Germany’s John Degenkolb of the Giant-Shimano team won a sprint finish to the third stage of Paris-Nice at Magny-Cours on Tuesday and took the overall race lead at the same time.
Degenkolb powered home on the 180km stage from Tourcy ahead of Australian Matthew Goss and Jose Joaquin Rojas of Spain.
Time bonuses allowed Degenkolb to snare the leader’s jersey from Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni, the winner of the opening stage, who could finish only seventh this time around.
The FDJ rider trails Degenkolb, who finished second on the first two stages, by eight seconds, with Dutchman Moreno Hofland, the second stage winner but 10th this time, in third overall place at 12 seconds.
“It’s a big success for the team. It didn’t work the first two days, [but] the team did a perfect job, we showed we have the best train,” Degenkolb said.
“I’m proud to have finished off the work. I’d already raced and won on a [motor-racing] circuit, at the Vuelta. When we got onto the circuit we controlled the situation perfectly, there were no nerves,” he added.
Degenkolb actually won five stages of the Vuelta in 2012.
Three Frenchman made it into the day’s breakaway in the “Race to the Sun,” but the peloton never allowed Romain Feillu, Julien Fouchard and Perrig Quemeneur more than three minutes’ advantage.
Quemeneur dropped his two companions with 11km left and entered the Magny-Cours Formula One circuit 4.5km from home with a 30-second lead.
However, the peloton was not to be denied on the sweeping curves of the racing track and gobbled him up with 2km left, after which it was up to the sprinters.
Yesterday’s stage was a bumpy 201.5km from Nevers to Belleville, with four categorized climbs and two intermediate sprints.
“Tomorrow [yesterday] looks like a [one-day] classic, it looks like it goes up and down the whole time,” said Degenkolb, who was feeling confident ahead of the stage.
“I’m not a pure sprinter, I don’t have their speed and explosiveness. But with such a strong team as mine and with experience I can win a race like Paris-Nice. I am first and foremost a classics rider,” he added.
According to Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, the final climb 15km from the end of the fourth stage, the Brouilly with an average 8.4 percent gradient over 3km, but with a steep 25 percent section right before the summit, will be the decisive moment in the race.
“That will be the key moment of Paris-Nice,” he said. “Positioning will be decisive, After that the road drops very quickly down to Bellevile and it will be very difficult to get back [if you’ve been dropped].”