12 March, 2014
Stage 4, 201.5km, Nevers to Belleville
Thomas, the 'also-man' proves he is worthy by taking race lead
Sky's Geraint Thomas has finally came out from under the yoke of being a super-domestique also-ran of the GC when he snatched the lead in the Paris-Nice after finishing second to Garmin-Sharp's Tom-Jelte Slagter on Stage 4.
They might have seemed unexpected leaders at the start but Geraint Thomas and Tom-Jelte Slagter proved the skeptics wrong in the decisive 201.5-kms 4th stage of Paris-Nice to Belleville on Wednesday.
The steep Mont-Brouilly was thought to the first turning point of the Race to the Sun this year and it was. And in a race which is proving unreadable, Dutchman Slagter and Welshman Thomas were the boldest, breaking away from the pack to go for stage win and yellow jersey. The duo combined their efforts to achieve their respective goals and managed to keep a bunch of favorites at bay to earn their moment of glory. Overall, Thomas, who only replaced title-holder Richie Porte as the Team Sky leader on the eve of the start proved the faith of his management and now leads stage 3 winner John Degenkolb by three seconds with Slagter third, four seconds adrift.
The start was given at 10:45 to 164 riders in sunny weather, as usual this week. Winner three years ago in Belleville, Thomas Voeckler (EUC) briefly attempted to part company with the bunch before being reeled in. Valerio Agnoli (AST), Laurent Didier (TFR) and stage 3 escapee Perrig Quemeneur (EUC) in turn tried their luck after 11 km and were quickly joined by Spanish champion Jesus Herrada (MOV). The peloton let them go and the gap went up to 6:20 at most at kilometre 111 before the first climbs appeared.
Agnoli claims polka-dot jersey
The four just had the time to tackle the 3rd category Cote de la Clayette (km 137.5), Col de Champ de Juin (Km 156.5) and Col de Crie (Km 164) before being reined in. Each time, Agnoli collected the four points by crossing the top in first place which was enough for the Italian to take the polka-dot jersey away from France's Christophe Laborie. The break ended at the foot of Mont Brouilly (Km 183), leaving the stage for the strong men of this Paris-Nice to battle it out.
Slagter and Thomas the boldest
Team Sky, who took charge of most of the chase, kept leading the way in the steep hill over looking the Beaujolais vineyards. The decisive move was launched by Slagter, the 2013 winner of the Tour Down Under, who surged in the last kilometre of the ascent. Geraint Thomas (was the only rider capable of taking his wheel. The two took turns in the last ten kilometers with a first bunch involving other favorites like Vincenzo Nibali (AST), Carlos Betancur (AG2R), Jakob Fuglsang (AST) or world champion Alberto Rui Costa (LAM) on their heels, while yellow jersey holder John Degenkolb (GIA) was in a second group, not too far down.
On the line, track specialist Thomas and hopeful Slagter retained a slim lead on their chaser and Thomas, who had done most of the work in the finale, could not resist the Dutchman's jump in the final stretch. Another Dutchman, Wilco Kelderman, broke from the bunch in the last kilometer to snatch third place.