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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, March 14, 2016

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories | Commentary

It's paradoxical, that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn't appeal to anyone. - Andy Rooney

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Paris-Nice news

The 2016 Paris-Nice is in the books. Alberto Contador made a desperate attack in the final stage, but with a daredevil descent Geraint Thomas was able to save his GC lead by just four seconds. Here are the team reports:

Here's Tinkoff's:

The day after Alberto Contador blew the race wide open, it was all going to come down to the final stage in the mountains in Paris-Nice. After an aggressive, attacking ride, which saw Alberto finishing second on the stage in the final day, and taking eleven seconds from the race leader, Alberto finished second in the GC, just four seconds off the eventual winner.

On its final day, the outcome of the Race to the Sun was completely open. Ahead of a 134km stage that saw the race pass over six categorised climbs, the last two of which were first category, Alberto Contador was 15 seconds behind the race leader, and had his eye firmly on the win.

An early breakaway put Tinkoff riders, Kiserlovski and Trofimov, in the break, and at the foot of the Cote de Peille, 50km from the finish, Contador attacked to bridge the gap, forming a chasing group. With Team Sky chasing hard on the descent of the Cote de Peille, it was all going to come down to the Col d’Eze and the descent into Nice.

“It was a tough stage.” said Sport Director, Sean Yates, summing up the day. “We had two guys in the break – Yuri and Robert. Alberto attacked hard and opened up a gap and our guys waited. From there it was a descent down to Nice then the Col d'Eze.”

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador attacks

After a fast and furious descent into the city, Alberto was second across the line on the final stage. In spite of having taken 11 seconds from the race leader, the Spanish rider had to settle for second spot on the GC.

“Our strategy today was executed perfectly today.” said Alberto at the finish. “We managed to have riders in the breakaway, just like we wanted, in order to make it tougher. We then split the peloton when I attacked so that they waited for me at the top. That also played out the way we wanted.”

Yates echoed Alberto’s comments. “The bunch was blown to pieces. Majka sat on the chase and then picked up the pace on the Col d'Eze. Alberto went again and bridged across. We made the race and gave it everything. Alberto was very strong and only lost the GC by four seconds. He once again showed he’s a force to be reckoned with.”

Looking back on the day’s events, Alberto knew how hard the race would be. “We fought hard in this final stage of Paris-Nice. We gave our best and we missed the overall win by just four seconds. It was a slim margin but after yesterday's stage I knew it would have been very difficult to get the top spot since Sky has a very strong team. However, we tried our best and we were nearly there. We attacked with 60km to go and pushed the leader to the limit.”

“Still, Sky had a strong team,” Alberto continued. “They pulled very hard and reached us before Col d'Eze. Rafal Majka was there, waiting for me, in order to make the last climb hard. We attacked again and left the leader behind. However, behind us, there were different interests and the gap with us was closed. At the end, I was only able to take five seconds.”

Looking back on how the race panned out, Sean looked to the weather conditions of stage three and how it affected the race, but was positive about the team’s strong ride. “The cancellation of stage three may have changed things, but apart from that we tried and gave it everything this weekend. We race to win but we can still take positives from Alberto's 2nd place.”

The Tinkoff leader was pleased with how he had performed over the week, and gave credit to his teammates for the effort they put into the race. “I'm happy overall with my form, despite missing on the win, and I would really like to thank the rest of the squad. They put in a dedicated effort to protect me and position me rough out the race. I'm sure all cycling fans enjoyed a spectacular race and they are the reason why we do this.”

Contador also singled out Tinkoff’s owner for his support and encouragement throughout the race. “Last but certainly not least, I would also like to thank our team owner, Oleg Tinkov, for his continued support and trust he shows in the team. He was with us at the start in Paris and this is something we always appreciate."

Winner Geraint Thomas' Sky team had this to say:

Thomas was put on the defensive when Alberto Contador first jumped clear on the penultimate climb, with Nicolas Roche, Ben Swift and Ian Boswell doing a fantastic job to bring him back before they hit the Col d'Eze.

No sooner had parity been restored however when Contador (Tinkoff) kicked again, this time taking Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) with him. That trio had a 25-second lead as they crested the summit of the final categorised ascent, with Sergio Henao doing a heroic job to keep the gap at a manageable distance as Thomas dug deep to defend his jersey.

The Team Sky duo joined forces with Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) on the descent which followed, and they rode like Trojans to reduce the deficit before the fast finish along the Promenade des Anglais.

Wellens outsprinted Contador and Porte to take the stage victory, with Thomas crossing the line just five seconds behind to seal the biggest triumph of his road career by four seconds. Incredible.

Paris-Nice podium

Geraint Thomas at the top of the final podium with Alberto Contador and Richie Porte.

After the stage a jubilant and relieved Thomas told reporters: "When Alberto went on the Cote de Peille I stuck with my team and felt good, strong and in control, but when he went again half way up the Col d'Eze my legs just gave way. It was horrible and I thought 'this is going to be all over'.

"I got dropped from the chase group and thought I was going to struggle to even get on the podium. Thankfully Sergio stayed with me. I had a 54 chainring on for the descent in case I had to chase and I certainly needed that at the end. It was full gas, and to finally latch back on in the last few kilometres was really good.

"It's incredible to have won Paris-Nice and hard to believe, to be honest. Contador is one of the best stage racers ever and Richie won nearly every race he did last year, so to beat those two - I can't really believe it.

"I came here trying to win and do the best I could, but to actually do it is amazing. It's the biggest win of my career, for sure, and I'm over the moon."

The racing had been full gas from the off with 25 riders quickly escaping up the road. All eight Team Sky riders hit the front to keep them in check as they traversed the six categorised climbs, and one by one they were eventually brought back into the fold.

Contador initially set the alarm bells ringing when he forged ahead 55km from home, bridging over to two team-mates on the Cote de Peille, but Roche, Swift and Boswell chased them down before Henao paced Thomas over the Col d'Eze.
The Welshman had briefly looked on the ropes but showed unbelievable tenacity to reduce the gap and push on to claim the 10th race win of his professional career.

When we spoke to him after the press conference, he was still struggling to take in what he'd just achieved. He told TeamSky.com: "I knew I had to keep fighting and I never gave up. Having Sergio there with me at the end really helped, and I owe Tony Gallopin a few beers as well!

"That descent was like a load of back-to-back team pursuits, and as the gap gradually came down I knew I had a chance. I went full gas all the way to the line and ended up taking the win.

"I can't thank my team-mates enough. They've been 100% committed to me all week so to finish the job off for them is an amazing feeling. I'm in dreamland at the moment and it'll take a while to sink in. I used to run home from school to watch Paris-Nice, so to win it is just crazy.

"This confirms I can be up there with the best stage racers in the world and I'll definitely celebrate tonight. You don't win very often, so when you do, you have to enjoy it.

"Next up I've got Milan-San Remo, the Volta a Catalunya and the Tour of Flanders before a training camping in Tenerife. I'll then ride Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour de Romandie. It's a big block and to win this is a great way to start it and take the pressure off a bit."

I got this from stage winner Tim Wellens' Lotto-Soudal squad:

The final stage in Paris-Nice was scheduled today and it was promised to be a true spectacle in and around Nice. With 134 kilometres to cover and six climbs on the route there were still a lot of opportunities for the GC riders. It was difficult to set up a break in the beginning of the stage due to the high pace in the peloton. Eventually 22 riders managed to obtain a decent time gap, among them Thomas De Gendt and Tim Wellens, who was the best placed rider in the front group. They got an advantage of about three minutes.

Tim Wellens gave a really strong impression and attacked a first time on the penultimate climb. Wellens was clearly the best rider in the front group as he went solo on the final climb of the day, the Col d’Èze. Alberto Contador and Richie Porte joined him just after the summit. Wellens and his companions never managed to obtain a big gap, but they worked well together and remained ahead. The stage eventually ended in a sprint with three and Tim Wellens was the fastest. He was clever during the final kilometres and didn’t pull at the front anymore, in that way he won the sprint quite easily.

Tim Wellens: “We managed to get away with a large group, where Thomas De Gendt took control. On the penultimate climb I accelerated for the first time and five riders were able to follow. Afterwards a few other riders could bridge the gap. On the Col d’Èze I went full gas and just after the summit Contador and Porte joined me.”

Tim Wellens

Tim Wellens wins Paris-Nice stage 7

“With still fifteen kilometres to go and with a strong headwind we knew it wouldn’t be easy, but the cooperation went fluently. We remained ahead and I won the sprint. I have to admit that I gambled a bit during the final kilometres by not pulling at the front anymore, but it’s great to win against such great riders. This victory tastes even better after yesterday, which was not a good day for me.”

Geraint Thomas is the overall winner of this year’s Paris-Nice, Contador finished at four seconds. Porte completed the podium. Tony Gallopin finished at the eighth place at 51 seconds of the winner. Lotto Fix ALL returns to Belgium with a nice stage victory and a top ten place. Thomas De Gendt joined the break a few times and finished third in the KOM classification.

Tony Gallopin: “I’m very happy of course with the eighth place on GC. Yesterday I managed to stay among the main competitors, although it wasn’t an easy task. Today’s tactic depended on how the race would evolve. Just trying to stay with the GC riders or taking a risk by attacking on the final climb in order to gain a few places. It became the first scenario.”

“Tim Wellens and Thomas De Gendt were part of the break, that was a very good situation for the team. In the GC group, the race exploded on the penultimate climb. After that most of the GC riders were on their own. Due to the acceleration of Contador I was dropped on the Col d’Èze. Together with Geraint Thomas and Henao I gave my all in the descent to rejoin the GC group. Because of the strong performance of Tim and the fact that he was riding in front I could recover a bit. In that way I managed to win the sprint for the fourth place. I could maintain my good position on GC, I even gained a place because Tom Dumoulin was dropped.”

“Paris-Nice was my first big goal of the season, it’s a race I like a lot and the course suits me. Based on the results this week, I think I deserve this top ten place. Yesterday was a hard day on la Madone d’Utelle, but today I confirmed my performance. I go with a positive feeling to Milano-San Remo, after that I’ll prepare myself for the Walloon classics.”

Here's Orica-GreenEdge's news:

Six days in yellow, two stage wins and the green sprinter’s jersey for Michael Matthews and seventh place overall for Simon Yates wraps up a successful week at Paris-Nice for ORICA-GreenEDGE.

Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) won the final stage with Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) the winner of the overall general classification. Matthews claimed the yellow jersey in the 6.1km prologue, beating Tom Dumoulin (Team Giant-Alpecin) by just one second, and successfully defended the race lead until the penultimate stage on Saturday.

Michael Matthews

Michael Matthews got to spend some time in Yellow

A stage two victory and three additional top-five placings awarded Matthews the sprint category after he completed the final stage unscathed.

”This was my first race of the season and I didn’t expect to win the individual time trial on stage one,” Matthews said. ”Then to hold the jersey for so long afterwards was great. The team was really strong all week and I learnt a lot with how to deal with the responsibilities of leading a stage race.”

”It was the first time that I have fought really hard on every stage of a race and I realise that it is important to try and conserve as much energy as possible. There are more demands placed on you when you are in the leader’s jersey, not just during the race but also after the finish. I’m very happy to have won the green jersey and I can take a lot of confidence into the coming races.”

After a string of excellent performances from the team throughout the week, sports director Laurenzo Lapage was very happy with the overall achievements. ”It has been a fantastic week for us," Lapage said. "We came into the race with the idea of the green jersey for Matthews and to try and get Simon up here for the overall."

”It’s great how everything went, almost impossible to do better. Simon was a little bit sick in the beginning but he got stronger everyday and the last two days he was really impressive.”

The surprise victory in the prologue altered the race plan for the team and Lapage was impressed with how well the team adapted and worked together. ”Everyone did very well by working together throughout the race, it is unusual to control things the way we did,” Lapage continued. ”We can take real confidence from our performance here.”

”Today Daryl (Impey) played a perfect move by getting into the breakaway for most of the race, doing his best to help to Simon. Everyone played their part and we came through the race without any problems.”

How it happened: The seventh and final stage of Paris-Nice started and ended in Nice today, after heading North into the Alpes Maritimes mountains for a 134km circuit that included two first category climbs - the Cote de Peille and the famous Col d’Eze.

A sunny morning on the Cote d’Azur welcomed the riders to the startline on the Promenade des Anglais and after several early attempts a breakaway of 19 riders formed, including South African time trial champion Impey.

The group developed a maximum lead of three minutes 48seconds over the peloton whilst a smaller pack of six chasers kept themselves within two minutes of the leaders going over the first climbs of the day. Canadian Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie) secured the overall king of the mountains classification after claiming the points on all four category two climbs within the first 80km. 

As the race entered the final third, the situation began to change as riders were dropped from the leading and chasing groups. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) attacked from the peloton and immediately Team Sky, riding for race leader Geraint Thomas, tried to react.

Contador increased his adavantage over the Cote de Peille and the day's initial breakaway began to fall apart. Team Sky gave chase on the descent and the race moved into another gear.

The favourites, including the impressive Yates, were together as they started climbing the Col d’Eze. Eventual stage winner Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) was one of the few remaining escapees still ahead of the action, but was caught by Contador after a series of attacks by the Spaniard.

It appeared that the Welshman Thomas had been dropped on the climb, however a frantic descent back into Nice saw teammate Sergio Henao (Team Sky) come to Thomas’s aid. They just made contact with the group containing Yates and Rui Costa (Lampre- Merida) and crossed the line five seconds down on Wellens, Contador and Richie Porte (BMC).

Thomas won the overall classification by a four second advantage over Contador.

After a week of outstanding success at Paris-Nice ORICA-GreenEDGE now prepare for their next race, the Italian monument, Milano-San Remo, on Saturday the 19th of March.

BMC sent me this:

13 March, 2016, Nice (FRA): It was a thrilling final stage of Paris-Nice starting and finishing in Nice, which saw Richie Porte finish third on the stage behind Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and podium for the third time.

Porte, who started the day fourth overall, made the most of a late attack from Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) on Col D'Eze to finish the stage just seconds ahead of the Yellow Jersey group.

The four bonus seconds that Porte gained were enough to elevate him to third place to round out the podium behind winner Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Contador.

Porte said going into Stage 7 that anything could happen and that was certainly the case. "It was an incredible day. When Contador attacked at the bottom of Côte de Peille it was a long way out and then Team Sky obviously chased back. I've got to pay credit to my teammates who put me where I needed to be and put me in the best position at the bottom of Col D'Èze," Porte said.

"It came down to legs and I think it was quite a thrilling finale there. We went up Col D'Èze so fast but then we also came down at warp speed. We could see that they were coming back at us but it was just a great way to finish off a solid week of racing."

Porte said his podium result gives him confidence going into the next part of the season. "My goals this year have changed and now my big aim is the Tour de France in July. After coming back to Europe two weeks ago and not really knowing where I was at, finishing third in such a hard Paris-Nice is a good sign for the future."

BMC Racing Team Sports Director Fabio Baldato agreed with Porte's evaluation of the week of racing. "Paris-Nice has been the first real test of the season for these guys and our goal was to be on the podium. To have Richie up there today shows that he is in good form and that the team worked really hard to support him all week," Baldato confirmed.

"It wasn't an easy week of racing. There were a lot of good GC contenders and the extreme conditions that the peloton faced didn't make it any easier. We're walking away happy with our performance."

And here's the Lampre-Merida final Paris-Nice report:

The last stage of the French race too had a hilly course, with start and arrival in Nice for a total the distance of 141 km and 6 KOM climbs (last one, the Col d'Eze, 7.7km at an average gradient of 5.7%, at -16 km to the arrival).

Today too the blue-fuchsia-green colors were in the main breakaway of the race: among the 19 attackers, who escaped from the peloton after 10 km from the start, there were Tsgabu Grmay (third presence in a breakaway in the Paris-Nice 2016) and Matteo Bono.

After having built a maximum advantage of 2'40", at 50 km to go the breakaway began to loose some members in the approach of the Côte de Peille (1st category) and meanwhile Contador started a series of attack which selected the peloton and, raising the pace of the bunch, brought to the neutralization of the breakaway before the passage on the Col d'Eze.

Five riders (Wellens, Contador, Porte, Thomas and Henao) led the race on the Col d'Eze, while Rui Costa was in the first chasers group which was following at few seconds.

Contador attacked once again and only Porte and Wellens could follow him: the Belgian won the restricted sprint.

Rui Costa was 7th at the arrival, with a gap of 5", which allowed him to enter in the final top 10 at the 10th place, with 1'07" to the winner Thomas.

"Today the performance of the team was fairly good - sports director Mauduit explained - First of all, we succeeded in being once again in the main breakaway of the stage and this is not always so simple, considering the battling attitude of most of the riders of the bunch.

"The other cyclists of the team supported Rui Costa in the peloton, leading him in the approach of all the hills of the course. Rui had no team mate only in the approach of the Col d'Eze and he had to use part of his energies to be in the head positions for the start of the hill, however he managed to obtain a good result which allowed him to enter in the top 10".

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