Paris-Nice stage 4: Cort conquers breakaway

Astana's Magnus Cort out-foxes breakaway master Thomas De Gendt to claim his first victory of 2019. Michal Kwiatkowski assumes GC lead.

After an all-day adventure in the breakaway, Magnus Cort (Astana) launched an early attack in the final kilometer to win Paris-Nice stage 4 Wednesday in PĂ©lussin, France.

The Dane got the better of breakaway specialist Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), who ended up second. Trek-Segafredo’s Giulio Ciccone finished third in the week’s longest stage at 212 kilometers.

“It’s amazing to win a stage here,” Cort said. “I was not officially planning to make the break, but I felt like it. I was feeling good in the first K, so I thought, why not get in the break?”

Thanks to the route’s hilly final 20-kilometer circuit, the overall standings changed on Wednesday.

Sprinter Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), winner of stages 1 and 2, could not hold onto the yellow jersey. Instead, Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski ended the day with the GC lead, finishing 10th.

“We knew it was going to be a tough stage for Groenewegen, for sure,” said Kwiatkowski. “We were expecting fireworks in the final. I have to say it was a really strong breakaway. I could only fight for taking the yellow but not really for the stage victory, but I’m really happy about it.”

Out of that main peloton, Lilian Calmejeane (Direct Energie) took the sprint for fifth, 48 seconds behind the day’s winner.

After the stage, Cort admitted he was a bit worried about going up against De Gendt in the finale.

“It’s both good and bad to be in the break with strong guys,” Cort, 26, said. “It’s not easy to win but it makes your chance better of staying away.”

De Gendt did earn a consolation prize on Wednesday, taking the lead in the king of the mountains classification.

His win is the latest in an impressive run for the Astana team, which has won seven stage race overalls in the first few months of 2019, including Tour of Oman and Ruta del Sol. Cort’s stage 4 win was also the first WorldTour victory of the season for Astana.

“It’s my first victory so I’m really happy, and with the team, the season is going very well,” he added.

Thursday’s stage 5 should help to further sort out the overall standings. The peloton will face a 25.5km individual time trial around Barbentane with a 1km climb at the halfway point.

“The crucial part of the race is definitely tomorrow, the time trial, and the stage atop Turini and also Nice. It’s going to be exciting,” said Kwiatkowski. “It’s always great to start as last man in time trial [as overall leader], to have all the splits.”