Garmin-Sharp’s Tom-Jelte Slagter took a bit of revenge Saturday at Paris-Nice, winning his second stage of the race and helping ease the sting of a late-race mechanical, caused by another rider on Friday, which derailed his podium ambitions.
A winner in Belleville on stage 4, Slagter won the seventh and penultimate stage of Paris-Nice, an uphill sprint, ahead of world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and yellow jersey holder Carlos Betancur (ag2r La Mondiale).
“Like I said after winning the first stage, I can’t believe it,” Slagter said. “Today is maybe even better. Yesterday I lost everything. It was really hard, I could have gone top five in GC, and it all disappeared. But today, everything is okay again. It’s incredible.”
Sky’s Geraint Thomas, second overall at the start from Mougins, lost seven minutes after a hard fall 5km from the finish line.
Betancur now leads Costa by 14 seconds ahead of a tough final 128km stage, which includes five climbs in Provence before arriving in Nice. Czech rider Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) sits third overall, 26 seconds down.
From the flag, six riders escaped from the bunch: Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Pim Ligthart (Lotto-Belisol), Laurent Didier (Trek Factory Racing), Sylvester Szmyd (Movistar), Albert Timmer (Giant-Shimano) and Florian Guillou (Bretagne-Seche).
They were immediately chased by Mathias Frank (IAM Cycling), Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Seche), Marco Marcato (Cannondale), Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) and briefly by Amael Moinard (BMC Racing). Marcato was dropped from the chasing group, others caught the break, and nine men forged on together. Frank was the top-ranked rider on GC, 13:32 down on Betancur.
Despite the best efforts of Frank, trying to save the polka-dot jersey of his IAM team leader Sylvain Chavanel, Ligthart was first on the first category pass overlooking Vence, and again at the top of Cote de Cipieres. As the break lost Feillu, Ligthart again earned 10 points on Col de l’Ecre, and four more on the second passage of Cote de Cipieres. He finally collected the full 32 points on offer to seize the polka-dot jersey with 41 points.
As the peloton was catching most of the break, Westra pulled away on his own to pick two bonus seconds ahead of Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar). Betancur could only watch from a distance. Another break slipped away with Chavanel, Alessandro de Marchi (Cannondale) and Fabio Felline (Trek Factory Racing). At the front of the bunch, ag2r kept a close watch, helped by Europcar, and none of the late moves made any substantial ground.
The most dangerous moved escaped with 25km to go, and included Chavanel, Felline, Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp), Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), John Gadret (Movistar), Yuri Trofimov (Katusha), Angel Mate (Cofidis) and Nicki Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo). However, that move was also reeled in.
With 4.5km to go, Sky’s Thomas, the race leader for two days, crashed heavily with Franck Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) and Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ). The Welshman made it back on his bike but lost more than seven minutes with a suspected collarbone injury.
At the front, ag2r squashed attempts by Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Dries Devenyns (Giant-Shimano) to break clear.
Sprinters John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and Bryan Coquard (Europcar) could not keep match the tempo, and the battle on the line was again between the strong men. Slagter proved just a bit too fast for Rui Costa, second for the fifth time so far in 2014, while Betancur salvaged third place to easily defend yellow.
“It was another difficult day for us,” said Betancur. “I know that I’m close to victory but it’s still a dream.”
If Betancur hangs on, he will become the first Colombian to win Paris-Nice.