On stage 5, Betancur initiated the crucial three-man break that saw him claim his first, but the Colombian believes that the win in Fayence is his best yet. “Last year, we didn’t have such a strong team. For the team and for me, this victory is great. In my track record, I think this is the greatest victory,” he told L'Équipe.
The Colombian looked out for the count when he was hanging onto the back of the peloton in the closing kilometres, but his team ably shepherded him back to the front allowing him to use the punchy power he’s become known for. Betancur left it later than the previous day to make his move, but it was no less decisive. He out-sprinted World Champion Rui Costa to take his second straight victory at Paris-Nice and put himself into the race lead, eight seconds ahead of Geraint Thomas (Sky).
“I knew it would be a finish that would suit me very well. In the first climb, the passage on the line, I do not feel so good but I could always count on my team,” he explained. “The guys were around me at key moments. In the midst of the final climb, they relocated me to the front. Before falling into the last corner, Alexis Vuillermoz did a fantastic job.”
Two tough days in the saddle come between Betancur and the overall victory, but the absence of a time trial will be a comfort to him. A small mistake could cost him dearly with 31 seconds separating the top 10 riders. If he were to hold on to the lead all the way to Nice, he would be the first Colombian to win in the race’s 81-year history, although Betancur admits it’s a tough ask.
“This is the first time I am leading an important race. Now we will try to do our best to defend it. There are still very strong riders. Geraint Thomas is still very dangerous, (Vincenzo) Nibali is still very strong. We are all very tired but with my team, we have the means to keep the yellow jersey until the end.”
Betancur had a slow start to this season, after putting on a lot of weight over the winter. However any doubts about his early season form were dismissed when he went on to win the Tour du Haut-Var. His performances in Paris-Nice show that he is well on his was to the level that he needs to match, if not beat, his results at the Ardennes Classics. In 2013, Betancur finished third at Flèche Wallonne and fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
A victory at Flèche is well within his grasp, however, the Colombian’s big target this season is a good result at his debut Tour de France. “I am an ambitious runner. The first Tour de France, I know it will be difficult for me but I want to do my best. I'll prepare as I prepared the Giro last year. "
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