Colombian rider Carlos Betancur of the AG2R La Mondiale team won the sixth stage of the Paris-Nice on Friday to take the leader’s jersey two stages before the race is set to finish today.
It was the second straight stage win for Betancur, who overtook Portuguese world champion Rui Costa in the last 100m on a steep summit finish.
Czech rider Zdenek Stybar crossed in third 3 seconds behind the leader and ahead of Britain’s Geraint Thomas, who had been wearing the leader’s yellow jersey.
With a 10 second time bonus for winning the stage, Betancur wiped out the 5 second deficit to Thomas that he began the day with and turned it into an 8 second lead.
However, Betancur did not sound confident that he would be able to hold on until the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.
“That was a long stage, there were a lot of kilometers and I had to wait until the end,” he said. “In the overall standings there are a lot of riders close to me, and I’m starting to feel the fatigue.”
Costa was delighted to have finally been able to show his hand and demonstrate his victory potential.
“Congratulations to Betancur. I saw the finish nearing and I knew I’d gained a good advantage, but Carlos pulled off a very tough comeback,” he said. “It was only with great legs that he managed to beat me.”
The final climb was a gruelling 1,200m with a 10 percent gradient after the 221.5km stage.
French rider Alexis Vuillermoz attacked on the final ramp, with Dutchman Tom-Jelte Slagter and Costa setting off in hot pursuit, while Betancur slipped in behind the world champion.
Vuillermoz, Betancur’s AG2R teammate, saw his victory hopes dashed as he fell on the final bend, while Slagter suffered a mechanical problem as he tried to avoid the fallen Frenchman, ruining his chances of a stage win and an overall success.
Slagter had begun the day in third overall at just 4 seconds behind the leader, but his bad luck cost him 1 minute 34 seconds and all realistic chance of victory in Nice as he finished 39th on the stage.
Costa seemed set to benefit as he showed his hand for the first time in this race, only for Betancur to pass him in the finale.
Betancur had said on Thursday following his victory on the fifth stage that he felt Friday’s stage would be the decisive one, and so it proved for many riders.
One such rider was Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali, who had attacked on the descent of the Col de Bourigaille in the final 20km, but then lacked the legs on the final climb and lost 41 seconds as he came in 35th.
One surprise package was Spaniard Jose Joaquin Rojas, who kept in touch with the leaders and finished the stage in 14th, just 11 seconds back, to maintain fifth place overall.
Costa moved up to third at 18 seconds, with Stybar fourth at 22 seconds.
Yesterday’s seventh stage was to cover 195.5km between Mougins and Biot Sophia Antipolis, including five climbs.