Thomas De Gendt of Vacansoleil-DCM pulled off a stunning solo win in the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice this afternoon, getting away around 50 kilometres into the 219.5 kilometre stage from Sisteron with Reim Taaramae of Cofidis and dropping the Estonian on the day’s final climb, the Category 1 Col de Vence. That left De Gendt with a 55 kilometre ride down to Nice to clinch the stage on the Promenade des Anglais, with Taaramae more than six minutes behind and the peloton, led by Project 1t4i's John Degenkolb and including overall leader Bradley Wiggins, a further three minutes back. Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Levi Leipheimer, third overall this morning, saw his hopes of victory dashed after a dramatic crash towards the end of the stage.
Leipheimer had already been distanced from the peloton following two earlier crashes when the one that ruled him out of a podium place happened.
Following his second fall, early on in the descent from the Col de Vence, Movistar, sensing that they might be able to get Alejandro Valverde up to third place ahead of tomorrow’s final stage, were forcing the pace at the front of the bunch.
A little over 30 kilometres out, as Leipheimer was desperately trying to get back onto the main group with four team mates leading him down towards Nice, they rounded a corner and into a police motorbike that had stopped at the roadside on the exit point of the bend just ahead of a Lampre rider who was remounting his bike.
Dries Devenyns went into the back of the moto and Leipheimer, his brakes locking up, was unable to avoid running into the back of his team mate, both looking dazed after the collision.
With the stage still in progress, team director Brian Holm admitted to France Televisions, “It’s over now. We set a record for crashes on the Col de Vence.” Leipheimer eventually limped over the line seven minutes behind the main field.
Several riders had tried and failed to get away from the peloton when De Gendt, winner of the opening stage last year, and Taaramae made their move 48 kilometres into the stage.
With De Gendt nearly 16 minutes down on GC this morning and Taaramae a further quarter of an hour back, the peloton was happy to let the pair go and at one point they had an advantage of a little over 12 and a half minutes, Team Sky controlling the front of the pack to ensure the lead would not grow beyond that.
The mountains classification points that De Gendt amassed today saw him jump to second in that classification, which assuming he suffers no mishap tomorrow will be won by his Vacansoleil-DCM team mate, Frederik Veuchelen.
Speaking afterwards, De Gendt said: "Its a very nice finish. Last year I also won a stage and this year I wanted to do very good. My team is one of the strongest teams. They all win stages and I could not stay behind. I really wanted to win today."
The 70th edition of the race comes to an end tomorrow with a 9.6 kilometre individual time trial up from Nice to the Col d'Èze, a one-off revival of the stage that brought the Race to the Sun to an end between 1969 and 1995 and which last featured 11 years ago.
The steady climb has a maximum gradient of 8.5 per cent, although most of it is below 6 per cent before it drops to 1.2 per cent inside the closing kilometre and a half.
The ascent looks as though it will favour Wiggins as he seeks to become only the second British rider to triumph in Paris-Nice after Tom Simpson in 1967 – the race was the last victory of the former world champion’s career before his death at the age of 29 on Mont Ventoux in that year’s Tour de France.
While his mishap today rules Leipheimer out of contention, and Wiggins should see off any challenge from Valverde, second-placed Lieuwe Westra of Vacnasoleil-DCM, just six seconds behind him is strong in the time trial.
The Dutchman is likely to go all out to try and put the seal on a week in which the 29-year-old has already achieved the biggest victory of his career, winning Stage 9 into Mende.
Paris-Nice Stage 7 result 1 DE GENDT Thomas VACANSOLEIL-DCM 5h 11' 48" 2 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS + 06' 18" 3 DEGENKOLB John PROJECT 1T4I + 09' 24" 4 HENDERSON Gregory LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 09' 24" 5 HUSHOVD Thor BMC RACING TEAM + 09' 24" 6 ROJAS Jose Joaquin MOVISTAR TEAM + 09' 24" 7 FEILLU Romain VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 09' 24" 8 CLARKE Simon GREENEDGE CYCLING TEAM + 09' 24" 9 FLORENCIO Xavier KATUSHA TEAM + 09' 24" 10 BOLE Grega LAMPRE - ISD + 09' 24" 11 HIVERT Jonathan SAUR-SOJASUN + 09' 24" 12 BILLE Gaëtan LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 09' 24" 13 DUMOULIN Samuel COFIDIS + 09' 24" 14 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 09' 24" 15 VANMARCKE Sep GARMIN - BARRACUDA + 09' 24" 16 PICHOT Alexandre TEAM EUROPCAR + 09' 24" 17 LONGO BORGHINI Paolo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 09' 24" 18 GAVAZZI Francesco ASTANA PRO TEAM + 09' 24" 19 ASTARLOZA Mikel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 09' 24" 20 SIMON Julien SAUR-SOJASUN + 09' 24" Paris-Nice Overall Standings after Stage 7 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 27h 53' 04" 2 WESTRA Lieuwe VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 00' 06" 3 VALVERDE Alejandro MOVISTAR TEAM + 00' 18" 4 SPILAK Simon KATUSHA TEAM + 00' 37" 5 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 39" 6 MONFORT Maxime RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 00' 46" 7 JEANNESSON Arnold FDJ-BIGMAT + 01' 06" 8 CHAVANEL Sylvain OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 01' 16" 9 KISERLOVSKI Robert ASTANA PRO TEAM + 01' 21" 10 VICIOSO Angel KATUSHA TEAM + 02' 24" Paris-Nice Points Classification after Stage 7 1 VALVERDE Alejandro MOVISTAR TEAM 74 pts 2 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 67 pts 3 WESTRA Lieuwe VACANSOLEIL-DCM 63 pts 4 SANCHEZ Luis-Leon RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM 52 pts 5 LEIPHEIMER Levi OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP 50 pts Paris-Nice Mountains Classification Standings after Stage 7 1 VEUCHELEN Frederik VACANSOLEIL-DCM 64 pts 2 DE GENDT Thomas VACANSOLEIL-DCM 42 pts 3 MATE Luis Angel COFIDIS 28 pts 4 LE LAY David SAUR-SOJASUN 20 pts 5 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS 20 pts Paris-Nice Young Rider's Classification after Stage 7 1 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM 27h 53' 43" 2 URAN Rigoberto SKY PROCYCLING 27h 56' 38" 3 MALACARNE Davide TEAM EUROPCAR 28h 00' 31" 4 SICARD Romain EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI 28h 00' 50" 5 NERZ Dominik LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 28h 02' 42"
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.