Jérôme Cousin (Direct Energie) took his first WorldTour victory on stage five of Paris-Nice 2018 after beating Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) to the line in Sisteron.
The Frenchman was part of a four-man escape group which got away within 30km of the 165km stage and, after confirming his presence in the king of the mountains jersey at the end of the day, refused to work with Politt in the final kilometres of the stage as the peloton closed in.
The pair had come together on the final categorised climb of the day with 13km to go and over a minute gap to the peloton.
But as soon as they were together, progress began to slow with Cousin refusing to help Politt at all to keep up the pace.
The young German rider had no choice but to try and attack the Frenchman with just over a kilometre to go, but was unable to drop him, with peloton now just behind them.
As they entered the final few hundred metres, a crash set back the peloton and the pair were left to fight it out. Politt, with nothing left after doing much of the work, was unable to stop Cousin coming round him in the sprint to claim victory.
It marks a successful week for the French team Direct Energie, who took a first stage victory on stage three through Jonathan Hivert.
Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) held on to his overall lead after finishing safely in the bunch, with Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) remaining in the top-10 despite getting caught in a crash shortly before the end. He was awarded the same time as the peloton because of the crash.
How it happened
The foursome of Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Jérôme Cousin (Direct Energie), Julien El Fares (Delko Marseille Provence KTM) were the ones to get away early, establishing a maximum gap of 4-30.
The climbing front-loaded into the stage meant there wasn’t a huge amount of impetus for the peloton to chase the down, and they continued on with just over four minutes with 50km to go.
Quick-Step Floors and Lotto-Soudal were the two most prominent teams on the front of the bunch as they hoped to pull their sprinters back into contention, with the gap slipping to around three minutes with 25km to go.
The break had 2-30 heading into the final 18km with Nils Politt unexpectedly attacking to go solo with 16km to go.
He was joined by Cousin with 13km to go who bridged across on the final categorised climb (taking the last KOM points), with just over one minute on the peloton.
Team Sky put the pressure on the final climb with a lot of the sprinters suffering at the rear of the peloton, including green jersey Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ).
Cousin attacked towards the final intermediate sprint but was unable to drop Politt.
It was then that Cousin began to refuse to work with Politt in the final 8km, with the gap sliding to 42 seconds.
Cousin’s refusal continued and Politt had no choice but to try and go long with 1.4km to go and just 22 seconds over the peloton. He was unable to drop the French rider, with his frustrations visible having done the bulk of the work to help the pair stay away.
A crash in the peloton with 1km to go, with Cofidis and Dimension Data riders going down along with Esteban Chaves, meant the pair were left free to contest the final sprint, but Politt was unable to summon any more energy to try and beat Cousin, allowing him to sprint free.
Behind, André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) claimed third place in the sprint ahead of Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana).
Friday’s stage six will see another tough climbing day en route to Vence from Sisteron, covering 196km.
Paris-Nice 2018 stage five, Salon-de-Provence – Sisteron (165km)
1 Jerome Cousin (Fra) Direct Energie, in 3-57-25
2 Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin, at 2s
3 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal, at 4s
4 Magnus Cort (Den) Astana Pro Team
5 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
6 Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
7 Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott
8 Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team Sunweb
9 Matti Breschel (Den) EF Education First-Drapac
10 Koen de Kort (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, all same time
Overall classification after stage five
1 Luis León Sanchez (Esp) Astana Pro Team, in 17-45-26
2 Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky, at 15s
3 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, at 26s
4 Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar Team, at 26s
5 Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 34s
6 Felix Grossschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 35s
7 Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 42s
8 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal, st
9 Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky, at 48s
10 Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott, st