Niccolo Bonifazio (Direct Energie) snatched the longest stage in the 78th Paris-Nice on Thursday when he outsprinted the pack who had just caught heroic escapee Jan Tratnik with 20 metres to go in la Cote Saint-Andre. The Slovenian rider still held a dozen seconds under the red flame, after 222 km in the front, when the sprinting pack finally overtook him, Bonifazio beating his team-mate Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain-McLaren), the winner of stage 3, in the bunch sprint. Peter Sagan was third while his Bora-Hansgrohe team-mate Maximilian Schachmann retained the overall lead ahead of a bumpy 6th stage to Apt on Friday.
Four in the lead
The peloton started at 11:02 without Tejay Van Garderen (EF Pro Cycling). After a vain attempt early on by six riders including world champion Mads Pedersen, the break of the day took shape at kilometre 5, when Ireland’s Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo), France’s Alexis Gougeard (Ag2R), Slovenia’s Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-McLaren) and France’s Anthony Turgis (Direct Energie) broke clear. Their lead quickly rose and Turgis swept most points on the first two climbs and the first sprint of the day, each time ahead of Tratnik and Mullen. Polka-dot jersey holder Jonathan Hivert (Direct Energie) added a point to his tally.
Belgium’s Oliver Naesen (Ag2R) was forced out of the race with a stomach bug while Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Diego Rosa (Arkea-Samsic) and Frederik Backaert (B&B Hotels) also gave up at the feed zone. After the feeding zone, Cofidis’s Julien Vermote took over from Bora-Hansgrohe’s Juraj Sagan and Lotto-Soudal’s Sander Armee at the front of the bunch and the lead, which reached a maximum of 7:10 at km 37, gradually decreased. It was still over three minutes when the escapees reached Cote de Treves (3rd cat, km 167), on which Turgis brought his KOM tally to 14 points. The Frenchman added four more on Cote de St. Prim (Km 183)
Woods crashes out
Canada’s Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling) was also forced to quit on a crash 48 km from the finish line. The tempo raised in the last 30 km, Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt, NTT’s Victor Campenaerts and Cofidis’s Julien Vermote leading the way, and the four only led by one minute with 20 km to go. That is when Turgis and Mullen decided to wait for the peloton while Tratnik and Gougeard kept going. Spurred by the abandon of three of his team-mates, Sergio Higuita (EF pro Cycling) went for the second intermediate sprint but had to settle for 4th behind Tratnik, Gougeard and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-McLaren).
Tratnik nearly there
Just after the sprint, Julian Alaphilippe and Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-Quick Step), without a sprinter since Sam Bennett left the race, tried to shake the peloton. Jungels took team-mate Kasper Asgreen, Pello Bilbao, Jasper Stuyven and Nikias Arndt with him, but the five were caught with 7 km to go, as Tratnik dropped Gougeard and found himself alone in the front. The Slovenian TT specialist did not give up and really went for it until the very last stretch, when the peloton finally ruined his hopes.
1. Niccolò Bonifazio (Total Direct Énergie) in 5h18’02’’
2. Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain-McLaren) s.t.
3. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) s.t.
1. Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe)
2. Søren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb) at 58’’
3. Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) at 1’01’’
Next up: 6th stage: Sorgues – Apt