Geraint Thomas takes Paris-Nice lead as Ilnur Zakarin wins stage six
By Matt Westby
Last Updated: 13/03/16 2:25pm
Geraint Thomas took the overall lead of Paris-Nice despite being narrowly denied victory on stage six’s summit finish by Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin.
Thomas (Team Sky) looked to have won the stage after attacking with 300m remaining, but Zakarin (Katusha) followed and then overtook the Welshman in the final 50m as both riders crossed the line on the same time.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) had been the most aggressive rider on the 15.3km final climb to La Madone d'Utelle but finished one second down in third, while defending champion Richie Porte (BMC Racing) was dropped by Thomas' attack and crossed the line seven seconds adrift in fourth.
With previous leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) having fallen away earlier, the result saw Thomas jump from sixth to first in the general classification, 15 seconds ahead of second-placed Contador and 20 seconds in front of third-placed Zakarin.
He said: "It's unbelievable. Thankfully I had the legs and I was able to respond to Contador's attacks. I'm disappointed not to win the stage, but to gain a little time on Richie and Contador was really good.
"I really didn't know what to expect, so take the jersey is great. We knew the roads well and tried to stay out of trouble. From then we just had to wait for Contador or Richie to attack and try to resist and save as much as we could to sprint in the end if we were there."
Thomas must now defend his lead on Sunday's final day, a 134km mountain stage containing six categorised climbs and ending with a descent into Nice.
He added: "I know the roads well and they're hard racing roads and there is a lot more climbing to come. It's by no means finished. Contador is a pretty good bike rider, and Richie and Zakarin, too. They won huge races.
"There's still a hell of a long way to go. Hopefully we can defend the jersey. Now I'm going to sleep as much as I can and try to recover."
Contador created a four-rider lead group alongside Thomas, Porte and Sergio Henao (Team Sky) by attacking on the final climb with 5.7km to go, and they were joined just under 1km later by Zakarin.
The quintet were happy to ride together until 1km to go, but then Porte and Contador both launched attacks without success.
Thomas waited until 300m to make his move and although Contador and Porte couldn't keep pace, Zakarin maintained contact and produced a stage-winning burst in the sprint for the line.
Zakarin said: "I prepared this race at altitude. The team was super. They protected me all day and I just had to give my best in the final climb and it worked."
Contador said after the stage that a mechanical problem had left him unable to engage his big chainring and forced him to ride the whole final climb in the less powerful little ring.
Meanwhile, Britain's Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) produced an impressive performance to finish sixth on the day, 20 seconds down on Zakarin, which lifts him to eighth overall, 44 seconds adrift of the yellow jersey.
Stage six result
1 Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha, 4:45:11
2 Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky, same time
3 Alberto Contador (Esp) Tinkoff, +1sec
4 Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing, +7
5 Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky, +10
6 Simon Yates (GB) Orica-GreenEdge, +20
7 Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida, +31
8 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, st
9 Ion Izagirre (Esp) Movistar, st
10 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal, st
1 Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky, 24:10:26
2 Alberto Contador (Esp) Tinkoff, +15sec
3 Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha, +20
4 Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing, +21
5 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Alpecin, +32
6 Ion Izagirre (Esp) Movistar, +37
7 Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky, +39
8 Simon Yates (GB) Orica-GreenEdge, +44
9 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal, +51
10 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +1:00