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Paris - Nice 2017: Stage 8

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Another edition of Paris-Nice, another short and punchy final stage, another Alberto Contador attempt at a comeback. Contador may well take inspiration from the remontada pulled off by Barcelona in midweek, but he's going to have to be a bit more creative here than simply repeatedly falling over in the penalty area in the manner of Luis Suarez. There are five categorised climbs crammed into just 115 kilometres of racing on today's stage. Contador begins the day third overall, 31 seconds down on Sergio Henao (Sky), and just behind Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors), who is both a potential ally of circumstance and a rival for final victory. The last climb before the finish, after all, is the Col d'Èze, which has been very kind to Irish riders in years past. A fascinating finale is in store.

The general classification picture is as follows ahead of the day's action:

The day's climbs:

The neutralised start is at 1.35pm local time. The peloton should reach kilometre zero at 1.55pm. And by 1.56pm, Henao's yellow jersey could already be under attack.

On the corresponding stage a year ago, Contador began the day 15 seconds down on another Sky rider, Geraint Thomas. His volley of attacks brought him to the brink of a third Paris-Nice victory, but ultimately he lost out by a mere four seconds to the Welshman. You can read a recap of that stage here and watch video highlights here.

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There are three non-starters to report. Six days from Milan-San Remo, Alexander Kristoff feels he has done enough. Tom Stamsnijder (Sunweb) and Kristoff's Katusha-Alpecin teammate Alberto Losada also haven't started today. 

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Quick-Step Floors are currently leading the peloton. Julian Alaphillipe lost the overall lead yesterday on the long climb to the finish on the Col de Couillole, but Dan Martin remains very much in the hunt after he made up the ground to nip ahead of Sergio Henao for third place, in a style that brought to mind a certain late fightback on La Plagne three decades ago. "The fight isn't over and now I need to recover for Sunday," Martin said afterwards. "We are still in the fight to win Paris-Nice and after so many hard days I'm not going to stop trying now, so I'm quite optimistic for tomorrow."

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Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac), Arnold Jeannesson (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and José Herrada (Movistar) are at the head of the race on the climb, with a small lead over a lined out and fragmenting peloton.

95km remaining from 115km

Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Arnold Jeannesson (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), José Herrada (Movistar), Carlos De La Cruz (Quick-Step Floors) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) have a small lead over the peloton. BMC are setting the pace behind and the bunch appears to be split into two distinct groups.

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The 22 riders at the head of the race are: Pierre-Luc Perichon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Jose Mendes (Bora-Hansgrohe), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Mathias Frank (AG2R La Mondiale), Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), David De La Cruz (Quick-Step Floors), Marc Soler (Movistar), José Herrada (Movistar), Diego Ulissi (UAE Emirates), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Arnaud Jeannesson (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Merida), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Michael Matthews (Sunweb), Simon Petilli (UAE Emirates), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Julian El Fares (Delko-Marseille), Quentin Pacher (Delko-Marseille), Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac), Tom Jelte Slagter (Cannondale-Drapac) and Rory Sutherland (Movistar).

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The highest placed rider on GC in this group is Mathias Frank, who is 22nd overall, some 32:41 down on Henao. The breaks lead stretches out beyond three minutes.

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Trek-Segafredo and Sky lead the peloton. Dan Martin, of course, has his Quick-Step teammate Carlos De La Cruz up the road in this break.

There's a race within a race out in front, as Calmejane and Domont strike out in search of the king of the mountains points at the summit. Calmejane has a ten-point lead in the classification after his aggressive showing yesterday.

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Some 39.3 kilometres have been covered in the first hour of racing, incidentally, according to letour.fr.

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Trek-Segafredo's tempo at the head of the peloton has caused a number of riders to lose some ground, and there are around 30 riders still in the yellow jersey group. 1:55 the deficit to the escapees.

A total of eight riders have abandoned Paris-Nice so far this afternoon: Mickael Delage, Marc Sarreau (FDJ), Zico Waeytens (Sunweb), Sam Bennett, Michal Kolar (Bora), Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data), Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step) and Julien Morice (Direct Energie).

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Henao and Dan Martin bridge up to Pantano and Contador, followed by Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and Ion Izagirre (Bahrain Merida).

Up front, the break has fragmented, with De La Cruz, Petilli, Pauwels and Jeannesson leading the race, but the real drama is in the reduced yellow jersey group, where Contador and Pantano are applying the pressure.

50km remaining from 115km

Contador kicks again and this time Henao is in difficulty and a gap opens...

Alberto Contador dances clear of Henao and begins to pick off riders in the fragmented early break.

The race has fractured in several places on the climb, but the key information is that Contador is alone, 20 seconds down on the three leaders, De La Cruz, Petilli and Jeannesson. Henao and Martin have been distanced by the Spaniard.

48km remaining from 115km

Not quite. Henao is 35 seconds down on the front of the race, but 25 behind Contador. He remains in the provisional race lead for the time being.

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Contador goes immediately to the front of the leading group on the lower slopes of the Col d'Eze and begins forcing the pace once again.

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Richie Porte (BMC) accelerates and Dan Martin responds. Henao struggles to get back on terms but the group remains just about intact.

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Contador continues to pile on the pressure in front in his familiar bobbing style. His lead is almost one minute over Henao.

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Into the final kilometre of the Col d'Eze for Contador. He trails Soler by 19 seconds. The Henao group is at 1:05, meaning that as it stands, Contador is en route to Paris-Nice victory. 

Julian Alaphilippe attacks from the yellow jersey group, but again Henao is able to follow and bring him to heel.

De La Cruz gives Contador a turn on the front for the first time. Quick-Step's thoughts have turned to the stage win rather than a Dan Martin overall win.

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De La Cruz catches Contador. They are 25 seconds up on the Henao group...

De La Cruz opens the sprint...

David De La Cruz (Quick-Step) wins the stage, Contador takes 6 bonus seconds...

Colbrelli leads the Henao group home 20 seconds down. Sergio Henao (Sky) - just - wins Paris-Nice.

A wry smile from Contador, who has lost out, we think, by two seconds...

Alberto Contador: "The race was a great spectacle. I'm proud of what I did out there. I'm happy I've made people enjoy the race today. Of course, it's easier if you can follow the wheels. I preferred to risk everything to try to win."

Confirmation that Sergio Henao wins Paris-Nice by two seconds from Contador. Dan Martin takes third, 30 seconds down.

General classification:

Stage result:

 

Stage winner David de la Cruz: “When I went in the break, I knew Alberto would try, he always go to the end. I had to suffer a lot on his wheel but I was able to manage. When I saw they weren’t catching us, I tried to ride carefully to win the stage.”

Result:

 

Sergio Henao's Paris-Nice victory is the fifth by a Sky rider in six seasons after Bradley Wiggins (2012), Richie Porte (2013 and 2015) and Geraint Thomas (2016). It is also the biggest win of Henao's career to date, one which has been twice interrupted due to anomalies in his blood profile. His Sky team withheld him for a period in 2014 pending internal testing, and then the UCI opened a biological passport case against him in April of last year before dropping the case once again a month later. In 2014, Sky pledged to publish the findings of a Sheffield University study into Henao's blood profile, believing the anomalies were explicable by the rider living and training at altitude in Colombia, but the peer-reviewed paper has thus far failed to materialise.

Thanks for joining our coverage of today's final stage of Paris-Nice on Cyclingnews. A full report, results and photographs will follow here. We'll be back tomorrow with live coverage from stage 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico.

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