Paris-Nice: De Gendt takes stage 7, Leipheimer crashes

De Gendt solos to victory while Leipheimer crashes three times, Wiggins holds lead

After working together with Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis) to build a lead that at one point was over 12 minutes, Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) broke free from his breakaway companion on the Col de Vence to win today’s 219.5km stage 7 from Sisteron into Nice, by over six minutes.

The Belgian hauled in the third stage win for his Dutch team, after Gustav Larsson in the first stage time trial and Lieuwe Westra in Mende. De Gendt, 25, a winner of a Tour de Suisse stage last year, dropped Taaramae in the Col de Vence to solo to victory on the Promenade des Anglais.

Taaramae had crashed at 36km into the stage, but it only served to motivate him as he broke clear 12 kilometers later with De Gendt. The Estonian and the Dutchman quickly gained momentum and grew their lead to nearly 13 minutes at the top of Cote de Peyroules. The peloton, led by Bradley Wiggins’ Sky teammates, decided to let them go as neither rider posed a real GC threat.

American Levi Leipheimer, who started the day just 10 seconds back on GC, had a day he’d rather soon forget, falling three times, and losing massive chunks of time, along with any chance of a podium finish on Sunday. After his initial fall, Movistar led the pack swiftly into the descent of the Col de Vence and put pressure on Leipheimer and the four teammates chasing with him. He eventually crashed a third time, piling into his teammates, who hit a motorcycle that had been parked on the side of the road in the middle of a turn.
Sky’s Bradley Wiggins retained the race leader’s yellow jersey, by just six seconds over Lieuwe Westra, on the eve of  Sunday’s 9.6 km uphill time trial from Nice to the Col d’Eze, putting him on course to become the race’s first British winner since Tom Simpson in 1967.

Brief results:

1. Thomas De Gendt (BEL/VAC) in  5h 11:48.

2. Rein Taaramae (EST/COF) at 6:17.

3. John Degenkolb (GER/PRO) at 9:24.

4. Greg Henderson (NZL/LTB) at s.t.

5. Thor Hushovd (NOR/BMC) at s.t.

6. Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP/MOV) at s.t.

7. Romain Feillu (FRA/VAC) at s.t.

8. Simon Clarke (AUS/GEC) at s.t.

9. Xavier Florencio (ESP/KAT) at s.t.

10. Grega Bole (SLO/LAM) at s.t.