The seventh and final stage of the 74th edition of Paris-Nice was 134 kilometres from Nice to Nice. The stage may have been short, but with six categorised climbs this would create the environment for a classic days racing. Alberto Contador was determined to animate the race in his bid for overall honours. The previous day Contador stated ‘we're going to be going for it again so we will see what happens. It's not over yet.’ The short stage provided ample opportunity for early attacks to test the legs of race leader Geraint Thomas before the final climb.
In typical Contador fashion he did just that attacking early on the category one Cote de Peille. Contador was able to open up a gap of one minute to the yellow jersey group with the support of teammates Robert Kiserlovski and Yury Trofimov from the day’s early breakaway. Team Sky sensing the danger slowly brought the Spaniard back to the peloton at the foothills of the final climb of the race; The Col d’Eze. Contador continued to attack with the assistance of teammate Rafal Majka.
As Thomas was edging closer to the overall victory, Contador accelerated once more this time creating a significant gap to the yellow jersey. BMC rider Richie Porte joined Contador to keep his hopes of a third Paris-Nice alive. The duo topped the final ascent with a 30 second time gap on Thomas who was struggling having been dropped from the main group of GC riders including Simon Yates and Romain Badret.
The duo caught race leader Tim Wellens who was part of the original 23 man breakaway early on the descent. The trio pushed their advantage as Sky’s Sergio Henao piloted Thomas to limit the damage. Henao was the saviour for Thomas as the gap to Contador and Porte began to close. As the kilometres to the finish dwindled; 24-year-old Wellen’s continued to picture the stage win.
Thomas fought back to the main group of GC riders and closed the gap to the leading trio to within 10 seconds in the final kilometre. A stage win to Contador may have changed the overall result, but Wellen’s outsprinted the climbers to a well deserved stage win. Thomas trailed five seconds behind to secure his maiden Paris-Nice title by a mere four seconds over Contador with Porte rounding out the podium at 12 seconds.
Stage 7 highlights of Paris Nice (sbscyclingcentral.com)
Simon Yates again showed his talent with 7th overall on GC in preparation for a possible debut at the Tour de France with Orica Greenedge later in the year. Contador has to be given immense credit for his racing style and his never say die attitude ainmating the final days racing. On the podium he was a forlorn figure clearly disappointed not to be on the top step. It was a strong race for Richie Porte marking his first major result since moving to Team BMC from Sky as he attempts to secure a spot as co-leader at the Tour de France alongside Tejay van Garderen.
Post race stage winner Tim Wellens said, ‘It was a good opportunity for me to go with Contador and we were full gas all the way to the line. This is a great victory’
The day belonged to Thomas though as he described his thoughts of the final 20km. ‘It was horrible. I thought that it was all over and then I got dropped from the other group and I thought I was going to struggle to stay on the podium. Sergio stayed with me.’ Thomas labelled the win ‘the best win of his career’.
Direct Energies Antoine Duchesne won the polka dot jersey ahead of Movistar’s Jesus Herrada and Lotto Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt.
Orica Green Edge’s Michael Matthews took home the green jersey for the second consecutive year after winning the prologue and stage two of this year’s edition. The exciting young Aussie is primed for the Italian monument Milan San Remo next Saturday.
To round out the classifications; Movistar won the team classification from Astana and Team Sky.
The world tour’s next major race is Saturday’s Milan San Remo which will include favourites Michael Matthews and Alexander Kristoff.