Paris-Nice: Geraint Thomas takes lead after finishing behind Tom-Jelte Slagter on stage 4
Geraint Thomas moved into the overall lead of Paris-Nice after finishing second on stage four.
By Matt Westby
Last Updated: 12/03/14 5:01pm
The Team Sky rider escaped from the peloton alongside the Netherlands' Tom-Jelte-Slagter over the summit of the Cote du Mont Brouilly and the pair were able to maintain their advantage all the way down to the finish line in Belleville.
Slagter (Garmin-Sharp) sprinted to the stage victory, but Thomas crossed the line on the same time and, after picking up six bonus seconds, he now leads the general classification by three seconds.
Previous yellow jersey-wearer John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) drops to second after crossing the line in a chase group 18 seconds down, while Slagter is now four seconds adrift of Thomas in third.
Thomas was only promoted to the role of team leader after Richie Porte was moved across to race at Tirreno-Adriatico instead, but is now in pole position to become Team Sky's third successive overall winner of Paris-Nice.
He said afterwards: It's unbelievable. On the Friday before the race started I was told I was going to lead the team, which was a big deal for me. Paris-Nice is one of the biggest stage races in the world, so to wear the leader's jersey is great and I'm very happy.
"Coming here, I knew I was going to play a key role to help Richie, and I knew I would be there or thereabouts anyway, but him moving to Tirreno was a great opportunity for me, and like I said, it's fantastic."
The 201.5km stage was back-loaded with climbs, culminating in the second-category Cote du Mont Brouilly, which included a severe ramp of 25 per cent in gradient.
After the day's four-man breakaway had been caught at the foot of the climb, 17.5km out, Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) made two unsuccessful attempts at forging clear, before Slagter attacked just below the summit and immediately opened up a gap.
Thomas was the only man who could follow and eventually caught up with the Dutchman on the descent down the opposite side, about 13.5km from the finish.
Two separate chase groups formed behind them, with the likes of world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) in the first, and Degenkolb, who had done brilliantly to make it over the climb still in contention, in the second.
Thomas and Slagter managed to open up gaps of around 20 seconds on the first group and 30 seconds on the second, and although those advantages fell in the closing kilometres, the duo were able to stay ahead.
Slagter sat on Thomas's wheel for much on the final 1km and when he finally emerged out of the slipstream, it was all the wilting Briton could do to hold his wheel and cross the line on the same time.
Slagter said afterwards: "I can't believe it. It is my first race of the reason. Today was the best possibility to do something. That climb suits me good, but to win, I didn't expect it. I know Thomas pretty good and knew he is fast and strong, so I knew if I wanted to beat him I had to wait and wait, and sprint at the right moment. It went perfect."
Stage four result
1 Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Garmin-Sharp, 5:00:09
2 Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky, same time
3 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin, +5secs
4 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge, st
5 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, st
6 Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ, st
7 Peter Velits (Svk), BMC, st
8 Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar, st
9 Cyril Gautier (Fra) Europcar, st
10 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, st
1 Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky, 18:14:25
2 John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant-Shimano, +3secs
3 Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Garmin-Sharp, +4
4 Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar, +8
5 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +12
6 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin, ++15
7 Carlos Betancur (Col) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +17
8 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, +19
9 Cyril Gautier (Fra) Europcar, same time
10 Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ, st