Paris-Nice’s wrong-way breakaway

Usually it's hard to make the breakaway in big races, but in stage 6 of Paris-Nice, a few riders went off the front by accident.

Breakaways are usually a hard slog. Some of the most intense racing in a stage race happens before the TV cameras are turned on. It’s the first hour that’s often the most brutal during the yo-yo battle for the day’s main break.

Things didn’t quite unfold like that in Friday’s stage 6 at Paris-Nice. About 15km into the 198km stage, the main pack of the peloton missed a left turn and bunched up the road in the wrong direction. A few riders hanging off the back saw the miscue and suddenly shot from worst to first.

“It was not my intention to join the break today,” said Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt. “It was the first time in my career that I got in a front group by accident.”

De Gendt is a familiar face in breakaways, but he hitched a ride Friday in the move without really trying.

How’s how it happened: The first wave of riders tried their luck and were off the front at about 15km into the lumpy, five-climb stage from Sisteron to Vence. A bit further up the road, the main pack swept through a roundabout on the wrong side of the road, and missed arrows pointing left. It took the pack a few minutes to realize it was going the wrong way, and by then, a few wily riders shot into the opening.

“I was sitting towards the back of the bunch and I saw that 90 percent of the bunch went the wrong way,” said BMC’s Dylan Teuns. “I made a U-turn and I kept riding easy and actually sat up when suddenly Thomas De Gendt and Alexander Kristoff came past me. At first, I thought they were joking when they were riding full-gas, but then they kept going and Arnaud Demare joined. We were seven guys and five of them were riding hard while I was sitting behind.”

Another accidental tourist was Carlos Barbero (Movistar), who suddenly went from fidgeting with a bike change to being well placed in the day’s move.

“I called over the radio, ‘I think I’m in the breakaway!’” Barbero said. “I was at the back of the bunch after changing my bike. The pack went straight, and I went left. My only thought was I am in the break, or I am going home because I’ll be in the time cut.”

Just like that, 13 riders had built up a three-minute lead. The unexpected adventurers didn’t want Teuns as company (he started the day 14th at 1:00 back), and he sat up at 40km. He later counter-attacked when the group was inevitably reeled in with 25km to go, rocketing past his former comrades to finish sixth and move to 11th overall.

It wasn’t all for naught. De Gendt moved up to second in the king of the mountains competition. If you see him in a breakaway over the mountainous weekend you know it won’t be accidental.

“The KOM jersey wasn’t a goal this morning, but now I’m second,” he said. “We’ll see what the next days will bring.”