Carlos Betancur of AG2R-La Mondiale has become the first Colombian rider to win Paris-Nice, maintaining his 14 second advantage over world champion Rui Costa of Lampre-Merida, brought down in a crash inside the final kilometre but given the same time as the lead group. The stage win went to French champion Arthur Vichot of FDJ.fr, with the bonus seconds putting him third overall to complete the podium.
They had been in a group that had chased the two lone riders out in front, Fränk Schleck of Trek Factory Racing and Katusha's Simon Spilak, who had attacked on the final climb of the eight day race, the Col d'Eze.
Schleck, seeking his first win since returning from a doping ban, went again after passing under the flamme rouge and into the final kilometre, but was caught shortly before the line.
Behind, rainbow jersey Costa crashed heavily into the barriers a few hundred metres from the line as two riders to his right collided and brought him down.
The parcours of this year's race lacked both a time trial stage and big summit finishes, and if organisers ASO wanted a spectacular, closely fought race, they certainly got it, with several riders still in contention for the overall victory.
After Geraint Thomas saw his overall hopes end after his crash yesterday which forced him to abandon the race. Team Sky had promised to attack, and David Lopez did just that on the Col d'Eze.
He was soon pulled back by an ever diminishing lead group, with Schleck next to make a move, joined by Spilak.
The latter, 39 seconds behind Betancur this morning, picked up 2 bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint just after the top of the climb and with 10 bonus seconds for the stage win, a podium spot, and perhaps even the overall win, was in his grasp.
Behind, riders struggling included Giro d'Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali, who was dropped from the group containing Betancur and his closest rival on GC, Costa.
While Schleck began to lead Spilak down the climb back into Nice, Betancur was now isolated from his AG2R team mates, and with four riders within half a minute of him, the Colombian could not afford to drop his guard.
With 5km remaining, the lead pair had a 15-second advantage over the chasing group, being led by Movistar and Lampre-Merida, who were looking to protect their own riders' GC position from the threat Spilak posed.
That lead was slashed to just 6 seconds going under the flamme rouge, with Vichot finishing strongly to take the stage win after Schleck's last push had been negated and clinching a podium spot.
Betancur meanwhile completed an overall victory that will delight fans back in Colombia, as well as staff and team mates at AG2R, one of the WorldTour's less heralded teams.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.