Despite a challenging day in the yellow jersey that saw several riders trying their luck for overall victory, Geraint Thomas stood tall in Nice to secure his first WorldTour stage race victory. Thomas' second place on stage 6 to La Madone d'Utelle saw the 29-year-old move into the overall lead and hold a 15 second advantage over Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) with one stage to come.
Stage 6 went to Ilnur Zakarin as the Katusha rider got the better of Thomas, Contador, and Richie Porte (BMC) after the quartet passed under the flamme rouge together. With race leader Michael Matthews cracking on the climb, the yellow jersey went to Thomas who also picked up vital bonus seconds on the finish line.
With nine riders within one minute of his overall lead at the start of Stage 7, Thomas and his Team Sky teammates looked to be in for a tough day around Nice and that's exactly what occurred. Contador was active across the stage in search of a third Paris-Nice title, as was Porte, with the duo causing the most grief to Thomas who thought was race was over after he cracked on the Col d'Eze.
Contador, Porte and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), who was a member of the day long breakaway, led over the Col d'Eze and bombed down the descent into Nice with the trio driving it to the line. Behind, Thomas was back in contention thanks to teammate Sergio Henao and once on the Promenade des Anglais, it was clear it would be the Welshman taking the win by just six seconds as Wellens sprinted to the stage, taking the crucial bonus seconds on the line.
Thomas becomes the third Team Sky rider to win Paris-Nice, following in the footsteps of Richie Porte (2013-15) and Bradley Wiggins (2012).
Contador and Porte joined Thomas on the podium with Matthews winning the points classification and Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie) the mountains classification.
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The Paris-Nice podium and jersey winners (TDW Sports)
There was no racing on Sunday at Tirreno-Adriatico with race organisers RCS Sport deciding to cancel the stage due to excessive snow with no opportunity to implement a 'plan b' or 'plan c' option as Mauro Vegni told the press. With no racing, the riders instead went out for short training rides before enjoying a leisurely afternoon and chance to rest up before the final two stages of the race. There was however some words exchanged via the press between Nibali and Vegni with the Astana rider suggesting that he might miss the Giro d'Italia should snow cause further stage cancellations.
On Saturday, Steve Cummings launched a late attack to solo to victory in Foligno and cap off a day of near perfect team work from Dimension Data. It was also the first WorldTour win for the squad in 2016 and its first as a WorldTour team.
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The second race of the Women's WorldTour was won by a Boels Dolsmans rider but it wasn't world champion Lizzie Armitstead raising her arms in triumph as she had done in the her first races of the season. With the British rider abandoning the race, up stepped Chantal Blaak to claim the win ahead of Orica-AIS's Gracie Elvin and Trixi Worrack (Canyon // SRAM).
Blaak entered the race in top form off the back of second place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite Women and victory at Le Samyn des Dames. Blaak, Elvin, Worrack and Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv) formed the race winning move with 61km to race and worked together until the line kilometres. Van der Breggen and then Elvin tried late attacks but a sprint became the foregone conclusion with Blaak taking the honours.
Van der Breggen now leads the Women's WorldTour with Trofeo Alfredo Binda - Comune di Cittiglio on March 20 the next event.
The top three: Chantal Blaak, Gracie Elvin and Trixi Worrack at Ronde van Drenthe (Sean Robinson/Velofocus)
Roompot - Oranje Peloton's Jesper Asselman won the first race of his career on Saturday, surprising the sprinters who were expecting a bunch finish. Asselman was one of five Roompot - Oranje Peloton riders in a front group of 20 riders when he launched a late attack and soloed to the win. Mark McNally (Wanty - Groupe Gobert) was second at one second to Asselman, holding off LottoNl-Jumbo's Dylan Groenewegen.
A day after finishing tenth at Boels Rental Ronde van Drenthe, Leah Kirchmann won her first race in Liv-Plantur colours at Drentse Acht van Westerveld in a sprint finish ahead of Boels Dolmans' Christine Majerus and Anouka Koster (Rabo-Liv).
"It is my first ever win in Europe, so that makes it extra special for me," Kirchmann said of her win.
Kirchmann was one of 13 riders that formed a breakaway on the second ascent of the Vamberg and kept her cool despite the presence of such riders as Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon/SRAM), Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS), Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5), Marianne Vos (Rabobank-Liv), Megan Guanier (Boels Dolmans) and Kataryzna Pawlowska (Boels-Dolmans), and timed her effort to perfection to seal the victory.
The race also marked a return to racing for Vos who finished in tenth place, remarking afterwards that "I was able to take a step further than I expected. That is very good news."
For the full race report, results and gallery, click here
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