Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) won stage six of Paris-Nice on Friday – his second victory in two days – attacking on the final climb in Fayence to secure the overall race lead.
World champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) placed second, with Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) in third. Geraint Thomas (Sky) placed fourth, but it wasn’t enough to keep hold of the yellow jersey and he now sits in second place on GC at eight seconds.
Devoid of time trial or mountain finish, race organiser ASO branded the 2014 edition of Paris-Nice as a ‘race for the daring’, and the riders must have taken heed with just about everyone having a go on the climb-packed final third of the stage.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) and Frank Schleck (Trek) were all part of various groups that put in a dig to try and get free of the Sky-led peloton.
By the descent off the penultimate climb of Col de Bourigaille it was only Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) and Dries Devenyns (Giant-Shimano) that were in front of the bunch. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) then upped the pace, using his superior descending skills to reel the escape duo back in.
Thomas marked Nibali’s move to stay in touch with the Italian, and as the bunch hit the three-kilometres-to-go mark Sky’s David Lopez was back at the head of the lead group. Ag2r’s Alexis Vuillermoz took off up the final ramp first – perhaps as a softener for team-mate Betancur.
A flurry of riders then accelerated up the climb to catch Vuillermoz, but it was just Costa and Betancur in front by the line, with the Colombian edging out the rainbow jersey. Nibali paid for his earlier efforts and was one of those to slip out the back of the lead group.
Saturday’s penultimate stage contains five categorised climbs, but with a flatter section of around 40km before the finish in Biot Sophia Antipolis it’s going to be tough for a break to stay away. The race concludes on Sunday.
Paris-Nice 2014, stage six: Saint-Saturnin-lès-Avignon to Fayence, 221.5km
1. Carlos Betancur (Col) Ag2r
2. Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida
3. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 3 secs
4. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky
5. Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ
6. Cyril Gautier (Fra) Europcar at 7 secs
7. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana
8. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol
9. Stefan Denifl (Aut) IAM Cycling
10. Gorka Izaguirre (Spa) Movistar at 11 secs
Overall classification after stage six
1. Carlos Betancur (Col) Ag2r
2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 8 secs
3. Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida at 18 secs
4. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 22 secs
5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar at 24 secs
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 25 secs
7. Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ at 27 secs
8. Jan Bakelants (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 29 secs
9. Cyril Gautier (Fra) Europcar at 31 secs
10. Stefan Denifl (Aut) IAM Cycling at 31 secs
Images from the fifth stage of 2014 Paris-Nice, won by Carlos Betancur
Images from the sixth stage of 2014 Paris-Nice, won by Carlos Betancur
Team Sky's Geraint Thomas defended his lead at Paris-Nice race lead after Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) took the victory on
Anarchic nature of this year's Paris-Nice route means that Sky will have a tough job controlling the race lead