Organisers of Paris-Nice were incensed when Team Sky pulled Richie Porte from its roster for the ASO-run event, in favor of sending him to fight for the overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, but if they questioned Sky's ambitions before the race, those doubts were laid to rest on the Cote du Mont Brouilly by replacement leader Geraint Thomas.
The 27-year-old Welshman bridged up to lone attacker Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp) after the climb, and although Slagter denied him the stage victory, an early spell in the yellow leader's jersey was plenty of consolation.
"It would have been nice to have won the stage as well, but when I saw the guys coming with a kilometre to go, I didn't want to throw away that effort we'd just made," said Thomas.
"It's a massive race," Thomas said of Paris-Nice. "Behind the Grand Tours, it's one of the biggest stage races you can do. So it's great to wear the jersey, especially after the work the boys have done for me in the last few days. They were really good, and I was happy I could repay them and get up there to take the jersey. It's a great feeling."
The ASO's more "open" parcours for the 2014 edition of Paris-Nice is absent of time trials and lacks a single major summit finish. The most difficult stages are the 221.5km stage 6 to Fayence, which includes the category 1 Col de Bourigaille 9km before the category 2 climb to the finish, and the final day with the category 1 Col d'Eze located 15km from the finish. It is the kind of course which can end up being contested by single seconds.
"I was pretty relaxed on the first few stages and felt like I could move about the bunch nicely and be in a good position. I was on the right side of the splits and those seconds will definitely come in handy I think over the next few days," Thomas said.
Now with three seconds on John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano), and more importantly double-digit values on his closest GC competitors like Wilco Kelderman (Belkin, at 15"), Carlos Betancur (AG2R, 17"), and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana, 19") he can begin to imagine carrying the jersey to the end of the race.
"It's all still to race for and it's going to be tough with four solid days to come. There's still a lot of good bike riders within a few seconds so it will definitely be interesting racing!"
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