was the next to ride and he rode straight past Sørensen as he closed the gap to the two leaders.


Astana hit the front

Astana now decided to kick into action, with Lieuwe Westra hitting the front of the peloton. The Dutchman set a fierce pace that brought the three escapees back in the fold while several riders got dropped.


When Westra finished his job 2km from the top, the peloton slowed down. Frank Schleck (Trek) saw an opportunity to attack and was joined by Stefan Denifl (IAM). A very active Vuillermoz bridged across as David Lopez now hit the front for Sky.


Sepulveda makes a move

Eduardo Sepulveda (Bretagne) was the next to make a move and he was followed by Yury Trofimov (Katusha). The duo was struggling to close the gap but when they were joined by Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida), the junction was made.


Ion Izagirre (Movistar) made an ill-fated attempt as Lopez continued his fierce pace-setting. At the top, Denifl took maximum points ahead of Vuillermoz and Schleck.


Nibali attacks on the descent

As soon as the peloton started the descent, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) made his expected attack but Thomas was quick to respond. Zdenek Stybar (OPQS) and Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) were the next to make an ill-fated attempt.


The break was brought back together when 13km still remained and as no one took control, Dries Devenyns (Giant-Shimano) and Caruso took off. They quickly got a big gap as Trofimov and Vuillermoz tried to bridge across before being closed down by IAM.


Devenyns and Caruso escape

No team was now taking control, with IAM, Katusha, and Trek all taking small turns on the front until Lopez finally took over again. However, Nibali quickly made another attempt and his fast acceleration brought back Devenyns and Caruso.


Nibali had split the group into three, with 11 riders emerging on the front, and Betancur being caught in the third one. As no team took control, however, things got back together.


Ag2r take control

Simon Spilak (Katusha) made an ill-fated attempt that was marked by Nibali before Lopez closed it down. Betancur had now moved into one of the front positions and he asked his teammates to up the pace.


Mikael Cherel and Romain Bardet did a good job to string things out while disaster struck for Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) who punctured right at the bottom of the climb. As soon as they hit the slopes, Vuillermoz made his move and quickly opened a big gap.


An aggressive finale

Brice Feillu (Bretagne) was the next to try but he was quickly passed by Spilak. Costa made his first acceleration to bring Spialk and Feillu back while Izagirre and Nibali both got dropped.


Denifl was the next to try and when he was brought back, Spilak gave it another unsuccessful try. Vichot was the next to make his move but the right attempted seemed to come from Slagter who quickly closed the gap to Vuillermoz with Costa on his wheel.


Betancur makes his move

Stybar, Vichot and Betancur closed the gap just when Vuillermoz crashed and Slagter dropped his chain. This allowed Costa to get a gap but Betancur proved both strength and awareness to make an impressive acceleration to take the stage win.


Behind Thomas fought hard to save the lead but he had to be content with 4th and is now down to 2nd on GC.



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