SAINT VAILLON, France (VN) — Friday could see an American duel up the steady steeps on Montagne de Lure as Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) are poised to square off in Friday’s decisive Paris-Nice mountaintop showdown.
Talansky coolly fended off challengers in Thursday’s lumpy fourth stage to defend yellow, despite having no friendly Garmin jerseys over two second-category climbs in the final hour of racing. Van Garderen took notice.
Van Garderen, 12th at 16 seconds back, believes the race is still up for grabs.
“I feel good. It’s better to be up 16 seconds than down 16 seconds. It’s still a pretty tight race,” van Garderen told VeloNews. “It will come down to tomorrow and Col d’Eze.”
BMC Racing had the numbers Thursday, but strong headwinds tamped down the aggression before Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) darted to the win out of the lead, 37-rider group.
Van Garderen, fifth overall in 2012, promised to make his move for the GC, despite having compatriot Talansky in the leader’s jersey.
“Andrew is riding phenomenally and he’s a tenacious competitor,” van Garderen said. “I am happy for him, but at the same time, not that happy for him, because I still want it.”
So do quite a few others. There are still 23 riders within 58 seconds of Talansky, though that is sure to change in the 176km, six-climb stage across Provence on Friday.
Richie Porte (Sky), poised in seventh at seven seconds adrift, believes the Lure summit will reshuffle the cards.
“Talansky kept his cool brilliantly today; he didn’t have many teammates around him,” Porte told VeloNews. “Tomorrow is going to be the decisive day. It won’t decide everything with Col d’Eze still there, but I think it might be a bit hard to control.”
The GC is still tightly strung going into Friday’s first-category summit finale up the Lure climb (13.8km at 6.6 percent) as Talansky defended his three-second lead over Andriy Grivko (Astana).
Another favorite is 2012 runner-up Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), who was second to Bradley Wiggins last year by just eight seconds.
Westra, however, has had two rough days. In Wednesday’s wet finale, which Talansky won to snag yellow, he had to desperately chase alone to regain contact with the lead chasers after having to change bikes in the final 10km. On Thursday, he overcooked a corner and was forced yet again to close the gap alone.
Westra, sixth overall at six seconds back, expects everything to come down to the Col d’Eze time trial, where he gave up just two seconds to Wiggins last year. He knows if he can stay close up the Lure, he’s in with a shot to win the overall Sunday.
“It’s not so easy to think to win because there are a lot of strong guys here,” Westra told VeloNews. “I want to defend my position going into Col d’Eze. I hope not to lose time and have a bit of revenge because I was close to winning last year.”
There are plenty of other riders who could ride away Friday, including Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale), ninth at 13 seconds, or Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff), 15th at 17 seconds.
“This is one of the races I’ve targeted for my own GC chances, because I know I will be working for Contador at the Tour,” Roche told VeloNews. “The condition is good. Lure will be important because it should help settle the GC before Col d’Eze.”
Other riders who’ve lost time on GC, such as Robert Gesink (Blanco) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), are sure to attack for the stage win, something that could complicate things for the GC contenders. And with Garmin fielding a team short on climbers, Talansky knows he will have to fend for himself while BMC Racing and Sky are sure to throw down attacks of their own.
Talansky handled his first full day in the yellow jersey with panache. Garmin kept Talansky safely tucked out of the wind before he took over on climbs up two short, but steep second-category ramps. After Thursday’s lumpy stage, he said the final assault up Lure would almost come as a relief.
“I think tomorrow, once we get to the final climb, is one of the more simple days. Today was more complicated,” he said. “When you get to the final climb of a race, the stress just goes away. You give everything. That’s what I will do tomorrow and we’ll see what that means.”
Talansky looked comfortable responding to attacks and countering moves late Thursday, despite having no teammates in the complicated finale.
Friday’s 176km stage features five climbs before riders arive to the Lure climb (13.8km at 6.6 percent). Talansky’s never ridden it, but he’s read up on what he’s facing tomorrow to defend yellow.
“I’ve looked at the profile, beyond that, I do not know it. I know that when [Alberto Contador won it in 2009], I know his time and power numbers. It’s a 35-minute climb. It’s a real climb,” he said. “There are two time trials left; tomorrow is the first one. I am looking forward to it.”