Niccolò Bonifazio broke Bahrain-McLaren hearts as he thwarted Jan Tratnik’s breakaway effort just 100m from the line to take stage four of Paris-Nice.
As coronavirus provided drama off the road, Tratnik was providing the theatrics on it, looking like he would successfully hold off the peloton after spending 200km in the day’s break.
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In the final moments, however, Nizzolò sprung out of the chasing pack behind to snatch victory, with Tratnik swallowed up by the bunch.
Bahrain-McLaren’s Iván Cortina finished second, having already taken the win on stage three, while Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was third and Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) fourth.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s Max Schachmann retains the race lead with three stages remaining.
How it happened
129 riders took to the start line after Tejay Van Garderen (EF Pro Cycling) dropped out overnight, apparently due to concerns over getting back into the USA after a coronavirus travel ban was placed on those on European continent hoping to travel to America.
Attacks came immediately as soon as the flag dropped, with world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) not allowed up the road in one of the initial moves.
After 8km a group of six looked to be pulling clear, the move made up by
Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2R), Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-McLaren), Anthony Turgis (Direct Energie)
The quartet soon took out a gap of seven minutes, with the peloton behind disposing of Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), who both abandoned.
The break’s gap held at seven minutes for some time before the peloton let them know who was in control, upping the pace to bring them back to 5-30 with under 100km to go.
On the first climb of the day with 60km to go, the gap was down to 3-45, with Anthony Turgis (Total Direct Energie) taking maximum points over the summit.
Michael Woods suffered a painful crash with 45km to go, lying flat out by the side of the road, audibly in some pain and forced to abandon.
With Turgis sweeping up the points on the next climb as well, the gap fell to 2-30 as Cofidis worked in the peloton for their sprinter Elia Viviani.
The four-man break’s advantage was down to 1-09 heading into the final 20km, with Turgis and Mullen cracking soon after as the gap fell to under a minute.
Tratnik and Gougeard’s advantage continued to fall as teams jostled for position behind. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step and Iván Cortina (Bahrain-McLaren) then stretched their legs before being pegged back by race leader Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Alaphilippe’s team-mate Bob Jungels then put in an acceleration with 14.5km to go, with Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) chasing before Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), John Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal) and Nikias Arndt (Sunweb) also joined.
The two leaders still had 30 seconds with 10km to go, before Tratnik went off on his own at 7km to the line, dropping Gougeard as the Jungels group behind was caught.
Tratnik was managing to hold his advantage, even extending it up to 25 seconds into the final 5km. The Slovenian still had 20 seconds with 2km left, as Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) suffered a mechanical behind.
Sunweb picked up the chase with 1.5km remaining, 15 seconds behind Tratnik, then 10 seconds at the flamme rouge.
The gap then quickly began to close as the line couldn’t come quick enough for Tratnik. The sprinters then opened up behind and the Slovenian was finally swallowed up as Niccolò Bonifazio burst through behind to take the win for Total Direct Energie. Bahrain-McLaren’s Iván Cortina was second with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) third.
Paris-Nice 2020, stage three: Chalette-sur-Loing to La Châtre (212.5km)
1. Niccolò Bonifazio (Ita) Total Direct Energie, in 5-18-02
2. Iván Cortina (Esp) Bahrain-McLaren
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
4. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Arkéa-Samsic
5. Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Israel Start-Up Nation
6. Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Circus-Wanty Gobert
7. John Degenkolb (Ger) Lotto-Soudal
8. Elia Viviani (Ita) Cofidis
9. Bryan Coquad (B&B Hotels – Vital Concept p/b KTM)
10. Marc Sarreau (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, all at same time
General classification after stage five
1. Max Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 18-49-00
2. Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Sunweb, at 58 seconds
3. Felix Großschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1-01
4. Nils Politt (Ger) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 1-05
5. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Pro Cycling, at 1-06
6. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-McLaren, at 1-09
7. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Sunweb, at 1-11
8. Mads Würtz Schmidt (Den) Israel Start-Up Nation, at same time
9. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) NTT Pro Cycling, at 1-15
10. Michael Matthews (Aus) Sunweb, at 1-16