Sensing stage 5 of Paris-Nice was a day for the breakaway, Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) missed the initial move but persevered to ensure his place in front of the peloton. Politt's thinking proved true as the break contested the finish. The German though was done over in the sprint for the line by Jerome Cousin (Direct Energie) but held on for his best road result since joining the WorldTour in 2016.
"It is a big tour with a lot of good riders here and I think with the shape is coming for the classics. Now I am a little bit disappointed but I can be happy," Politt said after finishing the race.
On the 165km stage from Salon-de-Provence to Sisteron, Politt joined the French trio of Cousin, Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Julien El Fares (Delko Marseille Provence KTM) to form the breakaway. Given a leash by the peloton for most of the day, the racing went up a tempo on the circuit around Sisteron. Politt gambled and launched a solo attack which only Cousin could follow as he explained.
"We know that the break can come to the finish. At first, there were three guys and I really wanted to go in the break today and I was the last guy to jump in the break," Politt explained. "I felt really good for the whole stage and we was lucky we had a tailwind in the end. I tried to attack before the last climb and already had a gap but the Direct Energie guy was coming."
Cresting the Côte de la Marquise climb, Cousin made contact with Politt and the duo then took the descent together with the German taking on the majority of the work. Knowing that Cousin would have the faster legs should it come down to a two-up sprint for the stage win, Politt unsuccessfully tried to go solo again.
"He didn't want to work with me and stayed always on the wheel. So, in the end, I was thinking, 'Fuck, it is better to take the second place then nothing.' With one kay to go, I try to attack because I know he is fast and I tried to avoid the sprint. In the end, second place I can be happy with this," Politt said.
While Politt was contemplating better tactics for the next time he finds himself in a similar scenario, Cousin was basking in the glory of his biggest win to date. The 28-year-old, into his ninth season as a professional, explaining post-stage that he learned from previous losses to take the win. The victory also ensuring Direct Energie has multiple WorldTour wins in a season for the first time since 2013.
"When I saw that the victory was possible I worked hard to go after the Katusha rider and I played with his balls a little. That's the way I won. I'm so generous in my efforts all year and I was beaten in similar circumstances so many times before that I decided to manoeuvre differently for once and see if it worked. I didn't steal this."
There was no consolation for Politt as Cousin also moved into the lead of the mountains classification and made two visits to the podium. Having savoured the moment, Cousin explained his focus now is on helping Lilian Calmejane "make it into the top 10".
With Katusha-Alpecin teammate Ilnur Zakarin losing time on stage 1, ending his GC challenge before it started, Politt could try again in his bid for a win before turning his attention to the cobbled classics.