Carlos Betancur claimed the 152.5km fifth stage of the Paris-Nice on Thursday, but Geraint Thomas did enough to hang on to the leader’s yellow jersey.
Colombian Betancur, of the AG2R team, was part of a three-man breakaway that opened a gap on the peloton 9km from home and he proved strongest in the sprint to the line, with Bob Jungels of Luxembourg taking second and Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang third at the end of the stage from Creches-sur-Saone to Rive-de-Gier, France.
“I knew it would be quite a hard stage, the last climb suited me quite well and I knew the final descent,” the winner said. “In a three-man sprint I had a good chance. I’m pretty good when it’s a small group. I still need to lose weight, but I’ve got power.”
However, the fast-finishing peloton limited the deficit to just two seconds, meaning Betancur came up five seconds short of snatching yellow from Britain’s Thomas.
At one point the leading trio had a 10 second gap, which would have been enough to propel Betancur into yellow.
Betancur moved up to fourth in the overall standings, while Fuglsang was sixth, 13 seconds back.
Germany’s John Degenkolb, the stage three winner, is second, 3 seconds back, while stage four winner Tom-Jelte Slagter of the Netherlands is a second further back in third.
Betancur believes the sixth stage, the longest of the race taking the peloton over 221.5km from Saint-Saturnin-les-Avignon to Fayence, is made for him.
“I think Paris-Nice can be won on the next stage,” Betancur said. “The arrival at Fayence is good for me, so I hope to be having a good day.”
However, Thomas said is looking more to Astana duo Vincenzo Nibali and Fuglsang as his main threats.
“They have two cards to play and I can’t chase after everyone,” the Sky Procycling rider said.
With four climbs in the final 60km, the stage promises to be key to an overall “Race to the Sun” victory.
On Thursday, five riders, including Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel whose overall hopes ended on Wednesday when he lost almost a minute, made the main breakaway of the day, but they were reeled in with 20km remaining.
Giro d’Italia champion Nibali was next to try his luck at the end of the final climb, but Thomas reacted and chased him down, ensuring he was right on the Astana rider’s wheel when the technical descent — Nibali’s forte — began after the summit.
As Nibali let up, though, Betancur attacked with only Jungels and Fuglsang managing to respond.
“I knew Vincenzo would attack, especially on the descent, so it wasn’t a surprise,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to control everyone because a lot of riders are fighting for the overall victory.”
Thomas said is not expecting to be wearing yellow come the final two stages at the weekend.
“A lot can happen tomorrow [Friday]. It’s a very long stage and I’d be surprised if I was still in the same place [come the end],” he said.
AP, CASCINA, Italy
Matteo Pelucchi timed his sprint perfectly to win the second stage of the week-long Tirreno-Adriatico on Thursday, while Mark Cavendish retained the overall lead.
Pelucchi edged Arnaud Demare and Andre Greipel after making his move 100m from the end of the 166km stage from San Vincenzo to Cascina, Italy, for the biggest victory of his career.
Cavendish finished a disappointing 17th, but remained in the overall lead after he and his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team won a time trial to open the race on Wednesday.