Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) produced one of the best rides of his career so far to win the individual time trial on stage four of Paris-Nice, taking the overall race lead in the process.
The young Frenchman delighted the home crowd on the slopes of the finishing climb of Mont Brouilly, setting the fastest time at the intermediate time check at the base of the climb, and extending his lead all the way to the line.
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Alaphilippe bettered the time of Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) by 19 seconds when it had looked like the Spaniard would take his first stage win in Paris-Nice since 2010.
Contador had taken the lead after toppling long-standing leader David De La Cruz, and had only suffered a couple of scares when both Gorka Izagirre (Movistar) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) came within a second of his time.
However Alaphilippe’s ride provided no such tension, with his victory already looking assured with a few hundred metres to go as he beat Contador’s time by a significant margin.
The performance also meant that Alaphilippe moved into the overall lead as erstwhile race leader Arnaud Démare (FDJ) finished in 47th place, with Gallopin moving into second, and Izagirre into third.
Contador’s performance saw him move into eighth place, still more than a minute and a half down on Alaphilippe after losing time on the opening stage.
How it happened
Stage four of Paris-Nice 2017 saw the riders tackle a mostly flat 14.5km time trial, but with a nasty sting in the tail courtesy of the 3km ascent of Mont Brouilly.
The early pace was set by Nikis Arndt (Team Sunweb) with a time of 22-50, but that mark was blown out of the water by the 22-26 of David De La Cruz.
Two very different Australian riders came closest to matching De La Cruz’s time, but both Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing) fell a few seconds short, despite Matthews setting the fastest time at the intermediate time check at the base of the final climb, and Porte making up nearly 30 seconds on the final ascent.
The next threat to De La Cruz’s time seemed to come from Alberto Contador who, riding a Trek Madone road bike with full aero bars and disc wheel, set the third fastest climb at the base of the climb, 11 seconds faster than De La Cruz.
Taking an advantage onto the final climb and it was going to be difficult to bet against Contador beating De La Cruz, and he duly delivered, setting a staggering time of 21-58, 26 seconds faster than De La Cruz.
As for some of the other overall contenders, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) conceded 14 seconds to Contador, Sergio Henao (Team Sky) 28 seconds, Ion Izagirre (Movistar) 30 seconds, and Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) 45 seconds.
Gorka Izagirre was the closest to Contador, falling short by just a solitary second, before Tony Gallopin went even closer, finishing just 0.67 seconds slower.
The final threat for the stage win seemed to come from Julian Alaphilippe who set the fastest time of the day at the the intermediate split at the base of the climb.
Spittle dripping from his chin, Alaphilippe was clearly putting in maximum effort, and as he came into the final few hundred metres it becamse clear that the Frenchman would not only take race lead, but also win the stage, bettering Contador’s time by a massive 19 seconds.
After Alaphilippe there were only two riders to cross the line, and with both Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) and race leader Arnaud Démare unable to come close to challenging, the stage and race lead would go to Alaphilippe.
Paris-Nice continues on Thursday with a flat stage to Bourg-de-Péage, before concluding with three hilly stages on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Paris-Nice 2017, stage four: Beaujeu to Mont Brouilly (14.5km ITT)
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, in 21-39
2. Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek-Segafredo, at 19 secs
3. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal, at 20 secs
4. Gorka Izagirre (Spa) Movistar, at 20 secs
5. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, at 33 secs
6. David De La Cruz (Spa) Quick-Step Floors, at 45 secs
7. Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb, at 47 secs
8. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky, at 48 secs
9. Ion Izaguirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 49 secs
10. Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing, at 50 secs
General classification after stage four
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, in 12-36-27
2. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal, at 33 secs
3. Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Movistar, at 47 secs
4. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky, at 1-05
5. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 1-20
6. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors, at 1-24
7. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, at 1-28
8. Alberto Contador (Spa) Trek-Segafredo, at 1-31
9. Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJ, at 1-32
10. Arnaud Démare (Fra) FDJ, at 1-35