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Richie Porte (Sky) won stage 5 of Paris-Nice on Friday with a sharp, solo effort on the Montagne de Lure summit finish. The effort distanced overnight leader Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) and with the win, Porte assumed command of the general classification with two days of racing remaining.
“I had bad memories of Paris-Nice,” said Porte. “Three years ago, my team manager told me I was too heavy for a cyclist, last year I crashed, but today, I won the stage and it is exceptional.”
Porte was part of a small leading group riding to the summit finish atop the 14km ascent of the Cat. 1 Lure climb. A number of riders attacked on the climb, including Talansky. With 1.3km remaining, Porte surged ahead of Talansky, caught Denis Menchov (Katusha), and rode solo the rest of the way.
“I think I attacked in the right moment; I did my best to take the victory, but in the last kilometer Porte passed me. He had too high speed, so I could not follow him,” said Menchov. “Anyways, I’m quite happy with my performance and the team’s one; it was an important test for us. But, of course, I’m a little disappointed because I didn’t win.”
Menchov finished second and Talansky was third. In the GC standings, Talansky trails Porte by 32 seconds and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) is third, 42 ticks behind.
Porte and his teammates led the main group up most of the final climb, catching breakaway rider Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard) with about 7km left. Sky director Nicolas Portal said that the team had to be careful who they left up the road because of the difficulty of the finish climb.
“We took control of the race early on the climb,” said Porte. “I have to thank my teammates, [Zabier] Xandio, [Kanstantsin] Siutsou, [David] Lopez, who have done a lot of work.
“I’ve done an apprenticeship if you like under Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome and also before that Alberto Contador. You don’t always get the opportunity to ride for yourself in a team like this so when it comes you have to grab it with both hands. It’s just nice to get a big victory and I’ll take the rest as it comes.”
Porte put the lessons he learned from those mentors to good work as a series of attacks from the GC contenders played out from there. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) surged ahead with under 4km left, but was reeled in when Talansky attacked.
“In the end, Talansky had no teammates instead of me,” said Porte. “I was surprised that he attacked, but I will not allow myself to have a judgment on his tactics.”
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) was in the mix, but ultimately lamented a missed opportunity.
“It was kind of like you had to pick your moment because there was a bit of a headwind,” he said. “Porte defintely picked the right moment … I felt good on the climb, but not as explosive as I could be. Maybe that was due to the cold; I don’t know.”
Earlier in the stage, the peloton chased a breakaway group that included Voigt, Cyril Lemoine (Sojasun), Paolo Longo Borghini (Cannondale), and Thierry Hupond (Argos-Shimano) for most of the day. Voigt initially left the main field 14km into the stage, and he was joined shortly thereafter by his three breakaway mates. The gap between the groups topped out at about six-and-a-half minutes 77km into the stage.
Voigt rode hard, particularly in the final section of the course when he surged ahead of his breakaway mates at the base of the finishing climb. When he was caught, he immediately fell to the rear of the 39-rider main group.
“Once I attacked and dropped the other three, I went all in. I figured I had no real chance to win, so why not give it everything?” said Voigt. “I was thinking of my winning attack in Colorado [at the USA Pro Challenge] last year and that was giving me motivation. The weather was quite similar — it was cool and rainy. I just don’t like to give up and try to always believe in myself. And sometimes I can pull it off. I will admit that I could feel my age a little bit. But I don’t walk away empty handed from today; at least I had fun. And Trek gave me that special painted bike so today I could show it on TV to everyone.”
It was the biggest stage of the eight-day “Race to the Sun” thus far, with six categorized climbs on the map. Saturday’s 220km stage 6 features five ascents, including back-to-back Cat. 1s.
The race ends Sunday with a 9.6km time trial from Nice to Col d’Eze.