A delighted French public cheered their national champion Arthur Vichot (FDJ) as he won the final stage of this year’s Paris-Nice in the tricolore jersey, but it was the Colombian Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) who sealed overall victory.
Vichot won the sprint ahead of Jose Joaquim Rojas (Movistar), both of whom impressed again by surviving the stage’s many climbs. By edging Rojas to the line, Vichot also gained enough bonus seconds to overtake the Spaniard and Zdenek Stybar (Omeha Pharma-QuickStep), who had been dropped on the Col d’Eze.
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Betancur and his Ag2r squad faced a series of attacks on the Col d’Eze (situated just 14 kilometres from the finish), the most threatening coming from Frank Schleck (Trek) and GC contender Simon Spilak (Katusha). At just 39 seconds down, Ag2r could not afford to let Spilak stay away, and when the Slovenian opened up a gap of 20 seconds with Schleck alarm bells were ringing.
Fortunately for Ag2r, other teams intent on defending the GC positions – including Movistar, who had surprisingly failed pressurise the French team with their duo of Rui Costa and Rojas – helped them set a pace at the front, and the pair were caught within the final kilometre.
In truth, Betancur was never really put under much pressure, with yet another attack from Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 40 kilometres from the finish line easily nullified.
There were dramatic scenes at the finish as a crash took out Rui Costa, who, despite disgustedly pedalling to the line, still finishes second overall thanks to the rule that cancels any time lost to crashes in the final three kilometres.
But the Portuguese rider never looked like dethroning Betancur, who becomes the first ever Colombian winner of Paris-Nice. If he continues improving at the rate he currently is, this title will certainly be the first of many at WorldTour level.
British rider Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) stayed with the front group in the hectic finale, placing 22nd on the stage and 44th overall in his first major WorldTour outing.
Paris-Nice 2014, stage eight: Nice to Nice, 128 km
1. Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ in 3-06-56
2. Jose Rojas (Spa) Movistar
3. Cyril Gautier (Fra) Europcar
4. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale
5. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin
6. Frank Schleck (Lux) Trek Factory Racing
7. Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Garmin-Sharp
8. Carlos Betancur (Col) Ag2r
9. George Bennett (NZl) Cannondale
10. Eduardo Sepulveda (Arg) Bretagne-Seche Environnement all same time
22. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge at same time
Final overall classification
1. Carlos Betancur (Col) Ag2r in 35-11-45
2. Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida at 14 secs
3. Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ at 20 secs
4. Jose Rojas (Spa) Movistar at 21 secs
5. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 29 secs
6. Cyril Gautier (Fra) Europcar at 31 secs
7. Stefan Denifl (Aut) IAM Cycling at 35 secs
8. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha at 36 secs
9. Peter Velits (Svk) BMC Racing at 39 secs
10. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol at 41 secs
44. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge at 17-33
120. Luke Rowe (GBr) Sky at 1-23-21
Geraint Thomas forced to pull out of Paris-Nice after crashing in final five kilometres of stage seven on Saturday
Nasty crash in final 5km of Saturday's stage sees Geraint Thomas drop well out of top 10 overall
Images from the sixth stage of 2014 Paris-Nice, won by Carlos Betancur