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Having been part of an early break, Wellens joined forces with Contador and Porte whom he beat in a 3-rider sprint in the final stage of Paris-Nice; Thomas lost 5 seconds after a huge chase and took the overall victory

Photo: Patrick Beaudry

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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GERAINT THOMAS

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LOTTO SOUDAL

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PARIS - NICE

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RICHIE PORTE

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TIM WELLENS

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13.03.2016 @ 15:52 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) turned a disappointing Paris-Nice around by taking an impressive victory on a very exciting and dramatic final stage of the French race. Having joined an early breakaway, he caught up with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Richie Porte (BMC) when the pair attacked on Col d’Eze and easily beat his companions in the sprint in Nice. Geraint Thomas (Sky) overcame a huge crisis in the finale to reach the finish 5 seconds later to take the overall victory with a narrow 4-second advantage over Contador while Porte passed Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) to move into third.

 

Tim Wellens had gone into Paris-Nice aiming for a good position in the general classification to confirm his skills in one-week stage races after his two overall wins in the Eneco Tour. However, it all came to nothing when he was dropped in yesterday’s queen stage and he lamented the fact that he was more of a one-day racer than a man for stage races.

 

However, he made use of those skills to save his race on the final day by taking a huge victory on the final day of the race by coming out on top in a very exciting and dramatic stage around Nice. Determined to bounce back, he joined an early breakaway and after emerging as the strongest, he was the only rider to hold on when the GC battle started to roar.

 

In fact, he almost ended up as a super as there was a much bigger prize at stake. Alberto Contador was determined to give it one final try to win the overall in his final Paris-Nice and he got very close in what was a great drama. However, Geraint Thomas benefited from a great Sergio Henao to overcome a very difficult situation and when he was back in Nice after 134 hilly kilometres, he had secured the overall win with a 4-second advantage over the Spaniard.

 

Contador had big plans for the stage and had made sure to place teammates Robert Kiserlovski and Yury Trofimov in the day’s big 23-rider break that escaped after an aggressive start to the race. He let the group get a big advantage of 3.25 and allowed Sky to set the pace until they hit the hardest climb of the day, the Cote de Peille, with 51km to go.

 

At that point the group of Matteo Bono, Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida), Thomas De Gendt, Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Cyil Gautier (Ag2r), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE), Robert Kiserlovski, Yury Trofimov (Tinkoff), Odd-Christian Eiking (FDJ), David De la Cruz (Etixx-QuickStep), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Tanel Kangert (Astana), Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale), Fabio Felline, Gregory Rast (Trek), Sylvain Chavanel, Antoine Duchesne, Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Bram Tankink, Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Oliver Naesen (IAM) samt danske Chris-Anker Sørensen (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) started to splinter as Vanmarcke and Rast were the first to lose contact. De Gendt and Duchesne were the next to get dropped while Kangert surged clear in a solo move.

 

However, the real drama unfolded in the peloton where Contador took off in a solo move. Thomas didn’t respond and just let his Sky teammates do the work. Meanwhile, Contador quickly got an advantage of 25 seconds.

 

While Contador slowly extended his advantage, Gautier, Wellens, De la Cruz, Herrada and Grmay rejoined Kanget to form a front sextet. In the peloton, Thomas still had Henao, Ben Swift and Nicolas Roche at his side and it was the Irishman who tried to control his former teammate.

 

Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) made a short-lived attack but Roche slowly reeled him, Rast and Vanmarcke in. However, he was losing ground to Contador who was 2.05 behind the front group and 45 seconds ahead of the peloton with 48km to go.

 

Herrada led Gautier, Wellens, Kangert, De la Cruz and Grmay over the top while Contador caught Tankink, De Gendt, Bono and Duchesne just before the summit. Here Kiserlovski and Trofimov were waiting for him and they immediately went full gas when they had linked up with their teammate. At the top, the gaps were 1.50 and 2.50 respectively.

 

Swift took over the pace-setting from Roche but the Irishman managed to get back after a short breather and the pair traded pulls to slowly reduce the gap to Contador. Meanwhile, the Tinkoff leader’s group caught Eiking and Sørensen but it was Kiserlovski and Trofimov doing all the work.

 

De Gendt fell back to the peloton which was slowly getting closer to Contador. With 40km to go, the gap had been reduced to 40 seconds while the front group was still 2.10 ahead.

 

Felline, Impey, Van Baarle, Calmejane, Chavanel and Naesen rejoined the leaders in time for Impey to beat Van Baarle and Gautier in the final intermediate sprint. Here Contador had seen his gap almost melt away as it was down to just 20 seconds.

 

Ian Boswell rejoined the peloton to take a few turns for Sky but it was Swift who was the major driving force in reducing the gap to less than 10 seconds with 30km to go. However, suddenly their progress stalled and for a few kilometres, the gap stayed the same.

 

As the break hit the Col d’Eze with 23km to go, they were only 55 seconds ahead of the peloton which managed to catch the Contador less than one kilometre from the bottom of the climb. Meanwhile, De la Cruz launched an immediate attack from the front group which splintered to pieces.

 

Roche, Swift and Boswell sat up and left Thomas with only Henao at his side. The Sky pair were warned that Contador was not done yet as he sent Rafal Majka to the front and the Pole immediately blow the group to pieces. Meanwhile, Wellens and Gautier joined De la Cruz.

 

Majka reduced the peloton to around 15 riders before Contador made his first attack. He failed to get clear but sprinted past Impey, Felline and Van Baarle. Henao, Thomas, Ilnur Zakarin, Romain Bardet (Ag2r), Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Arnold Jeannesson (Cofidis) were the only survivors, with Ion Izagirre (Movistar) quickly regaining contact.

 

Contador went again, sprinting past Calmejane and Grmay, and this time only Impey who had been in the break, could stay with. Henao managed to shut it down but it was now apparent that Thomas was suffering.

 

Bardet countered the move but was brought back when Contador went again. This time Porte also joined the move but Henao closed it down just as Kangert was caught.

 

Contador was relentless and tried again but this time he was unable to drop Porte, Bardet, Henao, Zakarin, Thomas, Jeannesson, Izagirre and Yates. Meanwhile, Wellens dropped De la Cruz and Gautier but he was only 25 seconds ahead of the peloton.

 

Chavanel, Felline and Clamejane were the next riders to get caught by the peloton which slowed down. Bardet and Contador tried again but the impressive Henao shut it down while also catching Gautier.

 

Jeannesson used a moment of hesitation to escape while a big group with Majka, Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Diego Rosa, Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), Grmay, Calmejane, Impey, Fernandez, Felline, Chavanel, Kangert, Impey and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) regained contact. Majka went straight to the front to set the pace as they were now in an easier section and this allowed Wellens to extend his advantage to 45 seconds with 17km to go. Meanwhile, Jeannesson was brought back.

 

As they hit the final steep section, Majka upped the pace with a huge acceleration that forced Henao to slow down to wait for Thomas. Then Contador attacked again and this time no one managed to respond.

 

Porte realized that Thomas was suffering and managed to join Contador as the pair sprinted past De la Cruz and Herrada. Thomas had drifted to the rear end of the group which was now led by Gautier. Izagirre made a short-lived attack but was quickly brought back by the group which had exploded.

 

Contador and Porte were 15 seconds ahead of the peloton when Thomas cracked and was dropped. Henao had to wait for his captain and had to let the peloton go. At this point, only Zakarin, Jeannesson, Izagirre, Herrada, Yates, Gallopin, Costa and Bardet were left.

 

With 15km to go, Thomas had lost 25 seconds to Contador and Porte who reached the summit just a few seconds behind Wellens, with Contador crossing the line first. Meanwhile, Gallopin had been dropped from the peloton and was now an important ally for Henao and Thomas.

 

Contador and Porte caught Wellens just after the top and extended the advantage to 35 seconds. However, as they hit the descent, Henao managed to stabilize the situation around the 30-second mark.

 

Thomas needed a short moment to recover and then started to work with Henao and Gallopin on the descent. At the same time, the front trio was cooperating really well and it was a huge battle between the two trios, with the peloton sitting in between those groups and mostly being led by Zakarin, Izagirre and Herrada.

 

Thomas slowly won the battle and with 10km to go, the gaps were down to 10 and 25 seconds respectively. With 6km to go, the race leader was just 17 seconds behind and it had dropped to 10 seconds just two kilometres later.

 

Henao, Thomas and Gallopin caught the peloton just before they finished the descent with 3km to go and were still 10 seconds behind when the road leveled out. Wellens was no longer contributing to the pace-setting among the leaders while Thomas went straight to the front of the peloton, with the Sky rider and Izagirre briefly gapping the field.

 

With 1km to go, the gap was down to 8 seconds and it was now Henao taking one final turn for his leader. In the front group Porte went full gas and it was clear that the group was going to stay away. While Zakarin hit the front of the peloton, Wellens launched his sprint and as expected Contador and Porte had no response. Contador crossed the line in second, with Porte taking third. Gallopin won the sprint for fourth.

 

Importantly, the gap had been reduced to just 5 seconds at the finish and even though Contador picked up six bonus seconds, it was not enough for the Spaniard to win the race. Thomas made it four out of five for Sky at Paris-Nice by winning the race with an advantage of four seconds over the Spaniard. Porte was another winner as he managed to leapfrog Zakarin and take the final spot on the podium. The big loser was Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) who dropped out of the top 10.

 

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) took a comfortable victory in the points classification while Duchesne crowned his third consecutive day in the break by winning the mountains jersey. On the final day, Sky lost the victory in the teams classification which was – like so often – taken by Movistar with a 41-second advantage over Astana.

 

With Paris-Nice over, the WorldTour attention turns to the final two stages of Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo which takes place on Sunday. The next major race in France is Classique Loire Atlantique which will be held next Saturday.

 

A short, hilly finale

Like so often before, the final stage of Paris-Nice was a short, hilly run through the difficult terrain around Nice. This year’s course covered 134km and six categorized climbs and barely had a single metre of flat roads. It was uphill right from the start, with two category 3 climbs coming early on followed by two category 2 climbs. In the second half, the riders tackled the category 1 climbs Cote de Peille and Col d’Eze.

 

Another terrific sunny day welcomed the riders as they gathered in Nice for the final 134km of their journey to the sun. Sprinters Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) decided that it was necessary to recover for Milan-Sanremo so they were both absent, as were Patrick Bevin (Cannondale) and Jacques van Rensburg (Dimension Data ) who crashed yesterday.

 

A big group takes off

The final stage to Nice is always a festival of attack as the rough terrain and the short distance invite for aggressive racing. It was also the case this year and a very active Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) who was chasing another mountains jersey in the race, was part of virtually every attack during the first 12 kilometers. He was also present when 18 riders escaped, and after that another rider had joined them, the peloton allowed them to get up the road. This meant that Matteo Bono, Tsgabu Grmay (both Lampre-Merida), De Gendt, Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal,) Cyril Gautier (Ag2r), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge), Robert Kiserlovski (Tinkoff), Odd-Christian Eiking (FDJ), David De la Cruz (Team Quick Step), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Tanel Kangert (Astana), Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale), Fabio Felline, Gregory Rast (both Trek), Sylvain Chavanel, Antoine Duchesne (both Direct Energie), Bram Tankink (LottoNL-Jumbo), Oliver Naesen (IAM) and Chris-Anker Sørensen (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) could build an advantage.

 

After 14 km they had a gap of 1.05, but six riders felt that they were able to bridge across. Thus, Yury Trofimov (Tinkoff), Koen De Kort (Giant-Alpecin), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Matt Brammeier (Dimension Data) took off and when de Gendt beat Herrada and Rast in the first intermediate sprint after 19km of racing, they were only 42 seconds behind. The peloton crossed the line with a time loss of 1.30.

 

Sky take control

The gaps grew to 55 seconds and 2.20 after 22km of racing where Sky had gathered all eight riders in the front end of the peloton but they were not overly concerned with the situation. They let the gap grow to 3.10 after 25km of racing where the chasers were 1.20 behind the leaders.

 

On the first climb, the peloton was still 3.00 behind while the chasers dropped De Kort who was quickly swallowed up. At the top, Duchesne won the KOM sprint ahead of De Gendt and Herrada. Here the chasers were still 1.05 behind, De Kort was at 2.35 after and the peloton at 3.00.

 

Trofimov, Calmejane and Vanmarcke bridge the gap

On the next climb Trofimov managed to bridge the gap alone while Calmejane was briefly dropped. However, he came back and together with Vanmarcke he also made the junction. At the top, Duchesne won the sprint ahead of De Gendt and Rast while the bunch now was only 2.50 behind. In the fast initial phase, the riders covered 41.1 kilometers during the first hour.

 

Brammeier made it a 23-rider break on the descent while Lemoine was caught by the peloton which was 3.00 behind at the 48km mark. At the top of the day's third climb, Duchesne again the fastest and won ahead of De Gendt, Herrada, Impey and Van Baarle. Unfortunately, Brammeier was dropped again while Team Sky led the peloton over the line 3.45 behind.

 

Duchesne wins the mountains jersey

After 60km of racing, Brammeier was 40 seconds behind the leaders while Sky had stabilized the gap at 3.35. At the same time, there was a small crash involving Alexeey Lutsenko (Astana).

 

Duchesne beat De Gendt, Herrada, Eiking and Bono in the fourth KOM sprint and thus secured victory in the mountains competition. On this climb, Brammeier lostfurther ground and after 69.5 kilometers, he was 2.25 behind. The bunch was still at 3.35. Moments later, they hit the Cote de Peille and this is where the real drama started.

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