There are two unofficial rules of Paris-Nice.
- It always ends in a time-trial up the Col d'Eze
- It's always very close
With this year's combination of summit finishes, crosswinds and a road stage including the Col d'Eze, those rules looked like being flaunted this year, but these things often have a way of evening themselves out, as Alberto Contador and Sergio Henao rode unaided, apart up Nice's iconic climb.
This situation had been brought about by Contador's attack on the Côte de Peille with fifty kilometres left in the short final stage. Only the top men on GC, Sergio Henao and Daniel Martin, were able to follow him, but further accelerations dropped them both and he was unfettered, racing toward Nice at the head of what remained of the day's breakaway, including king of the mountains Lilian Calmejane, who had taken the day's earliest climbs. Henao followed with his own bunch of hangers-on, including most of the GC top ten.
On the Col d'Eze, it looked like the Spaniard had the greater advantage, extending his lead, with David de la Cruz and Marc Soler, to over a minute on the lower slopes, as Henao grimaced and suffered, but towards the top the Trek man began to flag, with Soler able to come around him and open up a substantial gap, as the speed in the chasing group was ratcheted up by attacks from Porte, Alaphilippe, Izagirre and Martin. Henao kept his composure, however, recapturing all the attackers and taking his place on the front once again, spinning his chainring on the descent while Contador seemed like he didn't quite have the gears or the energy. Some help came to Henao from Bahrain-Merida, while Contador was forced to do all the work in the lead group, recapturing Soler and later De la Cruz, and taking two bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint to bring the gap to Henao ever so slightly down.
Towards the bottom of the climb, even as the time gap was shrinking thanks to the drive of Henao's group, Contador looked like he'd stumbled upon the dream scenario, as Soler and De La Cruz were dropped coming onto the flat section in Nice. He was alone. Soler never came back. De la Cruz did. An acceleration brought him to Contador's wheel, and the sprint was never in doubt.
Then it was a waiting game. De la Cruz's back wheel crossed the line. Contador's front wheel followed. Five seconds. Marc Soler crosses in third. Seven seconds. Henao's group turns the final bend. Eight seconds. Sonny Colbrelli starts his sprint. Twenty-one seconds. His wheel hits the line, everyone pauses for breath and some mental arithmetic, and Sergio Henao celebrates. He took the GC win by only two seconds.
This is Sky's fifth Paris-Nice win in six years and Henao becomes the fourth man to do it in their colours. The win was built on astuteness in the crosswinds last Sunday - he made every split - and a good performance on the shorter climbs — while Contador outclimbed him on the longer mountains, the Colombian champion took fifteen seconds plus six bonuses from Contador on the short climb in Fayence on Friday. This may be the last race he gets to lead this season, with Froome yet to make his European debut, but he may be Froome's most vital domestique in the Tour. It's difficult to say what this will mean to Contador. To lose to a Sky rider by a margin of bonus seconds after making a long attack on the final stage will obviously smack of déjà vu, and it's not much of a sign that he's going to have a much better season than he did last year, especially given how he was dropped by Porte on the long climb, but I expect he'll be satisfied by dropping Henao in March, given no other datapoints
|1.||ESP||David de la Cruz||QSF||2:48:53|