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Paris - Nice 2017: Stage 7

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The peloton is gathering on the start line in Nice for stage 7 of Paris-Nice. The neutralised start is at 12.15 local time, and a lengthy procession out of the city follows before the race hits kilometre zero at around 12.35. The finish today is the highest ever at Paris-Nice, atop the 1,678-metre high Col de la Couillole, and it could prove decisive in the battle for final overall victory.

The general classification with two days remaining is as follows:

The peloton is still navigating the lengthy neutralised zone. The temperature is a pleasant 17 degrees at sea level, but will undoubtedly be chillier atop the Col de la Couillole at the finish. There are four climbs on the agenda today:the category 2 Côte de Gattières (4.5km at 4.8%), the category 1 Col de Vence (9.7km at 6.6%), the category 1 Col Saint-Martin (7.5km at 7.2%), and the finish atop the Col de la Couillole (15.7km at 7.1%).

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The climbing begins early on the day's stage, with the peloton facing immediately into the category 2 Côte de Gattières. The road levels off but doesn't drop afterwards, and category 1 Col de Vence follows.

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Domont leads the king of the mountains classification, and he is looking to pick up points on the early climbs to buttress his slender advantage over Simon Yates (Orica-Scott).

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Richie Porte (BMC) is well out of the battle for overall victory, but the Australian was aggressive during yesterday's hilltop finish at Fayence, and he has predicted 'absolute war' among the GC contenders as Paris-Nice take on its most mountainous stage this afternoon. 

Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) is looking to become the first French winner since Laurent Jalabert took the third of his Paris-Nice victories some twenty years ago. The maillot jaune - insert annual lamentation at ASO's decision to discontinue the famous white jersey here - leads his fellow countryman Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) by 36 seconds, with Sergio Henao (Sky) a further 10 seconds back in third. 

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Simon Yates' stage victory yesterday was enough to move him up to 8th place overall, 1:37 off Alaphilippe's lead, but within striking distance of a podium berth. You can read his thoughts on the lie of the land at Paris-Nice here.

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A reminder of the names in this break: Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Jan Polanc (UAE-Abu Dhabi), Axel Domont (Ag2r La Mondiale), Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Delio Fernandez (Delko-Marseille).

Nobody in this break poses the merest threat to the general classification. The highest placed rider is Delio Fernandez, who is some 36:19 down in 57th position overall.

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Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) moved up on GC but lost seconds to Alaphilippe yesterday and now lies 7th overall, 1:34 down. "I don't know why but the feelings weren't good. When we went up the Col de Bourigaille for the first time I said to myself, 'ok we just need to get through today as best as we can and tomorrow will be another day.' You never know why you have this feeling, but it's important to get back, eat well and then recover for tomorrow," Contador told Cyclingnews afterwards. "Victory will be difficult, but we'll look towards tomorrow."

80km remaining from 177km

Dave Brailsford insisted at Tirrreno-Adriatico yesterday that he will not quit as Sky manager and also denied that he was attempting to hide from journalists' questions. It's purely by chance, of course, that over the years he has  regularly happened to field long phone calls from remarkably loquacious speakers just as reporters arrive at the Sky bus. “Of course I’m not hiding. I’m fine in myself and I’ve got confidence in my team,” said Brailsford. 

Dave Brailsford insisted at Tirrreno-Adriatico yesterday that he will not quit as Sky manager and also denied that he was attempting to hide from journalists' questions. “Of course I’m not hiding. I’m fine in myself and I’ve got confidence in my team,” said Brailsford. 

There is, of course, a major summit finish at Tirreno-Adriatico this afternoon also. Susan Westemeyer has live commentary on the Terminillo stage here, while Stephen Farrand has written this excellent preview.

The gap between the break and the peloton remains stable at around 3:35 for the time being. Our man at Paris-Nice Dan Benson has driven the day's final climb, the Col de la Couillole. "It’s a steady slog with a varying gradient that should suit attacking riders," he reports. "It's hard to see anything but Sky or BMC setting a fast pace on the lower slopes with a vastly reduced group contesting the final 5 or 6 kilometres." 

Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) was a non-starter on today's stage due to illness. Reportedly suffering with a cold since the beginning of the week, the Dutchman lost more than quarter of an hour yesterday and had dropped to 18th place overall.

On a stage of his length and difficulty, the pyrotechnics were always likely to be concentrated in the finale, but it will be fascinating to see whether any of the overall contenders show their hand as early as the Col Saint-Martin.

At 1678 metres, the Col de la Couillole is the highest summit finish ever to feature at Paris-Nice. The race has featured mountain finishes at Mont Ventoux in the past, of course, but never at the summit, and never as high as 1678 metres. Cadel Evans won at Mont Serein on the northern side of the Ventoux in 2008, while the Chalet Reynard finish that featured at last year's Tour has often appeared at Paris-Nice. Thirty years ago, Sean Kelly won at Chalet Reynard en route to the sixth of his seven successive overall victories. 

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Calmejane opens a lead of 50 seconds over the break. The peloton is at 3:40.

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Arnaud Demare (FDJ) has abandoned Paris-Nice. The Frenchman won the opening stage, wore yellow for three days and was still in the green jersey of points leader. Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) has also pulled out.

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All the main contenders remain in the peloton, which begins the climb 3:50 behind Calmejane.

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Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) attacks from the peloton on the Col Saint-Martin. The Dane is 18 minutes down on GC after getting caught out earlier in the week, but he finished alongside Alberto Contador and Ilnur Zakarin on yesterday's uphill finish.

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Team Sky are setting the pace in the yellow jersey group, and Tony Gallopin is betraying signs of suffering at the back. The summit of the Saint-Martin can't come soon enough for the Frenchman.

Fuglsang has bridged up to Domont and Fernandez. 

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Fuglsang pressed on alone after catching Domont and Fernandez, but all three have since been pegged back by the yellow jersey group. A kilometre of climbing remains for Calmejane, who has a lead of 1:15 over the reduced peloton.

Tony Gallopin is dropped near the summit of the Col Saint-Martin. He has Thomas De Gendt for company and he might well latch back on the descent, but this does not augur well for his prospects.

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Pacher, Gautier and Ulissi are 26 seconds down on Calmejane as they being the climb.

Calmejane's all-action style will inevitably invite comparison with Thomas Voeckler, though the facial expressions are a little more restrained as he tackles the early slopes.

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Pacher, Ulissi and Gautier bridge up to Calmejane. Immediately, Pacher puts in an acceleration that only Ulissi can follow.

Pacher isn't hanging around, and Ulissi is struggling to hold the Frenchman's wheel as he forces the pace.

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Gautier and Calmejane are swept up by the peloton with a shade under 14 kilometres of climbing still to go.

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Deignan's stint of pace-setting is done for the day and he swings off. The yellow jersey group is down to twenty riders or so.

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Contador bobs from side to side on Henao's wheel as Nieve continues to tap out the rhythm at the front of the leading group.

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Henao, Contador, Martin, Porte, Fuglsgang and Ion Izagirre are all with Pantano. Zakarin, Latour, Gorka Izagirre and his two Movistar teammates have been distanced.

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A second acceleration from Porte strings out the leading group. Contador sits on his wheel. 

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Or more accurately, Henao is locked onto Contador's rear wheel. Dan Martin is chasing alone in fourth place on the road. 

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Martin is riding well to limit his losses to Contador and Henao, though he can't get back on terms.

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Contador unleashes a sharp acceleration and opens a gap on Henao in the final kilometre.

Contador edges away from a struggling Henao, while Martin continues to claw his way back up to the Colombian.

Contador has opened a sizeable gap over Henao as he enters the final 300 metres...

Richie Porte (BMC) wins stage 7 of Paris-Nice.

Contador takes second place, 20 seconds down.

Dan Martin slips past Henao right at the death to snatch third place - and the bonus seconds - 31 seconds down on Porte.

Ion Izagirre takes 5th, Fuglsang and Latour follow across the line, a little more than a minute down.

Sergio Henao (Sky) will take possession of the yellow jersey. Alaphilippe is still making his way to the finish more than two minutes after Porte's victory.

Alaphilippe crosses the line 2:40 down on Porte, 2:10 down on Henao.

Simon Yates comes in 4:20 down on the stage.

We await confirmation of precise GC standings, but Henao will carry a lead of around 30 seconds over Dan Martin and Contador into tomorrow's final stage.

Indeed, we can confirm: Sergio Henao is 30 seconds up on Dan Martin and 31 clear of Contador. Gorka Izagirre is at 1:00, while Alaphilippe is now fifth overall, 1:22 down.

Riche Porte (BMC) on putting a different gloss on disappointing Paris-Nice. "It’s an incredible satisfaction. My teammates never lost faith in me, even if I wasn’t always easy to deal with this week," he says. “I had a couple of little goes at it but I wouldn’t say I attacked. Maybe it helped that the guys behind didn’t have to chase me for GC.”

Result:

General classification:

Thanks for joining our live coverage of Paris-Nice this afternoon. We'll be back with more from tomorrow's final stage. A full report, results and pictures from today's leg will follow here.

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