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Live coverage of stage 6 of the 2018 Paris-Nice, another potential opportunity for a breakaway but also a finale that will draw the GC contenders out.
Bonjour! Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live race centre for stage 6 of Paris-Nice. A slightly earlier start today, and on the menu a 200km route from Sisteron to Vence - a lumpy parcours with a real sting in the tail.
Here's the stage profile
The riders have left Sisteron under blue skies and sunshine, the 'Race to the Sun' living up to its nickname. The peloton is all together in the opening kilometres.
The possibility of a break going all the way today hasn't escaped anyone, and as such there's a good old scrap to make it in there. Once a move goes, those who've missed out set their teammates to pull it back, and so the process repeats itself. A high-speed start to the stage.
Six riders off the front.
Wow. The peloton has literally just gone the wrong way and headed off the course. Crazy.
The peloton is back on the race route but that wrong turn has sewn confusion and chaos.
The six in the break are:
Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal)
Amael Moinard (Fortuneo-Samsic)
Paul Martens (LottoNL-Jumbo)
Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis)
Thomas Scully (EF-Drapac)
Fabien Grellier (Direct Energie)
Behind them, there's another group of seven trying to make it up. In there are:
Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates)
Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin)
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal)
Carlos Barbero (Movistar)
Dylan Teuns (BMC)
Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ)
Bert Van Lerberghe (Cofidis)
The peloton seems to have fully reformed after that moment of chaos earlier.
So, we have a group of six leading the race. Half a minute behind them is a group of seven on the counter-attack, and two minutes further back is the peloton. You should be able to see the race situation over the right-hand side of your screens.
Jonction en tête de course
The chase group of seven manage to close the gap and have made it up to the group of six, giving us a breakaway of 13 riders.
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The problem man in this break is Dylan Teuns. He's currently 14th overall, just one minute down on race leader Luis León Sánchez. Astana, then, won't want to let this breakaway get out of hand. Some of Teuns' companions might be politely asking him if he'd mind reconsidering his plans...
The gap stands at just over two minutes now. Astana are indeed working on the front of the peloton. They've now got a real job on their hands today.
Surprising that Démare, wearing the green jersey, didn't bag himself some more points at the intermediate sprint, but it's Barbero who crossed first, followed by Scully and Grellier.
46km on the clock after an hour of racing. That's fast.
Juicy nugget in L'Equipe there as per Peter Cossins' tweet. If you're not up to speed on what happened yesterday, Direct Energie's Jerome Cousin won the stage in what has to be one of the most brazen displays of wheelsucking seen in some time. He and Katusha's Nils Politt were away in the finale with the peloton breathing down on them, but the Frenchman played a brilliant game of poker, refused to do any turns, and then mugged Politt off in the sprint. Some didn't like it, some (myself included) thought it was magical.
Full race report, highlights, and photos here so you can catch up and have your say in the comments section.
- 146km remaining from 198km
Astana reduce the gap to the breakaway to 1:45.
It's false flat on the way towards this uncategorised climb to Saint-André-les-Alpes, and the break appears to be splitting up.
Teuns sits up
The Belgian's presence meant the breakaway were being kept on a very tight leash and, as expected, the rest of them have had a word and the Belgian has agreed to call it a day and leave them to it.
Teuns is reabsorbed back into the peloton, which can now exhale. The gap to the now-12-man break duly starts to rise above the three-minute mark.
Amael Moinard, one of our breakaway members, spoke to local newspaper Nice-Matin this morning about the stage. He's from the north of France but now lives on the Riviera and as such knows these roads well.
"It is not too demanding in the first part but very tiring. Then the descent of the Gorges du Loup is very winding and positioning will be crucial. I compare this stage to an Ardennes classic. There won't be big gaps but it will be spectacular. The approach of the last climb will be important as it rises very strongly all the way to Vence."
- 128km remaining from 198km
The gap has stabilised at just under 3 minutes with 70km on the clock.
It seems everyone's falling ill at Paris-Nice, and two more overnight withdrawals leave the sprint field here dismally depleted. After Groenewegen, Bennett, and Bauhaus, now Degenkolb and Bouhanni. More on those two in the following stories.
- 113km remaining from 198km
Not a lot of action at the moment as the two groups trundle towards the half-way mark. From there, though, it starts to get more serious, with the Col de Luens the first of five categorised climbs.
- 106km remaining from 198km
The breakaway riders now hit the Col de Luens. It's a category 2 ascent, 6.6km long at 4.4%.
The peloton hits the climb 2:50 in arrears.
The break are sticking together on the climb though we should see a battle for KOM points nearer the top. Expect Grellier to be up for it. A reminder of the standings going into today's stage.
1 Jerome Cousin (Fra) Direct Energie 25 pts
2 Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 14
3 Julien El Fares (Fra) Delko Marseille Provence KTM 12
4 Fabien Grellier (Fra) Direct Energie 11
5 Pierre Luc Perichon (Fra) Fortuneo-Samsic 11
6 Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin 8
7 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors 4
8 Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ 4
9 Pierre Rolland (Fra) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale 4
10 Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz (Pol) Delko Marseille Provence KTM 3
Grellier is indeed in the mix but it's breakaway specialist Thomas De Gendt who pips him to the line.
Here's how the points were shared at the top of the Col de Luens
1. De Gendt 7 points
2. Grellier 5 points
3. Bak 3 points
4. Moinard 2 points
5. Scully 1 point
The peloton crests the climb 2:30 in arrears.
- 95km remaining from 198km
After their scrap for the KOM points, De Gendt and Grellier have opened a small gap to their breakaway companions. There's a short descent now before the road kicks back uphill.
Speaking of De Gendt, it seems like a good time to plug this article we did with him a couple of months ago. CN Editor Daniel Benson interviewed him at the Tour Down Under and the Belgian shared his six tips for getting into a breakaway and then winning from it. Really interesting stuff from a now-rare breed of rider.
FDJ's Ignatas Konovalovas has climbed off his bike and abandoned the race due to knee pain.
- 91km remaining from 198km
They're climbing again, and the breakaway is all back together, with the peloton at 2:40.
Astana, Bahrain-Merida, and Quick-Step doing the work as the gap falls to two minutes.
The breakaway riders are about to hit the second climb of the day, the Col Bas.
It's much shorter, at just 1.7km, but it's steeper, at 7.2%, and as such it's also a category 2 climb.
De Gendt once again beats Grellier to the top of the climb.
The gradients have caused serious splits in the break.
- 75km remaining from 198km
Five are left out front, with the other seven in various fragments behind.
Lead group swells to nine
Kristoff, Politt, Martens, and Lemoine make it back up to the front of the race as the road starts to tilt downhill.
Démare, Bak, and Van Lerberghe are 45 seconds in arrears.
Shout out to Van Lerberghe. He crashed hard at the end of yesterday's stage and went sliding into a tree. Quiet one in the peloton to recover? Nah, day on the attack...
As was the case yesterday, Quick-Step Floors take the reins on this long downhill section. Today's finale seems tailor-made for Julian Alaphilippe.
The breakaway riders have flown down the descent and it's already time for the third time of the day, the Côte de Cipières. It's another category 2 ascent, 2.8km long at 5.6%.
- 50km remaining from 198km
More changes in the break now. De Gendt, Grellier, Moinard and Scully are the four left out front.
Demare and Van Lergerghe have been caught by the peloton. Bak, who was with them, has clung on and is now in a chasing group with the rest of the break behind those four leaders.
- 46km remaining from 198km
The gap to the peloton is now just 1:30. It doesn't look like the break will have their fun for a second day in a row.
Once again De Gendt and Grellier go for the KOM points on the Côte de Cipières, and once again it's De Gendt who's first to the line. Another seven points for him.
Another short and fast descent now and then the riders will hit the fourth climb of the day, the Côte de Gourdon. Another second-category, it's 3.8km at 4.2%.
Barbero has made it up to the front of the race to make it five in the break.
Kristoff, Politt, Bak, Lemoine, and Martens all caught by the peloton.
- 40km remaining from 198km
One minute is the gap now as Team Sky lead the peloton with a full train.
Here comes the next battle for KOM points...
It's deja vu as Grellier sprints away but De Gendt comes back and snatches it on the line.
That's another seven points for De Gendt. The Belgian moves onto 28 points but Grellier, thanks to four second places, is up on 31 after being in the break earlier in the race.
A little acceleration from Wout Poels as the peloton come to the top of the climb. We've heard from Moinard about how important positioning is on this descent along the winding gorge roads of the river Loup.
- 35km remaining from 198km
A reminder of the stage profile
De Gendt leads the break downhill. It's not a steep descent but one of those where you're turning your biggest gear.
The five breakaway riders have just 20 seconds now as Mitchelton-Scott take it up in the peloton.
Luis Leon Sanchez dropped!
It looks like the race leader had a mechanical. He got a bike change from a teammate and is back up and running, but he's left with a panicked chase.
Sanchez weaves through the cars and makes contact with the back of the peloton, where another teammate is waiting for him. Not a good place at all to have a mechanical but panic over. He is, however, stuck at the back and it'll be hard to move up on this descent.
Grellier loses ground in the break as local lad Moinard plots the fastest lines down this descent.
- 28km remaining from 198km
15 seconds is all that separates the peloton from the break.
Grellier is caught. The Frenchman sits up as the Mitchelton-Scott train whizzes past him.
Mitchelon-Scott's pace setting is causing splits in the peloton.
The five leaders are about to be caught.
Lots of panicked faces in the peloton as they try to plug the gaps.
- 22km remaining from 198km
The game is finally up for the breakaway with 22km to go.
Sanchez is moving up but these are still dangerous times. The all-important first-category ascent of the Côte de la Colle sur Loup comes pretty much straight after this descent. He'll be riding the rest of this stage on his teammate's bike.
Mitchelton-Scott still drilling it. They have Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves both in contention for the overall title.
Team Sky are in place behind Mitchelton-Scott. Sanchez has a teammate furiously trying to pull him up towards the front.
A reminder of what's coming up. The Côte de la Colle sur Loup is only 1.8km long, but such is the steepness - it averages 10% but features plenty of move severe gradients - it's rated as a first-category climb. After a short descent the road kicks up again for what could in itself be a categorised climb, and the road only eases up in the final 3km.
- 16km remaining from 198km
Ian Stannard on the front now for Sky as the peloton continues to thin out. Just over 5km to the climb.
Quick-Step move up now. Positioning will be vital going into the climb.
Mitchelton-Scott back on the front with Kreuziger leading their train of six riders.
Time for some quick predictions...
Who's going to take this? Will the yellow jersey change hands? Let me know via Twitter @paddyfletch
- 12km remaining from 198km
It's still full gas as we continue this descent. It's a gentle one so they're riding hard in the big ring.
- 11km remaining from 198km
Bahrain-Merida force themselves through to the front of the race now. They have the Izaguirre brothers up there on GC. We're almost at the climb.
The road pitches uphill now and riders are getting dropped immediately. The climb proper has not yet begun.
Simon Yates finds himself at the front. It's about to kick off...
- 10.5km remaining from 198km
Dries Devenyns takes it up for Quick-Step and Alaphilippe. The peloton lines out and the favourites have to be up near the front now.
Alaphilippe is out of the saddle but bides his time for now. This is a horribly steep ascent.
Devenyns gives it one last injection of pace and now Alaphilippe is at the front. He doesn't make an attack - it's hard to on these gradients - but the bunch is thinning out dramatically.
Zakarin has to put his foot down and needs a push from a spectator.
Poels and Henao up near the front for Sky.
Sanchez is up there but towards the back of a group that's establishing itself now.
Vuillermoz attacks for AG2R. Chaves follows.
Gallopin, Vuillermoz's teammate, is dropped.
Around 15 riders left at the front of the race.
Poels attacks with a seated acceleration. Wellens straight on the wheel.
Wellens accelerates too but now looks around and they ease up
Sanchez is losing ground. The elastic hasn't snapped yet though
Vuillermoz goes again but Henao goes after him and again we have more looking around
Another attack from Poels now
Vuillermoz is onto the wheel but there's a gap to the rest.
Ion Izaguirre closes the gap and drags the rest of the group back.
Sanchez is in there with one teammate.
Sky have two GC players and so do Mitchelton. Simon Yates is on the move now.
Yates takes them over the top and it's now time for a tricky descent on narrow rough roads.
Yates goes again
Yates has a small gap as he hits 80km/h on this descent, which has taken him onto wider roads now.
Alaphilippe is sprinting over to Yates.
Crash for Poels
That looks like a bad crash. It was at such high speed. He's conscious but still on the ground. Surely race over for the Dutchman.
Simon Yates goes for the third time as the road kicks uphill once again.
Yates is pulling out a decent gap here. Fuglsang, Sanchez's teammate, goes off in pursuit.
Yates continues to increase his advantage as the rest of the riders bunch back up.
Yates crosses the intermediate sprint point and picks up three handy bonus seconds for his efforts. Henao reaches out for the next two and Wellens for the final one.
A reminder of how the GC looks
1 Luis León Sanchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team 17:45:26
2 Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky 0:00:15
3 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:26
4 Marc Soler (Spa) Movistar Team
5 Gorka Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida 0:00:34
6 Felix Grossschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:00:35
7 Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida 0:00:42
8 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal
9 Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky 0:00:48
10 Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott
11 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott
12 Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:00:54
13 Lilian Calmejane (Fra) Direct Energie 0:00:57
14 Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:01:00
- 5km remaining from 198km
Five kilometres to go as Wellens links up with Yates. Henao drops back into the group.
Wellens comes to the front now and this could be a fruitful partnership between himself and Yates.
Fuglsang is the one doing the chasing in this group of 15, with Sanchez on the wheel.
- 4km remaining from 198km
12 seconds is the gap
Sky have Henao and De la Cruz in the chase group. Marc Soler is in there, as are the Izaguirre brothers, and Alaphilippe.
- 3.5km remaining from 198km
Fuglsang pulls off now as Gorka Izaguirre accelerates in that chase group.
This is turning into a bad day for Sky. That chase group has split and De La Cruz is desperately trying to drag Sky's remaining contender back into contention.
FDJ's Rudy Molard attacks as Wellens and Yates are caught.
Ion Izaguirre joins Molard and Alaphilippe jumps across but Sanchez closes it down.
- 2km remaining from 198km
10 riders left at the front of the race with 2km to go
Both Izaguirres are up at the front and Gorka goes on the attack. Alaphilippe goes to close it down.
Izaguirre x 2, Alaphilippe, Molard, Yates, Chaves, Wellens, Vuillermoz, Sanchez all in that front group
- 1.2km remaining from 198km
The GC contenders look around at each other and that could be perfect for Molard to get away.
Molard looks around. he's into the final kilometre and we're going to have another French winner at this Paris-Nice
Rudy Molard (FDJ) wins stage 6 of Paris-Nice
Here comes the chase group, a couple of seconds back...
Wellens grabs second place to take six bonus seconds, Alaphilippe third for four.
That slight lull in the wake of Molard's attack allowed Henao and De la Cruz to come back. Panic over for them.
Lilian Calmejane and Bauke Mollema cross the line together, losing 45 seconds to their GC rivals.
1 Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ 4:40:05
2 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal 0:00:02
3 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:02
4 Luis León Sanchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team 0:00:02
5 Sam Oomen (Ned) Team Sunweb 0:00:02
6 Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:00:02
7 Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:00:02
8 Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott 0:00:02
9 Gorka Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida 0:00:02
10 Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky 0:00:02
That's the second victory of Molard's career and - given the other was a stage of the 2015 Tour du Limousin - comfortably the biggest.
Molard celebrated wildly at the finish line and then came to a stop and buried his head in his hands. He can't believe it.
Four wins from six stages for the French. Two wins for Groupama-FDJ after Demare's on the opening day.
General classification after stage 6
1 Luis León Sanchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team 22:25:33
2 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:22
3 Marc Soler (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:26
4 Gorka Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida 0:00:34
5 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal 0:00:35
6 Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida 0:00:42
7 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott 0:00:45
8 Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky 0:00:46
9 Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott 0:00:48
10 Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:00:54
We'll bring you an update on Poels when we can. As the cameras left him he as being dragged to his feet.
Here's Molard in his winner's TV interview
"It's fantastic, Groupama-FDJ's second victory Paris-Nice, my first WorldTour victory. I live in Antibes, I knew the final climb - I've done it a dozen times - and when the route for Paris-Nice was revealed in the winter I was delighted to see stage finish like that, one that's well suited to me. I was on a good day, it's fantastic.
"I knew that on the Côte de la Colle sur Loup I had to follow the wheels but not give it everything. I saw Vuillermoz was doing a lot but I decided to sit there without making any huge accelerations as I knew it would come down to later on. I felt good and knew that if I waited for a sprint I'd lose. I attacked a couple of times but the last one was the good one."
Here's Luis León Sánchez, who retains the lead of the race despite that late puncture and looks more solid in yellow after the abandon of Wout Poels.
"It was a moment of high-tension, towards the end of the stage when the race was at a high pace. I had a puncture in my rear wheel but we didn't panic, Omar [Fraile] gave me his bike really quickly. At the end of the day, after all the work my team had done, we were able to fix it quickly and I'm happy with how it went for us in the finale.
"Unfortunately Wout Poels had his crash but I hope he's ok. These things happen in races. All my other rivals are dangerous, but we're going to ride our own race and we're fully motivated for it. We came here to fight for the GC with Jakob [Fuglsang] but it's fallen to me, and now I have the guys working for me, a big champion like Jakob working for me. I thanked him and I thanked all my teammates. We go again tomorrow."
The polka-dot jersey swaps hands but stays in the Direct Energie family. Jerome Cousin had it today after yesterday's stage win but now Fabien Grellier, who was second to all four of those cat-2 climbs today, takes over.
Wout Poels has been taken to hospital in Saint Laurent du Var. No confirmed injuries yet but we're hearing it's a suspected broken collarbone and ribs.
This wasn't the only WorldTour race happening today. Over at Tirreno-Adriatico Primoz Roglic took victory after punching clear on the short but steep final climb in Trevi. Team Sky's Geraint Thomas moved into the overall lead of the race. More in our report page:
You can check out the full results, which are live now on our report page.
Grossschartner falls out of the top 10, finishing 1:11 down in a group with Zakarin, who ships more time. Calmejane and Mollema both lost another 42 seconds as well. Gallopin, a pre-race favourite, lost over five minutes. Perhaps the biggest casualty, though, is Dan Martin. Already 1:36 down at the start of the day, he lost nearly 10 minutes after a mechanical on that descent. A stage win tomorrow will be in the aim of the game for him now.
Broken collarbone for Poels
Confirmed: Wout Poels has broken his collarbone, and has cuts to left knee, and chest trauma on the left side.
That's a big blow for the Dutchman, who was probably the favourite to win Paris-Nice before he came down at more than 70km/h. He's gearing up for the Giro d'Italia in May and though collarbone injuries don't usually require too much time off the bike, the full extent of the damage is still unknown.
Story on Poels
Great shot of Rudy Molard checking over his shoulder in the finishing straight. More photos in our stage 6 report.
That's it from us today. Don't forget to keep an eye on Cyclingnews for all the news and reaction from Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. We'll be back again right here for more live coverage tomorrow, and you won't want to miss it. It's the decisive stage in the battle for the yellow jersey. Thanks for your company today, hope to see you again tomorrow.