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The French champion narrowly holds off Rojas in a confusing and crash-marred sprint from a small group on the Promenade d'Anglais while Betancur responds to all attacks and takes the overall win

Photo: Sirotti

ARTHUR VICHOT

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CARLOS ALBERTO BETANCUR

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CYRIL GAUTIER

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DECATHLON AG2R LA MONDIALE

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GROUPAMA-FDJ

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JOSE JOAQUIN ROJAS GIL

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PARIS - NICE

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RUI ALBERTO FARIA DA COSTA

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16.03.2014 @ 17:36 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Arhur Vichot (FDJ) took his first win in the French champion's jersey when he won a confusing and crash-marred sprint on the Promenade d'Anglais in Nice ahead of Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar) from a small group of favourites. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) was never in any difficulty and took home the overall win in the French race ahead of world champion Rui Costa (Movistar) while Vichot's win was enough to move him into third.

 

Arthur Vichot has consistently placed himself near the top in the hardest stages of this year's Paris-Nice but until today the win had always eluded him. Today things fell into place for the FDJ rider who won the prestigious final stage to Nice in a dramatic sprint from a small group of favourites.

 

Prior to the stage, Vichot had said that he would give it his all in the sprint to try to take his first win in the French champion's jersey and he had both luck and strength when he avoided a big crash in the finale before launching a powerful sprint. He narrowly held off Jose Joaquin Rojas who had to settle for 2nd while Cyril Gautier was a distant third.

 

The finale was a confusing and dramatic one as no team had any strength to take control of the small group. Frank Schleck (Trek) had almost been caught when they passed the flamme rouge but when the group came to a standstill, he gave it another go.

 

The Luxembourger managed to reopen a gap while behind him it was carnage as Tony Gallopin (Lotto Belisol) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) collided, bringing down several riders including Rui Costa and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE). The front group split and only a few riders were left to battle it out.

 

Rojas and Vichot went head-to-head and they managed to pass Schleck just before the line. The French champion narrowly edged out the Spaniard to take the biggest win of his career.

 

While Costa was licking his wounds on the ground before rolling across the line - apparently without any major injuries - Betancur avoided the crash and finished 8th to safely defend his overall lead. The Ag2r leader is the first Colombian to ever win Paris-Nice while Costa has to be content with his sixth runner-up spot of the season.

 

The sprint between Rojas and Vichot also had a dramatic impact on the overall standings. Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) who had started the day in third overall, had been dropped and by scoring 10 bonus seconds, Vichot passed the Czech, Rojas, and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) to take the final spot on the podium.

 

The points jersey was taken by John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) while a good ride in yesterday's stage allowed Pim Ligthart (Lotto Belisol) to take the mountains jersey. Betancur was the winner of the youth classification while Movistar crowned a fine collective effort with a win in the teams classification.

 

With the win, Betancur is now tied with Simon Gerrans as the leader of the WorldTour but things will change later this week when the Tirreno-Adriatico has reached its conclusion.

 

A short, hilly stage

The 72nd edition of Paris-Nice came to an end with a short 128km stage starting and finishing in Nice. It was a hilly affair that took the riders up five categorized climbs in the Nice hinterland. The final one, the famous Col d'Eze would summit 15km from the finish and then it was downhill almost all the way to the finish on the Promenade d'Anglais in Nice.

 

The final short stage was off to a late start under sunny conditions, with 5 riders being non-starters. After yesterday's crash, Geraint Thomas (Sky) chose not to take the start as he preferred to rest for the classics and his teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen also chose to head home. Julien Simon (Cofidis), Stephen Cummings (BMC), and Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) - suffering from saddle sores - were the other riders not to start.

 

Giant-Shimano want the points

This stage in the hills around Nice has often been won by a breakaway, meaning that many riders fancied their chances. Hence, the race was off to a very animated start, with lots of attacks being launched in both sides of the road.

 

However, the first intermediate sprint was coming already at the 19km mark and John Degenkolb needed those points if he wanted just the slightest chance to defend the green jersey against Betancur. Hence, the Giant-Shimano made sure to keep everything together for the first sprint point where the German sprinter dutifully picked up maximum points.

 

Behind Degenkolb, the GC riders were fighting for seconds and OPQS did an excellent job, woth Tom Boonen crossing the line in second and his teammate Zdenek Stybar being third. This allowed the Czech to extend his lead over Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) on GC from one to two second and so consolidate his podium position.

 

Boonen abandons

Tom Boonen and Gert Steegmans had now done their job and like Fabio Sabatini (Cannondale), they abandoned the race. Meanwhile, the door was now open for new attacks to be launched as Giant-Shimano loosened the grip on the race.

 

The break went clear rather early and it was a big one that slipped clear at the 24km mark. Xabier  Zandio (Sky), Steele Von Hoff (Garmin), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Jerome Pineau (IAM), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE), Elia Favilli (Lampre-Merida), Francesco Gavazzi (Astana), Moreno Hofland (Belkin), Matthew Busche and Danilo Hondo (Trek), Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Jerome Coppel (Cofidis), Michel Koch and Marco Marcato (Cannondale) and Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne) took off to form a very mixed group that was one minute ahead after 27km of racing.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo lead the chase

At the top of the day's first climb, Gavazzi scored maximum points ahead of Zandio, Marcato, Pineau, and Delaplace but the peloton was keeping the group firmly under control. At this point, the gap was just 50 seconds but it came back up to a minute at the 40km mark.

 

The team that took responsibility for the chase was Tinkoff-Saxo who had missed the move, but the team had reduced numbers after the withdrawal of Karsten Kroon who joined the Giant-Shimano duo of Koen De Kort and Albert Timmer, the Garmin riders Fabian Wegmann and Tyler Farrar, Europcar's Jimmy Engoulvent and Thomas Voeckler, Cofidis' Adrien Petit, and BMC's Taylor Phinney as some of the early retirees.

 

Pineau takes off

On the day's second climb, Pineau decided to take off on his own and he managed to build up a 10-second gap before being caught again. At the top, Hondo was first across the line, beating Coppel, Favilli, Marcato and Koch into the minor positions. At that point, the gap was down to 40 seconds.

 

On the descent, Zandio, Pinau, Keukeleire, and Favilli broke clear and the group managed to build an 8-second lead before again being caught. Hofland had now fallen off the pace, meaning that only 16 riders remained in front.

 

Astana ride hard

Pineau was first across the line at the third climb ahead of Busche, Cousin, Gavazzi and Zandio as the peloton had now slightly loosened its grip, allowing the gap to come up to 2 minutes. Behind, no team was in control but the battle for position intensified when they approached the first category 1 climb, the Col de Peille.

 

Astana decided that they wanted to make the race tough and so put Borut Bozic on the front. The increased pace saw the peloton splinter as several riders started to fall off.

 

The break splits up

Up ahead, Busche made the first attack from the front group while Coppel made an acceleration to bridge across. The break now splintered, with Favilli, Kristoff, Keukeleire, Koch, and Pineau being the first to get dropped.

 

While Alessandro Vanotti and Valerio Agnoli were now setting the pace for Astana, Cousin and Van Avermaet also joined the front group and a little later Zandio also made the junction. When Lieuwe Westra hit the front for Astana, Sergei Chernetskii (Katusha) made an unsuccessful attack as the peloton started to pick up the remnants of the escape.

 

Nibali takes off

Bob Jungels (Trek) was the first major name to be put into difficulty while Astana decided that it was time to launch their first attack. Westra and Vincezo Nibali took off, forcing Ag2r straight to the front with Romain Bardet.

 

Simon Spilak (Katusha) and Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) were the next to attack and they bridged across to Nibali who had left Westra behind but caught his teammate Gavazzi. The latter gave it his all for his team captain as the duo were joined by Spilak and Kelderman.

 

It is back together

The quartet caught the front quintet to make it 9 riders in the front and Gavazzi led them across the top of the climb. At that point, however, Bardet's hard tempo had been enough to bring things back together.

 

The peloton took a small breather, opening the door for new attack. George Bennett (Cannondale) and Coppel were the first to try and they were joined by Busche and Eduardo Sepulveda.

 

Trofimov off on his own

The right move, however, came from Yury Trofimov (Katusha), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), and Cousin and the trio were allowed to build up a nice gap as Ag2r were content to let them take the bonus seconds. As the gap had grown to 22 seconds, Keukeleire took a short turn for Orica-GreenEDGE but then the chase was again left to Ag2r.

 

Trofimov gapped his companions on the descent and he managed to open a 40-second gap. The two chasers decided to sit up, leaving Trofimov as the lone leader.

 

Movistar start to chase

Movistar had different plans and the Spanish team hit the front with Imanol Erviti. The Spaniard started to bring down the gap and his fast pace caused several splits to occur on the descent to the bottom of the Col d'Eze.

 

Just before the climb, Sylvain Chavanel took a huge turn on the front to lead the group onto the slopes, 12 seconds behind Trofimov. As soon as the climb started, Ag2r set a hard pace with Mikael Cherel and this ended the day for Trofimov.

 

Lopez takes off

The peloton started to splinter as Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was the first GC rider to fall off. With 18km to go, Bennett made the first attack but he failed to get clear as Nibali upped the pace and brought things back together.

 

David Lopez (Sky) was the next to attack while Bardet set a hard pace for Ag2r that caused several riders to fall off. Frank Schleck made his first attempt with Sepulveda and Stefan Denifl (IAM) and after an unsuccessful move by Jakob Fuglsang, they were joined by Yates.

 

Stybar and Rojas are dropped

Fuglsang rode a hard tempo on the front of the peloton as Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) was the next to try. Those accelerations brought things back together but behind the drama had started as Stybar and Rojas had both fallen off the pace.

 

Schleck and Sepulveda were the next to try but Costa brought it back together. Schleck, however, refused to give up, making another acceleration, and this time he got clear.

 

Spilak and Schleck with a nice gap

Spilak bridged across to Schleck and the duo crested the summit with a nice little gap over the yellow jersey group that was made up of Betancur, Vuillermoz, Costa, Spilak, Fuglsang, Vichot, Kelderman, Gautier, Majka, Sepulveda, Caruso, Lopez, Denifl, Yates. Spilak scored three bonus seconds in the final intermediate sprint while Vichot sprinted ahead of Gautier to take the final second which should later become very valuable.

 

The group was being chased by a second group led by four Movistar riders, including Rojas. Stybar was in a third group even further behind.

 

The chase gets organized

Fuglsang tried to keep the pace high on the descent but he couldn't avoid the Rojas group to get back on. Movistar went straight to the front, with the Izagirre brother swapping turns as they wanted to set up Rojas for the win.

 

The gap was now 20 seconds while Stybar was 27 seconds further adrift. Lampre joined the chase with Jose Serpa, and Ag2r also lend a hand with Bardet.

 

The gap comes down

Those four riders worked well together but the front duo managed to keep the gap stable at around 15 seconds for a long time. When they hit the flat roads in Nice, however, it started to come down and with 3km to go, it was only 10 seconds.

 

On a small climb with 1.5km to go, Fuglsang, Costa, Majka, and Kelderman all tried to attack and those accelerations brought the two escapees back. As no one took control, however, Schleck gave it another go and he quickly opened a big gap.

 

Things were looking promising for the Luxembourger and his chances were not hampered when the big crash brought down several riders. It wasn't to be, however, as the final sprint from Vichot and Rojas was enough to catch him just before the line, with the French champion taking his first win in his tricolour jersey.

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