Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) won stage five of Paris-Nice after a late attack alongside Bob Jungels (Trek Factory Racing) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana).
The Colombian, who had earlier attacked with Vicenzo Nibali (Astana), instigated the move after the final climb of the day, with Jungels and Fuglsang attacking with him.
The trio worked well together to maintain a steady lead to the finish line, and though Fuglsang led the sprint out Betancur attacked from deep to take the stage.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) maintained his yellow jersey lead however, after finishing in the chasing group just two seconds back, with Betancur moving to fourth overall.
A pacey start to the stage made it difficult for a break to establish initially, and even when Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Florian Guillou (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) went clear after 12 kilometres, they were soon reeled back in.
The attack which eventually stuck however was a strong one, with Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) among them as directeur sportif Eddy Seigneur insited the Frenchman was out to avenge the lost opportunity caused by a puncture on stage four.
Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Gorka Izaguirre (Movistar), Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing) and Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) rounded off the break which led the way up the Cot de Brouilly.
With a 2’30” gap to the bunch, Chavanel picked up maximum points atop both the first two climbs, with King of the Mountains, Valerio Agnoli (Astana), in his sights.
Back in the bunch, a crash saw Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) held up, with Egoitz Garcia (Cofidis) abandoning.
The presence of Bakelants, one of several riders just 19 seconds behind Geraint Thomas overall, in the break meant Team Sky set a strong pace to keep the five escapees at a manageable distance.
They stayed clear through the first intermediate sprint however, snapping up the points to ensure John Degenkolb was unable to eat into Thomas’ overall advantage from the bunch – though Bakelants did earn a three-second bonus.
Sky brought the gap down even further on the Cote de St Martin-en-Haut, with the five escapees carrying just a minute’s advantage over the top.
At the back, meanwhile, Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) – who crashed en route to winning stage one and had remained heavily bandaged since – abandoned.
Europcar also brought riders to the front, protecting Bryan Coquard, with the break’s lead just 35 seconds as they reached the finishing circuit with 38 kilometres remaining.
At the back, Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) suffered an ill-timed mechanical but latched back on where he found team-mate Steve Cummings’ wheel.
The strung out bunch saw Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) lose contact at the back however after a puncture, as Europcar continued to put the hurt on just in front of Team Sky.
Team-mate Samuel Dumoulin, fifth overall prior to the stage, also suffered a mechanical leaving the duo to attempt to bridge back, while the woes of Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) continued, with the Luxembourg rider also dropped.
Bakelants picked up the three-second bonus at the second and the final sprint as they crossed the finishing line for the first time, but the gap remained only marginal to the bunch behind them.
It prompted Chavanel to kick from the front, which Bakelants covered, but the Frenchman went again to earn a small lead over his breakaway companions.
Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) went off the front of the bunch just behind, with Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) joining him but just as they made contact with the initial escapees, the David Lopez-led peloton caught them.
It left Sylvain Chavanel alone up the road, as Vanendert made another, unsuccessful, bid to attack the bunch.
Laurent Didier (Trek Factory Racing) was next to make a move, passing Chavanel just as his attack was brought to an end inside the final 20 kilometres.
Didier’s lone escape lasted for six kilometres, but he was swept up on the final climb before Stephan Denafl (IAM Cycling) launched his own attack, with Chavanel’s King of the Mountains’ bid to protect.
He was passed just short of the summit however by Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) with Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) in hot pursuit.
Thomas, who had been well protected by Lopez up much of the climb, was forced to go alone to catch the wheel and though he caught them and the three led the bunch by just a few bike lengths as they hit the descent.
Nibali’s superb descending came to the fore as he forced Thomas into making some slight mistakes as Rui Costa also came forward behind them.
Betancur attacked again as the group came back together however, with Fuglsang and Jungels chasing him down to form a three-man escape in the final eight kilometres.
With all three well-placed overall, the trio set about putting in a big shift together to move nine seconds clear in the final five kilometres.
Thomas and John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano), first and second overall, led the chase behind but the trio stayed clear as the finish line drew ever closer.
Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) came forward to drag the peloton forward, but the escapees maintained their ten-second lead under the flamme rouge as Nibali disrupted the bunch.
Fuglsang was first to attack, with the peloton having organised to rapidly reduce the deficit as the finish line approached.
But Betancur, who has stayed behind his two companions by a wheel’s length, launched his sprint with perfect timing, Jungels following in second place.
Paris-Nice: stage five – result
1) Carlos Betancur (COL) – Ag2r-La Mondiale – 3.38.15hrs
2) Bob Jungels (LUX) – Trek Factory Racing – ST
3) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana
4) Bryan Coquard (FRA) – Europcar +2″
5) Tom Boonen (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
6) Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (SAF) – Giant-Shimano
7) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Belisol
8) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing
9) Borut Bozic (SVN) – Astana
10) Marco Marcato (ITA) – Cannondale
General classification (provisional)
1) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky – 21.52.42hrs
2) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Shimano +3″
3) Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED) – Garmin-Sharp +4″
4) Carlos Betancur (COL) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +5″
5) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar +8″
6) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +13″
7) Jan Bakelants (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – ST
8) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin +15″
9) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
10) Cyril Gautier (FRA) – Team Europcar