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One day after dropping his chain while leading the stage, Slagter took his revenge by beating Costa and Betancur in an uphill sprint while Thomas lost all hopes of overall victory due to a bad crash; Betancur defended his lead

Photo: Sirotti

AG2R CITROEN TEAM

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CARLOS ALBERTO BETANCUR

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EF EDUCATION - EASYPOST

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RUI ALBERTO FARIA DA COSTA

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TOM-JELTE SLAGTER

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15.03.2014 @ 17:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Yesterday Tom Jelte-Slagter (Garmin-Sharp) saw his hopes of overall victory in Paris-Nice being crushed when he dropped his chain inside the final kilometre of the queen stage but today he took the best possible revenge. The Dutchman beat Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) in the uphill sprint that ended a very dramatic stage that saw Geraint Thomas (Sky) have a bad crash that ruined all hopes of overall victory.

 

The last two days could not have been more different for Tom-Jelte Slagter.

 

Yesterday he was clearly one of the strongest riders in the Paris-Nice and was well-positioned to take another stage win and challenge for the overall victory when he had launched a powerful attack and was leading the race in the queen stage. A dropped chain at the worst possible time took away not only his potential stage win but also saw him lose so much time that all dreams of an overall win had been dashed.

 

Today he took the best possible revenge when he won his second stage of the race by launching a powerful sprint on the uphill finishing straight in Biot at the end of the penultimate stage. He easily held off Rui Costa and Carlos Betancur who were left to battle for the minor positions and the remaining seconds behind the superior Dutchman.

 

The sprint came at the end of a very aggressive stage where a rolling and very tough finishing circuit made things very difficult to control for Betancur's Ag2r team. Constant attacks were launched on the many small climbs that littered the course but the French team proved how far it has come by excellently keeping everything in check and never letting a dangerous break get more than a 15-second gap.

 

In the end, Lampre-Merida gave them a hand as they wanted to set Costa up for the win and so all attacks were doomed for failure. It was all set to be decided in the uphill sprint on the 2km climb to the finish.

 

Another unfortunate rider from yesterday's stage Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) who broke his wheel at the bottom of the final climb, launched a long sprint but Slagter was always in a good position, ready to strike. When he finally put down the hammer, no one got close to the young Dutchman and not even Costa and Betancur were any match to his speed.

 

The race took a dramatic turn 4km from the finish when previous leader Geraint Thomas (Sky) crashed hard on a descent. The Brit was able to finish the stage but lost more than 5 minutes and so is now out of GC contention.

 

This means than Costa moves from 3rd to 2nd and is now Betancur's biggest rival. Due to bonus seconds, the gap between the two leading riders is down to 14 seconds with one stage remaining while Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) moves into third.

 

Betancur now only need to defend his lead in tomorrow's final stage but the short 128km stage starting and finishing in Nice is a tough affair. The riders will tackle five big climbs, with the final one, the Col d'Eze, coming just 15km from the line. From there it is downhill almost all the way to the finish on the famous Promenade d'Anglais.

 

A hilly stage

After yesterday's queen stage, the race continued with another hilly affair that took the riders over 195.5km from Mougins to Biot Sophia Antipolis. The first part of the stage was very hilly and contained, five categorized climbs, including two of the first category, and the race ended with two laps on a hilly 19km finishing circuit that ended with a 2km climb to the finish.

 

For the seventh day in a row, the riders took off under beautiful sunshine, with no non-starters after yesterday's very demanding queen stage. Today's race was widely expected to be suited to a breakaway and so most were prepared for a fierce battle at the start of the race.

 

The break goes from the gun

Surprisingly, the break that stuck was initiated right from the gun. Laurent Didier (Trek) attacked as soon as the flag was dropped and he was joined by Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Pim Ligthart (Lotto Belisol), Sylwester Szmyd (Movistar), Albert Timmer (Giant-Shimano) and Florian Guillou Bretagne) to form a six-rider group.

 

However, it was no easy task for the six riders to get a significant gap as the pace was hard for the first hour, with the peloton being in fierce pursuit as several teams had missed out. Mathias Frank (IAM), Marco Marcato (Cannondale), Brice Feillu (Bretagne), Amael Moinard (BMC), and Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) took off in pursuit and after 4km of racing, they were 15 seconds behind the leaders while the peloton was at 32 seconds.

 

Moinard is dropped

At the 10km mark, it got too tough for Moinard who fell back to the bunch. At this point, the peloton had decided to slow down a bit and the gap had come up to 1.30.

 

However, the lead group didn't wait for their chasers who continued to lose group. At the 19km mark, they were 45 seconds behind while the peloton had now given up and was at 4.25.

 

Marcato falls off the pace

Marcato fell off the pace in the chase group and was soon back in the peloton while up ahead, Ligthart beat Guillou and Didier in the first intermediate sprint. At that point the gap was 5.40 and the Ag2r team of race leader Carlos Betancur had now started to control the situation.

 

On the slopes of the big Col de Vence climb, the three chasers managed to close the final part of the gap to make it a 9-rider front group. At the top, Frank tried to beat Ligthart in the KOM sprint to protect the mountains jersey of his teammate Sylvain Chavanel but he failed, meaning that Ligthart was now only 1 point behind Chavanel in the virtual standings. Guillou, Didier, Timmer, Westra, and Feillu were the next across the line in that order. At the top, the gap was a stable 5.35.

 

Ligthart scores more points

On the next climb, the Cote de Cipieres, Ligthart again beat Frank to score another 3 points, meaning that he was now the virtual leader of the KOM classification. This time Feillu was 3rd while the peloton had brought the gap down to 4 minutes.

 

Ag2r continued to chase in the peloton and at the 75km mark, they had the gap down to just 3.20. Meanwhile, the escapees had started to climb the category 1 Col de l'Ecre where Feillu paid the price for his hard chase effort earlier in the stage and fell off the pace.

 

Feillu is caught

Feillu quickly lost ground and he was quickly brought back by the main group. Meanwhile, Ligthart again took maximum points on the climb, followed by Frank, Didier, Westra, Szmyd, Guillou, and Timmer.

 

On the next climb, Ligthart was again first ahead of Frank and Szmyd, meaning that he now had a comfortable lead in the mountains classification.

 

Three teams lead the chase

Behind, Ag2r had got assistance in the chase from Belkin and Europcar and for a long time the work was done by Sebastien Turgot (Ag2r), Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar), Giovanni Bernaudeau (Europcar), and Maarten Wynants (Belkin). The quartet worked well together to steadily bring down the gap which was only 1.55 when Ligthart beat Frank, Westra, Lemoine, and Timmer on the final climb.

 

Europcar were really keen to bring the break back as they had missed the move and they hammered down the long descent to the finish in Biot. Thor Hushovd (BMC), however, showed his excellent descending skills by briefly moving ahead, drawing clear a small trio that soon sat up to wait for the peloton.

 

The break starts to attack each other

With 47km to go, the gap was down to 20 seconds, and the escapees decided to sit up. However, Didier changed his mind and made a small attack that was closed down by Ligthart.

 

Lemoine countered the move and he was joined by Westra and Guillou to form a front trio. While Jan Bakelants (OPQS) was now leading the peloton, Lemoine made another attack but instead it was the counterattack from Westra that was the right one.

 

Westra is off on his own

While Westra powered clear, all his former companions were caught while Bakelants and Alessandro Vanotti (Astana) made the first attempts from the peloton. Europcar was still leading the peloton as Westra managed to reopen his gap to 20 seconds.

 

At the bottom of the final climb to the finish that would signal the start of the first lap of the circuit, Giant-Shimano hit the front with Dries Devenyns, Reinardt Van Rensburg, and John Degenkolb as they wanted to score a few points for the green jersey worn by Degenkolb. Behind, riders started to fall off, with Tyler Farrar being one of the first riders to throw in the towel.

 

A battle for bonus seconds

Westra just managed to hold off the sprint for the points and bonus seconds and so crossed the line in first position. Costa beat Rojas, Betancur, Stybar, and Thomas to score 2 seconds while Rojas had to be content with one.

 

A small group containing Stybar, Thomas, Rojas, Betancur and Costa had formed and as David Lopez joined from behind, Costa tried to convince his companions to cooperate. However, there was no cohesion and so Lopez took off on his own while the rest were swallowed up.

 

Ag2r take control

Ag2r assumed their position on the front of the peloton with Sebastien Minard and they now prepared to defend themselves against a flurry of attacks. Stijn Vandenbergh (OPQS), Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), and Romain Zingle (Cofidis) bridged across to Lopez and they were later joined by Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Sylvain Chavanel (IAM), Hushovd, and Andre Cardoso (Garmin).

 

The undulating was perfect for attacks and De Marchi decided to take off on his own. Meanwhile, Maxime Monfort (Lotto), Francesco Gavazzi (Astana), and Lars Petter Nordhaug (Belkin) and later also Fabio Felline (Trek) joined the group.

 

Constant attacks

De Marchi was brought back and the escapees kept attacking each other while Minard still led the peloton. Nordhaug, De Marchi, Felline, Lopez, and Zingle got clear but the former was unfortunate to puncture out of the group.

 

Riders were constantly dropping off an bridging across and suddenly a group with Bakelants, Chavanel, Felline, Yury Trofimov (Katusha), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), John Gadret (Movistar), Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), and Alex Howes (Garmin) had formed. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) tried to bridge across but instead the rider to succeed was his teammate Nicki Sørensen.

 

Europcar start to chase

The group build up a 15-second gap, forcing Europcar to get back to the front as they had again missed the move. Voeckler swapped turns with Samuel Dumoulin and Minard as they tried to bring things back together.

 

The escapees started to attack each other on the climb to the finish, with Gadret being the first to take off. It got back together but Gasparotto fell off the pace.

 

Cherel ups the pace

Behind, Ag2r clearly upped the pace, with Mikael Cherel setting a fierce pace that saw the peloton splinter to pieces behind him. Gadret gave it another go but was passed by Felline who crossed the line to start the final lap as the lone leader.

 

Behind, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) launched an attack that prompted a reaction from all the GC riders, meaning that everything came back together just after the passage of the line. Garmin tried to take control to set things up for Slagter but the attacking continued.

 

A new group is formed

Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol) was the first to attack and he was joined by Majka and the Lampre duo of Jose Serpa and Przemyslaw Niemiec, Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE), Alex Howes (Garmin), and Sebastien Reichenbach (IAM), Amael Moinard (BMC), and Egor Silin (Katusha). Behind, however, Cherel was riding excellently and brought things back together with 15km to go.

 

Serpa and Welles tried to escape and were followed by George Bennett (Cannondale) and Cardoso but Romain Bardet closed it down for Ag2r. The next to take off was Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) as Betancur now only had Bardet and Alexis Vuillermoz left for support.

 

Lampre take control

Gavazzi got a nice gap but now Lampre decided to take things into their own hands. Niemiec and Serpa hit the front and the dup brought back Gavazzi.

 

Chavanel tried to attack on the descent but he had no success either as Niemiec and Serpa were setting a fierce pace. That finally put an end to the attacking, with the Lampre duo setting the pace to the bottom of the final climb.

 

Thomas goes down

Just before they reached that points, however, a crash brought down Thomas, Frank Schleck, and Arnold Jeannesson. While the latter two were quickly back on their bikes, it took some time for Thomas to get going.

 

When Serpa and Niemiec ended their work, Bardet took over the pace-setting. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) was the first to attack but as he didn't get a real gap, he decided to wait for the peloton.

 

Devenyns takes off

Dries Devenyns (Giant-Shimano) now gave it a go and stayed clear until the flamme rouge where he was brought back by the peloton, led by Vuillermoz. The Frenchman ended his work and left it to Bardet to lead out Betancur.

 

Nibali and Ion Izagirre attacked but the duo were passed by Slagter and Arthur Vichot. Movistar brought it back together, only for Peter Velits (BMC) to launch the next attack. The BMC rider didn't get clear but opened the door for Kelderman to launch a long sprint. In the end, however, not one had any match to Slagter's impressive turn of speed.

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