Davide Cimolai narrowly wins ahead of Bryan Coquard after Thomas De Gendt caught by the peloton within final five hundred meters

Lampre-Merida’s Davide Cimolai sprinted ahead of Bryan Coquard (Europcar) and Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) to take a victory at the slightly uphill finish of Paris-Nice stage 5. The peloton almost missed its opportunity on the day, as Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt managed to survive up the road into the waning moments of the stage, but the breakaway-driving Belgian was caught with less than a kilometer to go in Rasteau after 192km of racing.

De Gendt, Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin), Egor Silin (Katusha), Romain Sicard (Europcar), and Pawel Poljański (Tinkoff-Saxo) fought to make it into a breakaway move early in the day. De Gendt, already leading the king of the mountains competition, nabbed KOM after KOM throughout the stage, but still retained enough energy to drive the pace in the break as the group neared the finish with the peloton closing the gap behind. Sicard and Poljanski were eventually distanced, and then Talansky and Silin, until only De Gendt remained at the head of the race in the final kilometer, with the peloton increasing the pace in preparation for a sprint. Inside the final five hundred meters, the pack caught and passed De Gendt.

At the front of the peloton, Coquard launched his sprint first, and Cimolai latched onto his wheel, with Matthews just behind. Coquard led into the final seconds of the race but Cimolai came around him inside the last hundred meters to narrowly take the stage victory.

Race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step) finished with the peloton and retained his yellow jersey, with Team Sky’s Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas also holding onto their second- and third-place positions, respectively.

For Thomas De Gendt, already leading in the king of the mountains competition at the start of the stage, the decision to jump off the front early on stage 5 was motivated by a desire to tighten his grip on the polka dot jersey, but a stage win started to look like more and more of a possibility as the finish approached. Though he did successfully extend his lead in the KOM classification, De Gendt was left wondering what might have been when the peloton passed him so close to the line.

“Of course you’re disappointed when you’re so close to the victory. It’s a pity, but we can’t change anything,” De Gendt said. “The plan was to take points on the first climb if possible. I easily escaped the peloton at a moment when lots of riders got dropped. I picked up the points and normally it was the plan that I would wait for the bunch. But I asked the sports directors if I could stay in front because I felt I had really good legs and there were four strong riders with me. There was a good cooperation between us and I could take the maximum of the points on every climb. Then I aimed for the stage win. I came close.”

The upcoming stage 6 will offer more KOM points, which will leave De Gendt keeping an eye on his chief rivals for that classification, Chris Anker Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team). “With forty points lead on the second rider in the KOM classification it looks good, but it’s not sure yet,” he said. “Tomorrow there are 51 points to gain, so all is still possible. We’ll have to wait for the first two climbs to see if someone will become a danger. If Gilbert or Sorensen attacks, I’ll have to follow, because they are my main opponents. If at least three riders take off, who don’t have any points yet, then I win the jersey.”

For 25-year-old Davide Cimolai, who overtook Bryan Coquard in the final moments to take the stage 5 victory, the win was his second of the season after a victory in the Trofeo Laigueglia in February. For Lampre-Merida, it was the first WorldTour win of the year.

“The favourite today was (John) Degenkolb. I tried to position myself not far from him but when I saw Coquard pulling ahead, I made the effort,” Cimolai said after the stage.

“I haven’t changed anything this season. I’ve improved year after year by working for others. I arrived in form and worked for (Niccolo) Bonifacio and the flat sprints in the first few days.”

“I am fast but I am not as fast as (Andre) Greipel, (Mark) Cavendish or (Marcel) Kittel,” he said. “In the more selective finishes, I am able to defend myself.”

Saturday’s stage 6 runs 184.5 kilometers from Vence to Nice.