Remy Di Gregorio (Astana) made a tremendous save in the final kilometers after slipping on wet traffic stripe and then held on up a final drag race to the line to win a wild, crash-filled ride in Saturday’s 215km seventh stage at Paris-Nice.
Di Gregorio timed it right with a solo attack with 13km to go to hang on for his first victory since joining Astana this season, fending off a fast-charging Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who darted to second for the second time inside three days. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) crossed the line third.
Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) came through fifth to widen his lead to 36 seconds to Andreas Kloden (RadioShack), with Bradley Wiggins (Sky) slipping to third at 41 seconds back with just one day of racing left.
Di Gregorio — once hailed as a future Tour de France contender but later succumbed to a string of injuries and uninspiring results – took risks to drive home his first win since a stage at the 2006 Tour de l’Avenir.
“For sure, I was missing moments like this. I waited so long to win a beautiful stage like this. It took a lot of work and a lot of questioning. I’m glad to offer this victory to those who kept believing in me,” Di Gregorio said after the stage. “I really went for it. I wondered at one stage whether I should wait for Vino, who was at the back, but Grivko and Roman (Kreuziger) saw I had good legs and told me to stay at the front. I had not right to miss out and the finale was so long. It was close, but to win like this you must take measured risks. With a 100 metres to go, it was a real relief.”
Karsten Kroon’s (BMC) marathon breakaway effort fell short when Di Gregorio attacked out of the bunch to reel in the BMC rider with about 13km to go. Movistar turned the screws on the peloton in the final hour of racing, but Martin hung on to take one step closer to overall Paris-Nice victory when the race ends Sunday.
Van Garderen brushes off crash, vows to help Martin
The “Race to the Sun” certainly didn’t live up to its moniker Saturday as the peloton slogged through cold, wet, windy and otherwise miserable racing conditions over a bumpy course.
Scores of riders hit the deck, including Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) and Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) who fell late in the seven-climb stage.
Van Garderen told VeloNews he slipped on wet roads, but vowed to fight on Sunday to help Martin sew up the overall.
“It was just a super slippery road. I went down, hobbled around for a few minutes, but got back up and finished the day,” Van Garderen wrote VeloNews via e-mail. “My knee is a little swollen, but I gotta get through tomorrow for Tony.”
Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) survived a harrowing crash on wet roads in the final kilometers and slid under a truck parked along side of the road. He later finished the race in last place.
The stage’s brutal pace caused a few riders to throw in the towel, including Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Nicholas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) and Sandy Casar (FDJ) while Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) was among the non-starters.
Another break falls short
Here’s how LeTour.fr called the action: Haussler tightened his grip on the points jersey early won. On the first climb of the day, Cote des Tuilieres (2nd cat, km 47.5), Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) attacked, followed by Sebastien Minard (AG2R), then by Jurgen Roelandts (OLO) and Ivan Santaromita (BMC). At the top of the climb, the four were joined by Grega Bole (Lampre).
But Astana riders led the chase and the five were caught in the next climb, Cote du Mont-Meaulx (km 63). After several attempts involving Astana (Vinokourov) and Rabobank (Weening), two men, Dutchman Karsten Kroon (BMC) and Eric Berthou (Bretagne-Schuller), finally broke significantly at kilometre 82. Their lead topped at 6:50 shortly before the ascent of the Cote de Cabris (1st cat, km 102.5).
Sandy Casar (FDJ) gave up, but his FDJ team-mates made a brave team-effort to help Remi Pauriol strengthen his polka-dot jersey by adding six points to his tally. In the Col du Ferrier (km 112.5), Pauriol tried to repeat the move but was caught off-guard by nearest rival Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) and had to settle for 4th place.
Headwind and drizzles accounted for a slow average speed (28.4 kph in the third hour) until the whole Garmin-Cervelo team took the chase over to maintain the gap around 3:50. In the last climb, Cote de Gourdon (2nd cat, km 151), Westra surged again with Spain’s David Lopez Garcia and reached the top two minutes behind the leading duo.
The Dutchman’s effort was stopped short when he slid and crashed in the descent, made extremely slippery by the pouring rain. Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Cervelo) was the most seriously hurt in several crashes and gave up with a suspected knee injury. Peter Sagan (Liquigas) was the main of several riders to call it quits.
The two escapees entered the final circuit (km 169) with a two-minute lead over the split peloton. Vinokourov and Luis-Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) were among the riders lying in the second part of the bunch, 50 seconds behind the group including all the jersey holders.
At kilometre 180, Kroon went on his own. The experienced Dutchman, 35, resisted well but his lead was progressively trimmed down by the whole Movistar team, who led the chase for most of the last 40 kms. With 20 kms to go, Haussler crashed for the third time but it was more serious this time as the points leader’s victory hopes vanished.
Kroon was reeled after a 120 kms break (Km 202) and Di Gregorio lifted the gauntlet as his team-mate Robert Kiserlovski was crashing at the back. He maintained a lead of under 20 seconds and kept the peloton at bay until the finish line. Tony Martin retained his overall lead with 26 seconds over Kloeden and 41 seconds over Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky).
The 69th Paris-Nice concludes Sunday with the traditional 124km finishing route over the spectacular Cat. 1 Col d’Eze, starting and ending on the Promenade des Anglais along Nice’s beachfront on the Cote d’Azur.
Here’s how Francois Lemarchand describes the final day of racing: “The first part of the stage has been modified with respect to previous editions, but riders will still have the chance to give it their all on the climbs up the Côte de Duranus, the Col du Chateauneuf and finally the Col de Calaïson, where the brave will have their shot at glory. Then, the pack will return to Nice through La Turbie and the Col d’Eze, with a tense descent and a long straight before the finish line next to the sea.”
- 1. Rémy Di Gregorio, Pro Team Astana, 5:46:23
- 2. Samuel Sanchez, Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 00:05
- 3. Rigoberto Uran, Sky Procycling, at 00:05
- 4. Andréas Klöden, Team Radioshack, at 00:07
- 5. Tony Martin, Htc-Highroad, at 00:07
- 1. Tony Martin, Htc-Highroad, 30:46:17
- 2. Andréas Klöden, Team Radioshack, at 00:36
- 3. Bradley Wiggins, Sky Procycling, at 00:41
- 4. Rein Taaramae, Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne, at 01:10
- 5. Jean-Christophe Peraud, Ag2r La Mondiale, at 01:21