Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) won the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice on Sunday and took the lead in the general classification.

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) proved to be the best climber at the 2018 Paris-Nice on Saturday, as he took the stage win and overall lead. He won atop the cat. 1 climb to Valdeblore-La Colmaiane on a terribly cold and wet day in southern France, which saw the riders spend over five hours in the saddle.

Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) was the only rider to be able to follow Yates’ attack in the final two kilometers of the finishing climb, but he would not be able to hold the Briton’s pace all the way to the line. He would be dropped by Yates with just over a kilometer to go and then be caught by Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing) in the final few hundred meters. Teuns would take second on the day with Izagirre right on his wheel.

Another Izagirre finished the day in fourth, as Ion’s brother Gorka had a great ride as well. The two brothers sit second and third in the general classification behind Yates.

“I think it’s one of my greatest victories for sure,” Yates said after the stage. “It’s my first real summit finish victory, and I’m very proud of it. I worked very hard to get to this stage of my career and the hard work paid off.”

Previous race leader Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) suffered on the final climb and plummetted down the general classification. He finished the stage over four minutes down and fell well outside the top 10 in the overall standings.

Top-10 stage 7

Top-10 overall

The penultimate stage of Paris-Nice on Saturday was the queen stage of the race with a brutal summit finish. The riders rode 175 kilometers from Nice to Valdeblore-La Colmiane. The stage had five categorized climbs, which included the cat. 1 ascent to the finish. The climb to the finish was 16.3 kilometers and averaged 6.3-percent.

A cloudy sky and rain greeted the riders on Saturday morning in Nice with the stage going uphill immediately from the gun. The green jersey of the points classification leader was absent on the start line, as Arnaud Demare (FDJ) did not start the stage.

Eight riders escaped the peloton’s grasp after the first climb of the day, which came 10 kilometers into the stage. Amongst the riders in the lead was Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), who started the day second in the King of the Mountains classification. Rory Sutherland (UAE Team Emirates), Tony Gallopin (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Alessandro de Marchi (BMC Racing), Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing), Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo), Amael Moinard (Fortuneo-Samsic), and Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) joined De Gendt in the lead.

As the climbs wore on, Movistar and Bahrain-Merida took over the pacemaking in the peloton and many riders abandoned the race. The two leading teams kept the leaders close, just letting the gap hover over the three-minute mark. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) and Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates) were among the abandons. Mike Teunissen of Sunweb also abandoned and this left only three riders in the race for the team.

With under 100 kilometers to go, Herrada had been dropped from the breakaway and De Gendt took the lead in the KOM classification. Through three of the five climbs, the Belgian crossed the top first and took maximum points. On the descent of the Col Saint-Raphael, the peloton split and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) was the most notable rider caught on the wrong side of the split. Wellens began the stage in fifth overall. Defending champion Sergio Henao (Sky) was also in the chase group. After an extended effort, which included chasing while tackling the fourth climb of the day, Wellens and company made it back to the main peloton. Now, only 35 kilometers remained in the stage.

Also during the descent, Pantano and De Marchi crashed out of the breakaway with the latter falling over the guardrail and into a ravine. Miraculously, De Marchi would climb out of the ravine with the assistance of the medical team. He then remounted his bike and finished the stage.

The crash split the breakaway and left only Gallopin, Moinard, and Roche in the lead. De Gendt avoided the crash, but dropped out of the lead group and back to the peloton.

Astana droved the peloton to the bottom of the long 16-kilometer ascent to the finish and the breakaway’s lead tumbled down. Gallopin was the last of the breakaway riders to hold off the peloton and it was all together with about 13 kilometers to go to the finish.

The pacemaking on the climb by the team in the turquoise kits thinned out the peloton and kept any attacks at bay. Everyone seemed content to let Astana use its domestiques to set the pace in support of race leader Sanchez. Sanchez looked comfortable at the front of the group behind his teammates, but soon it became apparent that he had been bluffing.

With six kilometers to go, Mitchelton-Scott’s Roman Kreuziger increased the pace in the group and Sanchez went out the back. Yates attacked a couple kilometers later and was marked by Ion Izagirre. Yates began the day in seventh overall.

Inside the final two kilometers, other general classification contenders began to attack. Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing) had a go and this shattered the select group that had formed behind Izagirre and Yates. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) had looked set to take over the yellow jersey from Sanchez, but Teuns’ acceleration was just a little too much for Alaphilippe and the young Frenchman dropped off the group.

Teuns finished the day in second followed by the Izagirre brothers. The riders crossed the line caked in dirt from the road. It had been a long, hard, and damp stage on Saturday.

Yates will begin Sunday’s final stage around Nice with a slim advantage. He has Ion and Gorka Izagirre breathing down his neck and attacks are sure to come. The final stage in the mountains around Nice always seems to serve up an exciting finale to the race.

Stage 7 full results

GC after stage 7