Dutchman Tom-Jelte Slagter won a sprint finish to win the fourth stage of the Paris-Nice on Wednesday, but breakaway companion Geraint Thomas is the new overall leader.
Garmin’s Slagter edged out Britain’s Thomas in a sprint finish at the end of the 201.5km stage from Nevers to Belleville, with Dutchman Wilco Kelderman coming home third five seconds later.
“I thought I’d be in good shape for this stage, but not that good,” a beaming Slagter said. “The aim is still the overall standings. It’s the first day where it moved, now there are four more.”
Sky’s Thomas now leads the overall standings by three seconds from previous leader John Degenkolb of Giant-Shimano, continuing the British team’s recent domination of this race.
Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 edition before going on to win the Tour de France, while Richie Porte triumphed last year.
Porte would have led Sky this time around as well, but was shifted over to the Tirreno-Adriatico race at the last moment when Tour de France titleholder Chris Froome had to pull out of that race due to a bad back, meaning Thomas was promoted to team leader in the “race to the sun.”
“It’s incredible, I didn’t know I’d be team leader until Friday, after Richie pulled out,” a delighted Thomas said.
“I trained really well, but to be honest, I hadn’t planned on attacking on the final climb. I was even asking myself what I was doing there! Paris-Nice is a great fixture on the calendar after the big tours. Last Friday I’d have never dreamed of wearing the yellow jersey,” he added.
The day began with a four-man breakaway featuring Italy’s Valerio Agnoli, Spaniard Jesus Herrada, Luxembourg’s Laurent Didier and Frenchman Perrig Quemeneur, but they were caught with 18km left.
Soon afterwards, former Tour Down Under winner Slagter made his move on the tough Mont Brouilly, with Thomas eventually joining him on the technical, winding descent just after the summit.
The pair held off a disorganized 30-strong chase group — despite the best efforts of Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali and Frenchman Romain Bardet — all the way to the finish, while German Degenkolb dropped into the second chase group.
That proved crucial, as he came home 18 seconds behind and lost his grip on the leader’s jersey.
Nibali now finds himself 19 seconds off the overall lead, alongside world champion Rui Costa, who struggled on the Brouilly climb, but managed to hang onto the coat-tails of the 30-strong chase group.
The big loser of the day, though, was Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, who came home 57 seconds down, effectively seeing his overall hopes go up in smoke.