Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp) claimed his second stage win at this year’s Paris-Nice on a day of frenetic racing.
Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) held onto the leader’s jersey, and his main rival Geraint Thomas (Sky) suffered a nasty looking crash in the final five kilometres.
The Briton will be frustrated at having to concede his strong position in such unfortunate circumstances, but his thoughts now will turn to recovering in time for the major classics. He looked downtrodden crossing the line, but the fact he climbed back on his bike and finished the stage can only be a good sign.
Today’s winner Slagter experienced similar bad luck yesterday when a mechanical on the final climb forced him out of contention, but bounced back brilliantly today to outsprint Rui Costa (Lampre), Betancur and Jose Joaquim Rojas (Movistar) in what turned out to be relatively large group at the finish.
With better luck yesterday, Slagter would probably be in the leader’s jersey right now, but no praise should be taken away from Betancur and his team. After catching the initial breakaway (including Pim Lithgart, who moves to the top of the mountains classification), they faced relentless attacks throughout the final 35 kilometres of rolling terrain, but – with some help from Europcar – managed to contain them all.
Sylvain Chavanel was particularly determined to make an attack stick, while the Astana duo of Jakob Fuglsang and Vincenzo Nibali attempted to work over the peloton in the final stages. But nothing could prevent the race from finishing in a widely contested uphill sprint.
Tomorrow poses a different challenge for Ag2r, with five climbs all crammed into 129 kilometres of racing, including two category one climbs in the second half. With a handful of riders all within range, an exciting edition of Paris-Nice could be set for a blockbuster finish.
Paris-Nice 2014, stage seven: Mougins to Biot Sophia Antipolis, 195.5km
1. Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Garmin Sharp
2. Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida
3. Carlos Betancur (Col) Ag2r
4. Jose Rojas(Spa) Movistar
5. Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ
6. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol
7. Stefan Denifl (Aut) IAM Cycling
8. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
9. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana
10. Peter Velits (Svk) BMC Racing
Overall classification after stage seven
1. Carlos Betancur (Col) Ag2r
2. Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida at 14 secs
3. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 26 secs
4. Jose Rojas (Spa) Movistar at 27 secs
5. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 29 secs