A thrilling and fiercely contested Paris-Nice saw Carlos Betancur take his second overall victory this season by a handful of (bonus) seconds over world champion Rui Costa.
Bring me sunshine
Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) has had a great start to 2014 to compensate for last year’s post-Giro lack of form, despite, allegedly, being a bit overweight. He clearly enjoys the south of France having taken the overall at the Tour du Haut Var in February.
He, and his Ag2r team, played their hand perfectly. He bided his time during the sprint stages only to come to the fore on stages five and six where he took consecutive victories and, on the latter, the leader’s yellow jersey.
I’m in good condition and you have to seize the moment. The plan is now to hold the overall and celebrate victory in the end.
He rode intelligently to seal overall victory – and best young rider – on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.
Young guns go for it
Perhaps, as they’ve been unable to attract the bigger names, ASO deliberately made the race more open and the smokin’ hot young guns didn’t disappoint.
Aside from Betancur’s brace, former Tour Down Under winner Tom Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp), took two stages, Geraint Thomas (Sky) graced the yellow jersey on stage five before being felled on stage seven. Dutch wunderkind and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne runner-up Moreno Hofland (Belkin) opened his professional account on stage two, Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) boxed clever on stage one, despite a bloodied knee, and wore yellow too before being dispossessed by John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) who won stage three – and finished with the points jersey.
But the best of all was yet to come. French national champion Arthur Vichot (FDJ), wearing the tricolour, took the biggest win of his career, on the final day, on the Promenade des Anglais and, thanks to those precious bonus seconds leapfrogged Jose Joaquim Rojas (Movistar) to take third place by a single second.
Honourable mentions should also go to a trio of other youngsters who animated the racing: Bob Jungels (Trek), Sebastian Reichenbach (IAM) and Jon Izagirre (Movistar). Plus, 25-year-old Pim Ligthart (Lotto-Belisol) was king of the mountains.
The sun shone throughout the race, making a pleasant change from recent editions, but it shone most brightly on the talent which has emerged in recent years, confirming they’ve now well and truly arrived. We await bigger and better things come May, July and August.
And then there was one, or maybe two
I’m referring, of course, to both ASO’s failure to attract the big name riders and the loss of those few it had before the race had barely begun. Defending champion Richie Porte (Sky) passed, preferring to ride Tirreno-Adriatico, as replacement for an injured Chris Froome.
Another overall contender, Tejay van Garderen (BMC), unfortunately succumbed to illness on stage one. That left just ‘Rainbow’ Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), eager for a maiden victory in his world champion’s jersey, and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) to test his legs while riding in support of team-mate Jakob Fuglsang.
Thrills and spills
Tirreno-Adriatico, with its team and individual time trial, 244km stage and more varied parcours, held greater appeal for stage racers, classics pretenders and sprinters alike. However Paris-Nice, with those bonus seconds on offer, provided more thrilling racing than usual. Only a few seconds separating the leading protagonists right up to the final stage made for edge of the seat thrills and aggressive racing. As a consequence, will bonus seconds make a reappearance at this year’s Tour?
Race at a glance
1 – Carlos Betancur is the first Colombian to have won Paris-Nice.
28 – Betancur’s victory ensured Ag2r La Mondiale became the first French team to win Paris-Nice since Kas in 1986 (the fifth of Sean Kelly’s record seven victories).
5 – Rui Costa‘s two second places raised his number of runner-up finishes this season to five. He also finished second overall. He has yet to win in the rainbow jersey.
7 – The winners of seven of the eight stages qualified for the young riders’ competition. (Only final stage winner Vichot didn’t.)
Stage 1: Winner – Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ). Leader – Bouhanni.
Stage 2: Winner – Moreno Hofland (Belkin). Leader – Bouhanni.
Stage 3: Winner – John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano). Leader – Degenkolb.
Stage 4: Winner – Tom Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp). Leader – Geraint Thomas (Sky).
Stage 5: Winner – Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale). Leader – Thomas.
Stage 6: Winner – Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale). Leader Betancur
Stage 7: Winner – Slagter. Leader – Betancur.
Stage 8: Winner – Arthur Vichot (FDJ). Overall winner – Betancur.
1. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) 35:11:45
2. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) +0:14
3. Arthur Vichot (FDJ) +0:20
4. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) +0:21
5. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +0:29
6. Cyril Gautier (Europcar) +0:31
7. Stefan Denifl (IAM) +0:35
8. Simon Spilak (Katusha) +0:36
9. Peter Velits (BMC) +0:39
10. Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) +0:41
Thanks to Whit Yost and Cilian Kelly, some of whose statistics have been reproduced here.