Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) won the sixth stage of Paris-Nice on Friday and now leads the race with two stages left.
Reigning world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) was second and Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took third in the 221.5-kilometer stage that brought the riders from Saint-Saturnin-lès-Avignon to Fayence.
Betancur, who also won Thursday’s stage 5, has an eight-second lead over previous race leader Geraint Thomas (Sky). Costa sits in third at 18 seconds back.
With 2.5km remaining, Ag2r took up position at the front of the peloton as it chased down a small group of leaders. Betancur was four wheels back and rode in his teammates’ slipstream until they pulled off on the Cat. 2 finishing climb.
Betancur and Costa dueled on the final section of the ascent, which measured 1,200 meters at a 10 percent gradient, before the former was able to cross the line first. Both finished with the same time.
Frenchman Alexis Vuillermoz, one of Betancur’s teammates, was in the lead with under a kilometer left when he crashed around a tight turn, ending his chances of finishing on the podium.
Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp) was also a victim of bad luck, as he suffered a mechanical in the final kilometers that put him out of contention for the win.
A day of attacks
The stage featured several attacks and counter-attacks throughout, starting with an eight-rider break early in the race. That group was caught, but it not deter several others from giving it a go.
The two most notable riders to find themselves in a break — at least for the home fans — were Frenchmen Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar). They joined a group at the front of the race 162km into the stage but eventually dropped back.
With 25km remaining, two riders remained out front with a 20-second lead: Vuillermoz and Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida). They were joined by four others, including Frank Schleck (Trek Factory Racing), as the peloton navigated a fast descent ahead of the uphill finish. Vuillermoz had a chance to earn a top result before his crash.
Action continues with Saturday’s stage 7, a 196km route from Mougins to Biot Sophia Antipolis.