Betancur Makes It Two in a Row, Takes Yellow Jersey
Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) has taken the lead in this year's Paris-Nice. Betancur took a two-up sprint from Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) to win Stage 6, a rugged, 221.5-km ride from Saint-Saturnin-les-Avignon to Fayence, in 5:12:11. Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) outsprinted Geraint Thomas (Sky) to take third at 0:03.
As has been the case all week, the riders enjoyed good weather. An early 10-man break that included Steve Cummings (BMC), Jens Keukeleire (GreenEdge), Pim Ligthart (Lotto-Belisol), and Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) got clear, but the Sky-led peloton kept it on a short leash, primarily because Keukeleire began the day only 0:25 behind race leader Thomas. The escapees’ advantage maxed out at three minutes.
In the last 60 km, Sky began to chase in earnest. On the Category 2 Cote de Tuilieres, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) bridged up to the break. Attrition took its toll, and on the Category 3 Cote de Mont Meaulx, with 40 km left, only Chavanel, Voeckler, De Marchi, and Ligthart remained in the break. At the base of the Category 1 Col de Bourigaille, the fugitives’ lead was 0:25.
Voeckler was dropped, and Chavanel attacked. Astana, however, took over at the front and reeled in the remnants of the break. Near the summit, Frank Schleck (Trek) attacked, and Stefan Denifl (IAM Cycling) and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale) joined him. At the summit, Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida), Eduardo Sepulveda (Bretagne-Seche Environnement), and Yury Trofimov joined the escapees.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) attacked from the 35-strong peloton. He was brought back, but the resulting combustion reeled in the break. With 10 km to go, Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) and Dries Devenyns (Giant-Shimano) attacked, but Nibali reeled them in.
Vuillermoz jumped clear. Denifl attempted to follow the Frenchman but failed. With two km left, Ag2r-La Mondiale went to the front. Nibali was dropped, and Vuillermoz crashed with one km to go. Costa attacked, but Betancur followed and overtook the world road race champion in the last 200 m.
As he did with Stage 5, Betancur saw this stage as one that suited him. "I knew this morning that this sixth stage would be long but that the final could well suit me,” the Ag2r-La Mondiale man said. “My teammates have supported me perfectly, and the work of the team has allowed me to be positioned at two kilometers from the finish….It illustrates big cohesion that exists within the group since the start of the event. I think we can say this evening that today was excellent for the Ag2r-La Mondiale team and we could hardly do better today! Obviously, the goal is to keep the jersey until Nice. It will not be easy, but we will do everything to do so.”
In the overall, Betancur leads Costa by 0:08 and Thomas by 0:18. Stage 7 will be a tough stage, but perhaps not tough enough to change the standings. The mountainous, 195.5-km ride from Mougins to Biot Sophia Antipolis will feature five categorized ascents, including two Category 1 climbs, but the last climb will be 64 km from the finish. It adds up to a group of escapees battling for the day’s honors. Who will be in the break? Who will win? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!