Crashes for Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas prove costly on a frenetic day's racing

Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) won the stage and moved into the overall lead in a thrilling penultimate day’s racing at Paris-Nice.

The Frenchman attacked the lead group on the lower slopes of the final climb, Cote de Peille. He rode alone for over 30km to win the stage 32 seconds ahead of a chasing group containing Simon Spilak (Katusha), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Rafa Valls (Lampre-Merida), who finished second, third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Previous leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step) and his main rivals Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas (Sky) finished in a second chasing group a whole minute behind Gallopin. All three now lie between 36 and 38 seconds behind the French rider in the overall classification.

Tony Gallopin crosses the line to take the Paris-Nice lead going into the final stage (Watson)

Tony Gallopin crosses the line to take the Paris-Nice lead going into the final stage (Watson)

Kwiatkowski, Porte and Thomas were involved in a thrilling battle throughout the stage that saw the balance of power constantly shift between them in tricky rainy conditions.

Porte attacked behind Gallopin within two kilometres of the summit of the Cote de Peille, taking Thomas and a few others with him and managing to drop Kwiatkowski. But the Sky riders endured a nightmare on the descent, with first Porte then Thomas both crashing at separate points. They escaped injury and managed to get back on their bikes, but were caught by Kwiatkowski’s group.

Earlier still, Kwiatkowski had constantly attempted to put the Sky riders under pressure. First, with  over 60km left to ride, he and teammates Tony Martin, Julian Alaphilippe and Michal Golas ambushed the peloton and managed to get a gap of 30 seconds, before being caught shortly after by a Sky-led peloton.

Bradley Wiggins chases on stage six of the 2015 Paris-Nice (Watson)

Bradley Wiggins chases on stage six of the 2015 Paris-Nice (Watson)

Then, with around 50km to go, on the long descent of the Col Saint-Roch, Kwiatkowski and those same domestiques launched another attack, which only eventual winner Gallopin was able to follow. Once again the gap went out to 30 seconds, although this time Sky were rapidly running out of domestiques – only Ben Swift was left to help Thomas and Porte, and even he was soon dropped having done a long stint at the front.

But on the Cote de Peille, Etixx – Quick-Step’s efforts began to show. First Gallopin attacked them with no-one able to respond, and then the Porte-led chasing group caught and passed Kwiatkowski. Had the Sky pair not crashed on the descent it looked unlikely that he would have caught them.

Even before this action, the race had already been a chaotic affair with a vast amount of riders breaking away on the earlier climbs. Among them were Thomas de Gendt, who claimed enough mountain points to seal victory in that competition, and Britain’s Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge)

Also among the early escapees was Tim Wellens, who played a crucial role in Gallopin’s win by remaining at the front of the race on the descent of the Col Saint-Roch, and thus enabling Gallopin to not have to work with the Etixx riders.

Gallopin takes a 36-second lead on Porte into tomorrow’s final stage, a mountain time-trial up the Col d’Eze. The Frenchman is likely to be tired after today’s huge effort and Porte is a specialist in such stages, so it’s likely to be another thrilling contest.

Paris-Nice stage six: Vence – Nice (181km)
Result
1. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal in 04-52-57
2 Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha at 32 secs
3 Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida
4 Jakob Fuglsang (Astana)
5 Rafa Valls (Spa) Lampre-Merida) at 35 secs
6 Michael Valgren (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo at 1min
7 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
8 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Etixx-Quick Step
9 Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ
10 Nicholas Edet (Fra)
Overall classification
1 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal in 28-49-42
2 Richie Porte (GBr) Sky at 36 secs
3 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Etixx-Quick Step
4 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 38 secs
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana
6 Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida at 42 secs
7 Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha at 53 secs
8 Rafa Valls (Spa) Lampre-Merida at 1min 1sec
9 Jon Izagirre (Spa) Movistar at 1min 19secs
10 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto-Soudal at 2mins