Overall race leader Alberto Contador (Astana) held on to the yellow jersey, but his closest challenger, Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) earned six seconds in bonus time as he led the peloton into the line, five seconds after Tondo’s win. Contador now has a 14-second lead over Valverde going into the race’s final stage.
Tondo was part of a 23-man break that left the field on 40km into the 200km sixth and penultimate stage. By the time the race had crossed its eight rated climbs, only Tondo managed to hold on for the win, after a well-timed attack on the day’s final ascent, the Category 1 Col de Vence.
One of the day’s first shots was fired by French national champion Dimitri Champion of the Ag2r, however, the early stabs amounted to nothing as the peloton wasn’t keen on giving anyone too much. (see how today’s stage unfolded by reading VeloNews.com’s Live Coverage of stage 6.)
The group of 23 riders managed to slip away at 40km, but with 14th-placed Sylvain Chavanel (at 1:27) in the group, the GC stars put plenty of horsepower at the front of the field to keep the gap from getting much past a minute or two.
By the final climb up the Col de Vence, the gap had narrowed to 1:32. With pressure from a chasing peloton and attacks from within the group itself, the break steadily began to shrink. Tondo attacked about halfway into the 9.7km climb and was soon joined by Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Cyril Gautier (Bbox). But with 3km remaining on the climb, Tondo left his breakaway companions and soled over the top.
The peloton, meanwhile, set about the task of reeling in the remnants of the break and, by the time it reached the summit, only Cunego and Tondo appeared to have a chance at a stage win. Tondo managed to hold off a hard charging field over the final 30 kilometers of the stage, as Cunego was eventually pulled back into the peloton.
Tondo said he started Saturday’s race with hopes of winning a stage after missing a key break the day before.
“I came to Paris-Nice to finish in the top ten overall, but I made a bad mistake yesterday (Friday) so decided to go for stage wins,” said Tondo.
“To win I need to go it alone – I have no chance in a sprint and I am not one who can climb with the likes of Contador if he’s really pushing the pace,” said the Spaniard, who only joined Cervélo this season as a new recruit to help Carlos Sastre in the mountain stages of the Giro.
Paris-Nice ends on Sunday with a tough, 119km circuit race in the hills near Nice. Contador said he expects it to be a tough stage.
“It will be a difficult day, but I know the route very well because I have used it to to attack in the past,” he said. “I will approach it differently – at least at first – but we’ll see how everything goes. For now I’ll rest in order to be tomorrow at the best possible condition.”
Top-21, stage 6
1. Xavier Tondo Cervelo Test Team
2. Alejandro Valverde Caisse D’epargne
3. Peter Sagan Liquigas-Doimo at 00:05
4. Samuel Sanchez Euskaltel – Euskadi at 00:05
5. Joaquim Rodriguez Katusha Team at 00:05
6. Leonardo Duque Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne at 00:05
7. Luis-leon Sanchez Caisse D’epargne at 00:05
8. Christophe Riblon Ag2r-La Mondiale at 00:05
9. Reine Taaramae Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne at 00:05
10. Daniele Righi Lampre – Farnese at 00:05
11. Jens Voigt Team Saxo Bank at 00:05
12. Tadej Valjavec Ag2r-La Mondiale at 00:05
13. Nicolas Roche Ag2r-La Mondiale at 00:05
14. Pierrick Fedrigo Bbox Bouygues Telecom at 00:05
15. Thomas Voeckler Bbox Bouygues Telecom at 00:05
16. Maxime Monfort Team Htc – Columbia at 00:05
17. Alberto Contador Astana at 00:05
18. Eduard Vorganov Katusha Team at 00:05
19. Simon Gerrans Team Sky at 00:05
20. Sylvain Chavanel Quick Step Cycling Team at 00:05
21. Roman Kreuziger Liquigas-Doimo at 00:05
1. Alberto Contador Astana
2. Alejandro Valverde Caisse D’epargne, at 0:14
3. Roman Kreuziger Liquigas-Doimo at 00:25
4. Luis-leon Sanchez Caisse D’epargne at 00:26
5. Samuel Sanchez Euskaltel – Euskadi at 00:29
6. Jens Voigt Team Saxo Bank at 00:34
7. Joaquim Rodriguez Katusha Team at 00:36
8. Peter Sagan Liquigas-Doimo at 00:38
9. David Millar Garmin – Transitions at 01:02
10. Reine Taaramae Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne at 01:06
11. Jean-christophe Peraud Omega Pharma – Lotto at 01:15
12. Jérôme Coppel Saur-Sojasun at 01:16
13. Sylvain Chavanel Quick Step Cycling Team at 01:21
14. Nicolas Roche Ag2r-La Mondiale at 01:22
15. Simon Gerrans Team Sky at 01:30
16. Christophe Le Mevel Francaise Des Jeux at 01:32
17. Janez Brajkovic Team Radioshack at 01:56
18. Christophe Riblon Ag2r-La Mondiale at 01:58
19. Maxime Bouet Ag2r-La Mondiale at 02:02
20. Frank Schleck Team Saxo Bank at 02:05