Vacansoleil rider Lieuwe Westra lodged a surprise attack above Mende Thursday to take the stage 5 win at Paris-Nice.
Westra slipped off the front of an elite selection of overall favorites high up on the Cat. 1 La Croix Neuve climb to take the stage and edge into contention with three days remaining in “The Race to the Sun.”
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) nipped overall leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) for second on the stage.
Wiggins retained his overall lead with Westra second, at six seconds, and Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) third, at 10 seconds.
Movistar and Team Sky shared the workload to pull in the day’s long breakaway over the final half of the 178.5km stage before Richie Porte (Sky) set a blistering pace onto the 3km finish climb.
Wiggins, Leipheimer and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) tucked tightly behind Porte’s wheel, but Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma), fourth overall, dropped off the pace halfway up the 10.5-percent climb.
Porte peeled off the front of the lead group 1km from the finish and Wiggins pushed the pacing, putting van Garderen into difficulty. At the same time, Westra eased into what quickly became a sharp attack. Realizing he had a gap, Westra pushed hard over the final 500 meters, Wiggins’ yellow jersey buried deep over his handlebars in pursuit.
Westra’s six-second winning margin plus bonus time for wining the stage pushed the Dutch rider into second overall, six seconds behind Wiggins (Sky), who finished third on the stage behind Valverde. Valverde now sits fourth overall, 18 seconds behind Wiggins.
The day’s biggest GC victim was American Tejay van Garderen, who lost contact with the race leaders on the 10-percent gradient slopes of the Croix-Neuve climb and finished 12th, 24 seconds behind Wiggins. Van Garderen, who started the day third overall, 11 seconds adrift, now sits sixth overall, 39 seconds down from the race lead.