Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) took a scrappy bunch sprint win at the end of stage five, on what was a tough day in Paris-Nice.
Cimolai just pipped French sprinter Bryan Coquard (Europcar) to take the win in Rasteau, with points classification leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) in third.
British rider Dan McLay (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) put in a strong ride to finish eighth. Sky sprinter Ben Swift placed 11th.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) retained the overall lead after finishing safely in 12th place. The Pole leads Sky duo Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas by one and three seconds respectively going into the final weekend of action.
It very nearly didn’t go the sprinters’ way, with King of the Mountains Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) only getting caught metres from the finish line. De Gendt had been part of the day’s five-man escape group alongside Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin), Romain Sicard (Europcar), Pawel Poljanski (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Egos Silin (Katusha).
De Gendt spent the day hoovering up mountains points to seal his lead in the KOM classification, and obviously had enough in his legs to take a stab at the stage win too after his escape companions had been caught. But, as is so often the case, it was not meant to be.
Action resumes on Saturday with a mountainous stage from Vence into Nice, and then on to Sunday’s decisive 9.6km time trial finale to Col d’Eze.
With the top of the overall classification so tightly packed, you can guarantee that Sky will attempt to overthrow Kwiatkowski on Saturday. They simply cannot rely on beating him in the final time trial, given prologue winner Kwiatkowski’s prowess against the clock.
Paris-Nice 2015, stage five: Saint-Étienne to Rasteau, 192.5km
1. Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre-Merida
2. Bryan Coquard (Fra) Europcar
3. Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
4. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis
5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar
6. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
7. Matti Breschel (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo
8. Dan McLay (GBr) Bretagne-Seche Environnement
9. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Ag2r
10. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling all same time
Overall classification after stage five
1. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Etixx-Quickstep
2. Richie Porte (Aus) Sky at 1 sec
3. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 3 secs
4. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 27 secs
5. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 32 secs
6. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal at 38 secs
7. Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida at 41 secs
8. Gorka Izaguirre (Spa) Movistar at 44 secs
9. Tiago Machado (Por) Katusha at 50 secs
10. Rafael Valls (Spa) Lampre-Merida at 51 secs