Nice, France, March 13, 2016 (AFP) – Briton Geraint Thomas claimed his maiden Paris-Nice on Sunday after a nerve-tingling seventh and final stage won by Belgium’s Tim Wellens.
Thomas, who only took the race leader’s yellow jersey off Australian Michael Matthews on Saturday’s stage, finished a mere four seconds ahead of two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador of Spain.
It was one of the closest finishes in the history of the event known as the ‘Race to the Sun’.
The 29-year-old Welshman’s biggest career victory was Team Sky’s fourth in five editions of the Paris-Nice.
Wellens took the final day honours after fending off breakaway partners Contador and Australian Richie Porte in a sprint for the line.
Thomas crossed in the chasing pack five seconds adrift.
Contador, 15sec behind at the start of the 134 kilometre ride, launched a number of attacks, the first 50km from the end.
The Spaniard made a decisive move on the Col d’Eze, 17km out.
Pursued by Thomas he appeared to have done enough to make up his deficit on the Welshman who was struggling up the climb.
But Thomas, helped by his Colombian teammate Sergio Henso, made up ground in the entrance to the Cote d’Azur city of Nice to hold on to the yellow jersey.
He said: “When Alberto went on the Cote de Peille I stuck with my team and felt good, strong and in control, but when he went again half way up the Col d’Eze my legs just gave way.
“It was horrible and I thought ‘this is going to be all over’.
“I got dropped from the chase group and thought I was going to struggle to even get on the podium. Thankfully Sergio stayed with me.”
Contador was frustrated.
He said: “I wanted another outcome, I don’t like finishing second. I came to the Paris-Nice to win.
“Geraint Thomas controleld it well, he’s got a very strong team, but we can succeed in beating them.
“On the plus side I feel good and it’s encouraging for the Tour of Catalonia.”
Thomas becomes the third Briton to win the event after Tom Simpson in 1967 and Bradley Wiggins in 2012.
The winning margin was the second tightest only shaded by the three seconds Davide Rebellin had up his sleeve over his fellow Italian Rinaldo Nocentini in 2008.
Thomas added: “It’s incredible to have won Paris-Nice and hard to believe, to be honest.
“Contador is one of the best stage racers ever and Richie won nearly every race he did last year, so to beat those two – I can’t really believe it.
“I came here trying to win and do the best I could, but to actually do it is amazing. It’s the biggest win of my career, for sure, and I’m over the moon.”
Results from the seventh and final stage of Paris-Nice on Sunday:
1. Tim Wellens (BEL/LOT) 3hr 16min 09sec,
2. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) same time,
3. Richie Porte (AUS/BMC) s.t.,
4. Tony Gallopin (FRA/LOT) s.t.,
5. Simon Yates (GBR/ORI) at 0:05sec,
6. Arnold Jeannesson (FRA/COF) s.t.,
7. Rui Costa (POR/LAM) s.t.,
8. Jesus Herrada (ESP/MOV) s.t.,
9. Romain Bardet(FRA/ALM) s.t.,
10. Ion Izagirre (ESP/MOV) s.t.,
11. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) s.t.,
12. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) s.t.,
13. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) s.t.,
14. David De la Cruz (ESP/ETI) 1:00,
15. Tanel Kangert (EST/AST) 1:18
1. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 27hr 26min 40sec,
2. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) at 0:04sec,
3. Richie Porte (AUS/BMC) 0:12,
4. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) 0:20,
5. Ion Izagirre (ESP/MOV) 0:37,
6. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) 0:44,
7. Simon Yates (GBR/ORI) 0:44,
8. Tony Gallopin (FRA/LOT) 0:51,
9. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 1:00,
10. Rui Costa (POR/LAM) 1:07,
11. Arnold Jeannesson (FRA/COF) 1:09,
12. Tom Dumoulin (NED/GIA) 1:53,
13. Wilco Kelderman (NED/LNL) 2:33,
14. Tim Wellens (BEL/LOT) 3:21,
15. Lieuwe Westra (NED/AST) 3:53