Geraint Thomas (Sky) retained his lead at Paris-Nice but it was Trek Factory Racing that brought the race to life with Bob Jungels and Laurent Didier launching late attacks while Matthew Busche was active in the breakaway of the day. Jungels, the youngest rider in the race, was second in the three-man sprint for the line as Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) claimed the stage win with Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) in third place.
Joining Busche in the break were Sylvain Chavanel (IAM), Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Jon Izaguirre (Movistar) and Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) which formed 17km into the 153km stage but they were never given more than a few minutes as Bakelants was only 19 seconds behind Thomas on the GC.
Bakelants won both intermediate sprints to gain six seconds to move up on GC while Chavanel moved into the lead of the KOM jersey at the conclusion of the day's racning.
The break was caught at the bottom of the final long gradual climb of the stage at which point Didier launched a counter attack to quickly gain 10 seconds before he succumbed to the fierce pace being set by the chasing peloton.
The winning move started with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) launching his own attack that saw him go clear and lead over the top and down the twisty narrow descent towards the finish but was joined by Betancur, Fuglsang and Jungels but they Italian was unable to go with trio to the line.
Swapping turns, the trio managed to hold off the peloton and it was Betancur who played the tactics to perfection, following the wheels in the final kilometre to easily come around Jungels and Fuglsang to win the stage.
"I felt really good today," said Jungels. "When Nibali attacked in the last climb I was able to follow, and after the downhill there was a small hill, which was difficult after descending. Betancur attacked here, Jakob [Fuglsang] followed and I went too. Then we managed to make it to the finish together. We said as a team before the stage that we should really try something, because we have nothing to lose anymore. So we tried and we are back in the game I think.
"I knew I could beat Jakob, but Betancur ... I just had to try and make a long sprint, but in the end Betancur was stronger. For me I did the best I could. I am already happy to be up there with these guys and to play for the victory here in such a big race - that was very special."
Former American road race champion Busche said post-race that his chance of making it to the line with break were slim at best but he was satisfied nevertheless to be part of the key move.
"I did my best to get in there. It hurt," said Busche. "The problem for me was the others in the break were close in the GC, so they did not give us a lot of time. Also the sprinters' teams were going to pull with the hope it could be a bunch sprint. I was happy to be there, but in terms of trying to win from the breakaway it probably was not the best day. But you never know, so I am happy that I could be there anyway."