Thomas De Gendt (VCD) completed the Paris-Nice haul of his Vacansoleil team when he won the 7th stage to Nice, a year after clinching the first stage of the Race to the Sun in Houdan. The Belgian was the third stage winner for his Dutch team in this edition after Gustav Larsson in the first stage time trial and Lieuwe Westra in Mende.De Gendt, 25, also winner of a Tour de Suisse stage last year, dropped breakaway companion Rein Taaramae in the Col de Vence to win on his own on the Promenade des Anglais.The pair had parted company with the pack after 48 kilometres and the peloton, led by Bradley Wiggins’s Sky team-mates, let them go as they were no threat in the GC.Crossing the line inside the peloton, 9:24 behind De Gendt, Wiggins retained his yellow jersey and his six seconds lead over Lieuwe Westra ahead of Sunday’s final time trial on Col d’Eze.Third-placed Levi Leipheimer (OPQ) went through a real nightmare as he crashed three times in today’s stage and lost all hope to be a contender for final victory. His misfortune put Alejandro Valverde in third place, 18 seconds adrift.
Break of two
Five riders did not start: Leigh Howard (GEC), Remy Di Gregorio (COF), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Lars Bak (LTB) and Jimmy Engoulvent (SAU). Roy Curvers (PRO) and Christian Knees (SKY) also gave up early in the stage. Europcar were the most active team at the front of the peloton in the early stages.
At kilometer 36, Rein Taaramae (COF) crashed but it seemed to spur him into action since he broke clear 12 kms later with Thomas De Gendt (VCD). The Estonian and the Dutchman quickly gained momentum and their lead grew steadily to reach a maximum of 12:50 at the top of Cote de Peyroules (km 99).
On the Col des Leques (2nd cat, 73.5), Frederik Veuchelen (VCD) scored three points to definitely secure the polka-dot jersey.
Evgeni Petrov (AST) briefly tried to chase on his own behind the two escapees, who cooperated perfectly until Col de Vence, when the battle started. Taaramae twice tried to attack De Gendt but the Belgian finally dropped him 3 kms from the summit to reach the top with a 12 seconds lead. The peloton was 11:35 down at the top. In the descent, while Levi Leipheimer crashed for the second time of the day (Km 176), De Gendt increased his lead on his former companion to three minutes.
Movistar led the pack swiftly into the descent and put pressure on Leipheimer and the four team-mates chasing with him. Hard luck struck the American in a turn at kilometer 187 when he could not avoid a motorcycle standing on the side of the road to protect a rider who punctured.
De Gendt on his own
On the Promenade des Anglais, De Gendt crossed the line on his own after a 171-kms break, including 57 in solo. Taaramae took second place, 6:18 behind. The peloton reached the final stretch 9:24 after the winner and Germany’s John Degenkolb (PRO) won the bunch sprint ahead of Greg Henderson (LTB) and Thor Hushovd (BMC). Leipheimer crossed the line nearly 17 minutes behind De Gendt.
"This morning I thought most of all to save strength for tomorrow. But I found myself in the right break and once it was gone I realised I was in for a long day. In Col de Vence, I asked Taaramae to take his turn and he wouldn’t. It got on my nerves and that’s how I went. The finale was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen with such a splendid view. We’re all in great shape at Vacansoleil. We have a great team spirit, we work hard and Paris-Nice is a race within our reach. We don’t have the level to compete in the big Tours so we focus on this kind of events and I’m convinced Lieuwe Wesra is going to win tomorrow."
Top five placings in the 219.5-kms 7th stage of Paris-Nice between Sisteron and Nice:
1. Thomas De Gendt (Belgium, VCD)
2. Rein Taaramae (Estonia, COF) 6:18 behind
3. John Degenkolb (Germany, PRO) 9:24
4. Greg Henderson (New Zealand, LTB)
5. Thor Hushovd (Norway, BMC) same time
Germany’s John Degenkolb (PRO) took third place, 9:25 adrift.
A dejected Levi Leipheimer looked like he was about to call it quits but he now tries to limit the damage, 16:25 behind De Gendt.
Rein Taaramae (COF) takes second place, 6:17 behind De Gendt.
Bradley Wiggins’s Sky team-mates are leading the peloton into Nice.