Paris-Nice (st. 4)
Long break by Jesús Herrada; great fight by John Gadret; José Joaquín Rojas’s 8th today -4th overall- all underline Movistar Team’s fine performance in Paris-Nice’s opening mountains – Ion Izagirre also proves ready for the fight
Fight, fight, fight. That was the motto for the Movistar Team riders through the first lumpy day of racing in this year’s Paris-Nice. The 201km stage four from Nevers to Belleville, with four small categorized climbs, hid a treacherous climb in the Mont Brouilly (Cat-2), barely three kilometers yet with slopes up to 15%, creating small gaps into a GC mainly dominated by sprinters until that point. By the foot of the climb, the day’s four-man, early breakaway was caught: Spanish champion Jesús Herrada notably featured there, putting his strength on the flat at their companions’ and his own service to last as long as possible.
The pace by AG2R -including an attack from Colombian Carlos Betancur- was followed by a move right before the summit by Tom-Jelte Slagter (GRS) and Geraint Thomas (SKY), who opened a serious gap while a ten-man ‘grupetto’, including an offensive Ion Izagirre, unsuccessfully fought to reel them in. A subsequent neutralization of the pursuit group allowed two Blues getting back into contention: John Gadret, who took some serious relays to reduce the gaps, and José Joaquín Rojas, who took eighth in the field sprint behind the lead duo.
Rojillas is still fourth overall, but the differences have got much shorter now: just eight seconds between the Spaniard and the yellow jersey, now on Thomas’s shoulders over Slagter and former leader John Degenkolb (GIA). Thursday will bring another series of ups-and-downs on day five (153km), with Sainte Catherine (Cat-2) on the way to the arrivée in Rive-de-Gier.