Zakarin wins the queen stage in Paris-Nice

Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin took his first victory of 2016 in the sixth stage of Paris-Nice. The 26-year-old Russian found himself among a small select group near the top of the day’s final climb and then won a close battle with Sky’s Geraint Thomas to take the queen stage victory at the line. Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador, whose aggressive riding led to the formation of the group in the first place, rolled across the line in third one second later.

Tinkoff had done the damage all day and had both brought the break back and distanced Matthews and second-placed Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) by the time, the reduced peloton hit the 15.3km climb which averaged 5.3%. Sky had taken control in the final part of the stage and it was Nicolas Roche who led the 30-40-rider group onto the climb.

While Matthews sat up completely from his group that was 50 seconds behind, Roche sent riders out the back door before he left it to Ian Boswell to set the pace. Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) was the next big name to get dropped but he briefly managed to rejoin the group before being distanced for good.

With 11km to go, Ben Swift proved that he is more than just a sprinter by hitting the front, sending Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) and Dries Devenyns (IAM) out the back door. Meanwhile, Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) and Contador slowly moved up in the group and it was clear that they were readying themselves for a move.

That was launched with 10km to go when Majka went full gas. Cotador, Thomas, Sergio Henao, Mikel Nieve (Sky) and Porte joined him and gradually Romain Bardet (Ag2r), Zakarin, Arnold Jeannesson (Cofidis), Dumoulin, Ion Izagirre (Movistar), Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE), Simon Spilak (Katusha), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) also regained contact. However, Majka continued to ride hard on the front and Costa, Gallopin and Spilak were briefly distanced before they rejoined the group in an easier section.

Majka slowed down in the easier part with 6km to go where Costa tried to anticipate the stronger riders but the Pole closed the gap immediately. Moments later, they hit the steepest part and this is where Majka really dropped the hammer.

With 5.5km to go, Contador made his big attack and only Henao and Thomas could follow. Porte was in lone pursuit and could watch while Thomas got dropped. Henao dropped back to assist his leader and the pair made it back to Contador with 5km to go.

Porte also regained contact and then Zakarin attacked out of the chase group to also make it back. In the next group, Kelderman, Jeannesson, Bardet, Dumoulin, Izagirre, Kelderman, Costa and Yates had survived and they were 15 seconds behind.

Henao sacrificed himself for Thomas but was unable to keep the chasers at bay. Bardet made a big surge and with 3km to go, they were back in contention.

Just as the junction was made, Contador went again and like before only Henao, Thomas, Porte and Zakarin could follow. The Russian tried to counter the move but they stayed together as Henao again hit the front.

The chasers were again 15 seconds behind and it was Izagirre and Yates who tried to bridge the gap. While the former failed, the latter made the junction with 2km to go. Bardet also gave it a try but as Dumoulin started to ride tempo, he was brought back.

Dumoulin did his best to get back but they failed to get closer to the leaders who were led by Henao until Porte made an attack just before the flamme rouge. Henao and Yates were briefly dropped but regained contact as the pace went down.

Henao went back to work but Porte quickly tried again. Zakarin, Contador and Thomas responded and Porte continued to set the pace until 500m remained. Here Contador went full gas in the steepest section but he was immediately passed by Thomas. Zakarin stayed glued to his wheel and tried to come around several times before he finally succeeded just metres from the line. Contador lost a single second in third while Porte was seven seconds behind in fourth.

Second place was enough for Thomas to take the overall lead and he now has an advantage of 15 seconds over Contador and 20 seconds over Zakarin. However, he still faces a very tough challenge if he wants to win the race. The short final stage around Nice covers a total of two category 3, two category 2 and two category 1 climbs on a route with little room for recovery. The top of the final climb, the famous Col d’Eze, comes 15.5km from the finish and from there it is a downhill run to the mainly flat final 2km on the Promenade d’Anglais in Nice.

Paris-Nice 2016 – stage 6 results (Nice – La Madone d’Utelle):

1 Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha)


2 Geraint Thomas (Sky)


3 Alberto Contador (Tinkoff)


4 Richie Porte (BMC)


5 Sergio Henao (Sky)


6 Simon Yates (Orica GreenEDGE)


7 Rui Costa (Lampre – Merida)


8 Romain Bardet (AG2R)


9 Jon Izaguirre (Movistar)


10 Tony Gallopin (Lotto FIX ALL)  ,,


General classification after stage 6:

1 Geraint Thomas (Sky)


2 Alberto Contador (Tinkoff)


3 Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha)


4 Richie Porte (BMC)


5 Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin)


6 Ion Izagirre (Movistar)


7 Sergio Henao (Sky)


8 Simon Yates (Orica GreenEDGE)


9 Tony Gallopin (Lotto FIX ALL)


10 Romain Bardet (AG2R)