ORICA-GreenEDGE on the Attack and in the Moves on Paris-Nice Stage SixFri 14 Mar 2014
Jens Keukeleire spent stage six of Paris-Nice in the early break. Michael Matthews factored into a late race ten rider move that was neutralised on the run in towards the line. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) took his second stage win in as many days, which allowed him to snatch the yellow jersey away from Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) ahead of the final two days of racing.
“The guys did an awesome job today,” said Sport Director Dave McPartland. “We made our presence felt. We’ve been very clear that we’re after stage wins, and we went after the stage today with multiple options. We were confident in Bling in the finish, but we didn’t really need the whole team to set things up for him. This gave us the opportunity to put someone in the break.”
Keukeleire was the best-placed rider in the ten man move that formed after the first intermediate sprint. The Belgian started the day only 25” down on Thomas. Consequently, Team Sky could not afford to give the breakaway a long leash. Their advantage peaked at three minutes.
“We don’t always have the luxury to choose exactly who to put in the break,” said McPartland. “We had talked about trying to get Simon Yates off the front, but instead it ended up being Jens. His presence in the move really put the pressure on the other teams back in the bunch. They had to ride hard to keep things close because Jens was in that group.”
As Team Sky closed in on the escape group, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) jumped across to the leaders on the Côte des Tuilières. They made contact with the breakaway on the descent, and the group swelled in size to include 12 riders. Forty kilometres from the finish, the front group had splintered. Chavanel, Voeckler, Pim Ligthart (Lotto-Belisol) and Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) held a slim advantage over the Sky-led peloton. The quartet was overtaken over the top of the first ascent of the Col de Bourigaille.
“Bling had been our main plan all along,” said McPartland. “We knew there was a chance for the breakaway to stay away today. There’s still a big battle waging for the overall, and we knew anyone within throwing range would fire. We thought the overall contenders might be happy to fight for time but leave a break up the road. When Jens went into the move, they had no choice but to chase it down.”
The attacks that began up the Col de Bourigaille continued on the ascent. Matthews had survived the punishing gradient to summit with the yellow jersey group of approximately 40 riders. When a front group of ten took shape, Matthews had made the selection. The race came back together on the category two climb into Fayence. Matthews faded back to 30th place on the stage, crossing the line 32" behind Betancur.
“Bling was around the mark for the stage until the very end,” McPartland. “He went over the top of the Col de Bourigaille with the leaders. He hadn’t missed a beat. He was in the right position when he just ran out of legs. Until 400 metres to go, things looked really good for him. Then, the gears just fell off.”
“We know a few of our fans have expressed surprise at how well Bling is climbing here,” McPartland added. “We’re not surprised at all. When it comes to races that finish on a circuit that include short, sharp climbs, Bling is going to be there. His form doesn’t surprise us. We’re quite confident in him for the races coming up. He can win one of the big ones.”