INDIVIDUAL PURSUIT CHAMPION
Wearing the yellow jersey, Thomas had shipped 25 seconds to Contador in the last 1.5km of the climb
Geraint Thomas might have felt like turning left instead of right at the T-junction of the Col d’Èze descent and the picturesque M6007 road, better known as the Moyenne Corniche, and going straight home to Monaco. Wearing the Paris-Nice yellow jersey, the Welshman had shipped 25 seconds to second-placed Alberto Contador in the last 1.5km of the climb. With a GC lead of only 15 seconds and an untechnical downhill to the Promenade des Anglais to come, Thomas looked to have blown it.
Contador had niggled away at Thomas throughout the stage, going away with 60km to go and linking up with two Tinkoff teammates, forcing Sky into a long chase. Then, as the junction was made at the bottom of the Col d’Èze, attacking again on the climb.
The front group split into three: Contador and Richie Porte, aided by Lotto-Soudal’s Tim Wellens, the sole survivor of the day’s break; then a group with the rest of the top GC men; then Thomas, his team-mate Sergio Henao and Lotto-Soudal’s Tony Gallopin. Lotto made the pace both on the front, as Wellens wanted the stage win, and behind, as Gallopin worked with the Sky duo to defend his own top-10 place.
Descents have defined Thomas’s Paris-Nice experiences in the past. In 2014 he crashed out on a downhill in the penultimate stage while lying second; in 2015 he’d slithered off both his bike and the podium on the descent into Nice with a day to go. Now he had a 15km descent on which to save his yellow jersey.
The TV feed showed a 34-second gap but it was actually only 25. If he could pull back 10, plus a bit more to account for time bonuses, the GC win was his. Sky, with excellent foresight, had fitted a larger outer chainring, to better deal with the fast schuss into Nice.
With the carrot of the second group dangling in front, Thomas closed the gap. On the line he saved his jersey by four seconds. This time it was the descent that won it.