Tiesj Benoot triumphed in remarkable fashion on stage six of Paris-Nice 2020, as Max Schachmann narrowly held his race lead after crashing in the final kilometre.
It was a phenomenal day of racing in the south of France, after race organisers confirmed stage six would be the penultimate day of racing in this year's edition.
Benoot capitalised on a phenomenal late breakaway ride by his Sunweb team-mate Søren Kragh Andersen in the final 30km, as Benoot bridged across from the peloton and then rode the final 10km alone to take a solo win in Apt.
Bora-Hansgrohe's Schachmann had ridden a flawless stage all day, before he overcooked a tight right-hand turn in the final kilometre and skidded into the barrier, losing 40 seconds on the stage winer and almost 20 seconds on his general classification rivals.
How it happened
Stage six of this year’s tumultuous Paris-Nice, as we now know the penultimate stage of the race, was a perfect opportunity for the climber’s and the puncheurs to fight for glory.
Running over an endlessly undulating 161.5km, from Sorgues to Apt near France’s southern coast, the course featured six categorised climbs and plenty of unmarked ramps.
The most important section fell in the final 50km of the stage, with the Côte de Saeneuve (5.2km at 5.3 per cent) coming at 124km, leading into the Côte d’Auribeau (4.7km at 5.6 per cent) which crested around 15km from home.
The final 15km then included a rapid descent into a short uphill dash, another short descent into a flat final few hundred metres.
It took a long time for the break to form, as everyone want to get a rider out in front on such a testing stage.
Eventually a remarkable seven-rider group of talent broke few of the peloton, including world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) and Winner Anacona (Arkéa-Samsic).
That lead group were only allowed just over a minute advantage in the middle sections of the race, with the gap at around a minute with 47km to race.
Bardet and Cofidis rider Nicolas Edet opted to shake up proceedings and attacked the break with just over 40km to race, quickly building a gap of around 30 seconds on the remains of the break.
That move was followed by an attack from Sunweb’s Søren Kragh Andersen from the bunch, who powered through the escapees to join Bardet and Edet with 30km to the line, the peloton 50 seconds in arrears.
That trio worked together but the peloton began to close them down with 20km to race, as the gap tumbled to 30 seconds.
Edet was dropped on the Aribeau, as Andersen ramped up the pressure and finally cracked Bardet near the summit of that final climb and pushed on alone.
Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) launched a big attack from the peloton with 15km to race and Andersen’s team-mate Tiesj Benoot followed, with Benoot proving himself the strongest and dropping Nibali.
The Belgian caught his team-mate up the road, with Andersen taking up a support role for Benoot, before Andersen finally let go.
In the GC race, a tentative move from Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling) in the peloton sparked a response from the leader Schachmann but ultimately came to nothing as a large group of overall favourites remained together.
Benoot hit the final climb around 5km from the line with 30 seconds on the peloton, looking strong and composed on the road.
Quick-Step’s Bob Jungels set off in pursuit of Benoot and dangled off the front of the favourites group, eventually being swallowed with around 2km and instead working in support of his team leader Julian Alaphilippe.
Benoot tackled the final descent with comfort and maintained a comfortable lead into the final straight, claiming the outstanding win after a masterclass of team riding by Sunweb.
In the chasing group of favourites behind, everything looked neutralised until Max Schachmann misjudged a right-hand turn inside the final kilometre.
The German hit the barrier and dismounted his bike, before jumping back on and managing to reconnect a drop chain while pedalling, but by that point he had lost contact with the group.
Sunweb’s Michael Matthews sprinted to second place on the stage, making it a one-two result for the squad, with Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling) taking third to put himself on a strong position for the final day of racing on stage six.
Schachmann finally crossed the line 40 seconds down on Benoot and 18 seconds back Higuita.
Heading into the final stage, which closes with a 16km mountain ascent, Schachmann leads by 18 seconds over Benoot in second, with Higuita now third at 43 seconds.
Paris-Nice 2020, stage six: Sorgues to Apt (161.5km)
1. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Sunweb, in 3-57-02
2. Michael Matthews (Aus) Sunweb, at 22s
3. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Pro Cycling, at same time
4. Bob Jungels (Lux) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 23s
5. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at same time
6. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 26s
7. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 29s
8. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis
9. Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
10. Nairo Quintana (Col) Arkéa-Samsic, all at same time
General classification after stage six
1. Max Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 22-46-42
2. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Sunweb, at 18s
3. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Pro Cycling, at 43s
4. Felix Grossschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 50s
5. Michael Matthews (Aut) Sunweb, at 52s
6. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 1-04
7. Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-19
8. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-19
9. Tanel Kangert (Est) EF Pro Cycling, at 1-34
10. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 1-47
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