14 March, 2014
Stage 6, 153km, Saint-Saturnin-lès-Avignon - Fayence
BETANCUR seizes control as the race reaches its climax
With the Mediterranean just a salt-tinged gust of wind away Carlos Betancur wrested control of the Paris-Nice from Sky's Thomas Geraint.
The Colombian had emerged to save a nightmare stage for his AG2R team the previous day in Rive-de-Gier and this time crowned an immaculate team effort to seize the reins from Welshman Thomas, who limited the damage by finishing fourth at the top of the steep final ascent overlooking Fayence. Bentancur has an eight second lead of the Sky rider with two days to go.
The other stage honours went to world champion Alberto Rui Costa, pipped on the line by Betancur, and now third overall, 18 seconds adrift, while Czech Zdenek Stybar was third.
The peloton set off without Simon Gerrans (OGE), who pulled out after falling ill. After several unsuccessful attempts, Sylvain Chavanel (IAM), who had promised to "blow up the race", kept his promise by attacking with seven other riders.
The Frenchman quickly found himself on his own and and managed to add four uncontested points to his polka-dot jersey on Cote de Bonnieux (Km 36.5) before winning the first intermediate sprint in Lourmarin (Km 45.5). In the same sprint, John Degenkolb (GIA) collected a two-seconds bonus, coming back within a second of race leader Geraint Thomas (SKY).
Ten on the move
With a major part of his day's targats met Chavanel stopped his effort for the while. Several attacks followed and just before km 68, ten men finally broke clear. They were Stephen Cummings (BMC), Jens Keukeleire (OGE), Mattia Cattaneo (LAM), Pim Ligthart (LTB), Giovanni Bernaudeau (EUC), Gregory Rast (TFR), Aleksandr Kuchynski (KAT), Adrien Petit (COF), Alessandro De Marchi (CAN) and Florian Vachon (BSE). Their lead topped at 3:15 after 99 kms. By the Cote des Tuilieres (km 164.5), the gap had been cut down to one minute as Chavanel and Thomas Voeckler (EUC) counter-attacked. The two Frenchmen caught the break at kilometre 169.
Battle of Bourigaille
While Chavanel collected four more points on Cote du Mont Meaulx (km 180), the main pack, spearheaded by AG2R and Team Sky riders, steadily bridged the gap on a group gradually losing elements. At the foot of Col de Bourigaille, only Chavanel, Voeckler, Ligthart and De Marchi were left in the break. The polka-dot jersey holder insisted but was caught then dropped by Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R) and Jose Serpa (LAM) at kilometre 198. The peloton regrouped on the 200-km mark as Chavanel and Andy Schleck (TFR) lost ground irreversibly.
Stephan Denifl (IAM) was first at the top of the first category ascent, followed by Vuillermoz, Frank Schleck (TFR), Przemyslaw Niemec (LAM), Yury Trofimov (KAT) and Eduardo Sepulveda (BSE). But the six were brought back in the descent.
With 10 km left, Damiano Caruso (CAN) and Dries Devenyns (GIA) launched a new brave attempt, quashed by a jittery Vincenzo Nibali (AST) who later paid his efforts in the final climb. Betancur's AG2R team-mates seized the reins in the finale and sent Vuillermoz scouting the terrain for Betancur. But the Frenchman was unlucky to crash in a turn before the final kilometer while stage 4 winner Tom-Jelte Slagter was stopped by a mechanical as he was still in contention. World champion Rui Costa surged under the red flame to go for stage victory but could not get rid of Betancur, who took his wheel and overtook him on the line for his second stage win, crowned by a yellow jersey. Already winner of the Tour du Haut-Var in the same region, the Colombian will now be tough to topple