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After De Gendt had been caught with less than 500m to go, Cimolai managed to pass Coquard just before the line to win stage 5 of Paris-Nice; Kwiatkowski defended his lead

Photo: Sirotti

BRYAN COQUARD

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DAVIDE CIMOLAI

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MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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MICHAL KWIATKOWSKI

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PARIS - NICE

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QUICK-STEP - ALPHA VINYL

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UAE TEAM EMIRATES

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13.03.2015 @ 16:41 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Two days after he missed out on the win in stage 3, Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) confirmed his huge progress when he won the tough uphill sprint in stage 5 of Paris-Nice. The Italian just managed to pass an impressive Bryan Coquard (Europcar) while Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) had to settle for third. Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) finished just outside the top 10 and defended the overall lead.

 

In the first part of his career, Davide Cimolai has mostly been known as a very loyal lead-out man for riders like Alessandro Petacchi and Sacha Modolo. Hence, it came as a big surprise when the Italian won the hard Italian one-day Trofeo Laigueglia after having won the sprint from a reduced bunch.

 

The result gave him confidence that he could excel in sprints at the end of hard races and so he lined up for this week’s Paris-Nice with huge confidence. After having been riding in support of Niccolo Bonifazio in the first two sprint stages, he got his own chance in stage 3 and he immediately paid back his team for the confidence when he finished second behind Michael Matthews.

 

That result made him one to look out for in today’s stage 5 which again finished with a short, steep climb to the finish. Again Lampre-Merida put their full team behind the Italian and this time he did even better when he just managed to pass Bryan Coquard to take the biggest win of his short career.

 

However, it nearly seemed that there would be no sprint in the French race as a brutally strong Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) nearly denied the sprinters. On the first climb of the day, the Belgian had joined forces with Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin), Romain Sicard (Europcar), Egor Silin (Katusha) and Pawel Poljanski (Tinkoff-Saxo) to form the early break despite his promise that he would take it easy today.

 

The group worked well together but when Trek and Cofidis put several riders on the front, they quickly lost time with 15km to go, they were just one minute ahead and now things were made even more difficult by the fierce battle for position in anticipation of the final category 3 climb.

 

Going through a small city, Bradley Wiggins strung the peloton out for Sky and as he traded pulls with Christian Knees, the gap continued to come down. Marco Coledan took a huge turn for Trek and so the escapees hit the climb with 10km to go with an advantage of just 40 seconds.

 

De Gendt desperately wanted to win the KOM sprint and so he just went to the front without looking back. That was too much for his companions as first Sicard and later Poljanski were dropped while Silin and Talansky had to dig very deep just to stay with the Belgian.

 

In the peloton, Stijn Vandenbergh had led Etixx-QuickStep onto the climb before Julian Alaphilippe took over. He rode alongside Michael Schär (BMC) before he led the peloton over the top with a deficit of 35 seconds.

 

BMC hit the front with Amael Moinard, Silvan Dillier and Schär but they failed to get any closer to the front trio. With 6km to go, the gap was still 30 seconds and this forced Orica-GreenEDGE to kick into action. Daryl Impey, Michael Albasini and Simon Clarke worked hard on the front but the gap stayed constant around 30 seconds.

 

With 5km to go, De Gendt attacked and this sent Talansky out the back door. Meanwhile, Giant-Alpecin had now also come to the front, with Georg Preidler taking a huge turn. Clarke went back to work before the Giant train again took over.

 

Under the flamme rouge, the gap was only 10 seconds and as the road started to kick up, SIlin got dropped. Behind, Trek had launched their lead-out, with Gert Steegmans leading Giacomo Nizzolo. When the Belgian started to fade, Michael Delage tried to do the lead-out for a fading Arnaud Demare and this spelled the end for De Gendt who was caught less than 500m from the line.

 

Delage’s effort didn’t pay off as Demare was drifting backwards and instead Coquard did a very impressive sprint from far back. When he passed the first riders, only Cimolai and Michael Matthews could follow him and it seemed that the Frenchman would take the win. However, Cimolai just had enough left to come past him while Matthews had to settle for third.

 

Michal Kwiatkowski finished just outside the top 10 and so he defended his 1-second lead over Richie Porte (Team Sky). He now faces a big test tomorrow in the penultimate stage to Nice where the riders will go up and down all day, tackling no less than 6 categorized climbs. The final ascent is the category 1 Cite de Peille and then the riders do the final 26km descent to a finish on the Promenade d’Anglais in Nice.

 

An uphill finish

After the queen stage, the GC riders were expected to have an easier day in stage 5 which brought them over 192.5km from Saint-Etienne to Rasteau. The riders went up the category 1 Col e la Republique right from the start before they descended to a long, flat section. In the final third of the stage, the riders faced three smaller climbs, the final one summiting just 8.5km from the finish. The final kilometre was uphill with an average gradient of 4.4% and much steeper sections.

 

The riders took the start under a beautiful sunny sky and many had done a warm-up to be ready for the brutal start. Ramon Sinkeldam (Giant-Alpecin) who had fallen ill, and Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) who crashed yesterday were the only non-starters.

 

De Gendt takes off

As expected, the race got off to a brutally fast start and it was Bryan Naulleau (Europcar) who launched the first attack. As expected, the going on the Col de la Republique was too tough for many of the heavy guys and at the 5km mark, 20 riders – including Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Yauheni Hutarovich (Bretagne) and Dries Devenyns (IAM) – had been dropped.

 

At this point, Naulleau was back in the fold but the attacking continued. Moments later, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) and Romain Sicard (Europcar) took off and they worked hard to get an advantage.

 

KOM points for De Gendt

Pawel Poljanski (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Egor Silin (Katusha) took off in pursuit and when De Gendt led Sicard and Talansky over the top of the climb, the pair followed 20 seconds later, with Silin crossing the line first. Chris Anker Sørensen (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Laurens De Vreese (Astana) were first from the peloton which had slowed down and allowed the gap to reach 2.15.

 

The two front groups merged but as they headed down the descent, Etixx-QuickStep clearly indicated that they had no intention of allowing Talansky to get back into GC contention. The Belgian team hit the front and for a long time, they kept the gap around 2.10.

 

Etixx-QuickStep in control

The Belgian team gradually slowed down a bit and after 72km of fast racing, the front quintet had extended their advantage to 3.15. Moments later, Sicard led De Gendt and Talansky across the line in the first intermediate sprint.

 

The peloton now accelerated again and at the 115km mark, they had brought the gap down to just 1.30. However, they continued their yoyo riding and when they hit the next climb with 68km to go, the gap was 3.40.

 

Cofidis start to chase

While Vandenbergh and Nikolas Maes worked in the peloton to keep the gap stable, De Gendt led Talansky and Poljanski over the top of the climb. This was the signal for Cofidis to start their chase and they asked Luis Angel Mate to work with the two Belgians.

 

Those three riders rode so fast on the descent that the peloton split into several groups and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) and Riccardo Zoidl (Trek) were among the riders to have been caught out. However, they managed to get back in contention with 47km to go where the gap was down to 3.10.

 

More points for De Gendt

Cofidis gave Mate a rest and instead Jonas Ahlstrand took over. The Swede led the peloton onto next climb with 50km to go where he exploded and so Maes and Vandenbergh again took over.

 

The peloton now started to splinter as Alaphilippe upped the pace for Etixx-QuickStep. De Gendt led Talansky, Poljanski, Silin and Sicard over the top while Tony Martin hit the front of the peloton for Etixx on the descent.

 

Vichot crashes

The German brought the gap down to 2.20 but suddenly the Belgian team stopped their work. This allowed the gap to grow a bit before Cofidis went back to work with Mate and Nicolas Edet.

 

At this point, a big crash split the peloton into several groups and Arthur Vichot (FDJ) was one of the affected riders. Just as this happened, Trek joined the chase with Kristof Vandewalle and Gregory Rast and this made it very hard for the riders to get back.

 

The gap comes down

They managed to do so with 25km to go when Poljanski had led Silin and Talansky across the line in the final intermediate sprint. At this point, the gap was down to just 2 minutes and the escapees were quickly losing ground.

 

With 20km to go, the gap was only 1.35 and 3km later, the escapees had lost another 30 seconds. That’s when the fight for position started as BMC and Astana hit the front before Wiggins took over and started the exciting finale.

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