Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) sprung a late attack on the steep climb above Mende to claim victory on stage five of Paris-Nice, while Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) finished third to remain in the yellow jersey.
Westra started the day in sixth overall but earned a ten second time bonus for his victory to move up to second on the general classification, with Wiggins retaining his six-second advantage at the top of the standings.
The 178.5km stage from Onet-le-Chateau featured six climbs and Simon Clarke (GreenEDGE), Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil-DCM), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar) and David Le Lay (Saur-Sojasun) escaped after little more than 2km.
Only Veuchelen survived as the race hit the final climb, a steep three kilometre ascent nicknamed the Montée Laurent Jalabert after the Frenchman’s Bastille Day victory in the 1995 Tour de France.
But Veuchelen was soon passed by the peloton, Team Sky’s Richie Porte setting a fierce pace with Wiggins on his wheel, whittling the lead pack down to a select group of general classification contenders.
Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ-BigMat) launched a short-lived bid for the line as the leaders passed under the Flamme Rouge before Westra attacked with 500m to go to solo to glory ahead of Alejandro Valverde, with Wiggins, Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Simon Spilak (Katusha) in tow.
Wiggins said: “Once again we took charge of the race; right from the start we took the responsibility and the boys rode fantastic again all day – I can’t thank them enough.
“Then in the final Rigo [Uran] and especially Richie [Porte] did a great job on the climb. It was a case of just time trialling to the summit really and I think that put everyone in the red. There was only one guy able to attack off that pace so it was a perfect day.
“It must have been zero with the wind chill. It was cold and the hardest thing was staying warm and eating enough throughout the race. It was tough.”
Paris-Nice stage five
1) Lieuwe Westra (NED) – Vacansoleil-DCM – 4:52.46 hours
2) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar +6″
3) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Team Sky
4) Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
5) Simon Spilak (SLO) – Katusha
6) Damiano Cunego (ITA) – Lampre-ISD +16″7) Arnold Jeannesson (FRA) – FDJ-Bigmat
8) Sylvester Szmyd (POL) – Liquigas-Cannondale +24″
9) Rigoberto Uran (COL) Team Sky
10) Thomas Voeckler (FRA) – Europcar +30″
1) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) – Team Sky – 18:23.40 hours
2) Lieuwe Westra (NED) – Vacansoleil-DCM +6″
3) Levi Leipheimer (USA) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +10″
4) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar +18″
5) Simon Spilak (SLO) – Katusha +37″
6) Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing +39″
7) Maxime Monfort (BEL) RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +46″
8) Arnold Jeannesson (FRA) – FDJ-Bigmat +1’06”
9) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +1’16”
10) Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) – Astana +1’21”