Paris-Nice 2016: Geraint Thomas assumes race lead

Welshman finishes second on stage six to move into yellow jersey ahead of final day

Geraint Thomas admits “there’s still a hell of a long way to go” after taking the lead in Paris-Nice and assuming the yellow jersey ahead of the final stage.

Thomas finished second behind Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin on stage six to top the general classification going into the final day, after distancing Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and former team-mate Richie Porte (BMC Racing).

Now Thomas leads the GC by 15 seconds from Contador but is prepared for an assault from the Spaniardon the short but hilly final stage in the Nice hinterland.

Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin won stage stage but Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, second on the day, now leads the race overall

“It’s by no means finished,” said Thomas, who is enjoying a fine start to his first year as a bona fide GC contender, having already won the Volta ao Algarve. “Contador is a pretty good bike rider! And Richie and Zakarin too. They won huge races. There’s still a hell of a long way to go.”

Thomas went into stage six sixth overall, 23 seconds behind race leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), but the Australian was distanced on the mountainous terrain as Thomas’ Team Sky seized control.

The stage included seven categorised climbs but, as ever, the main action came down to the final ascent: the category one La Madone d’Utelle, which rises for 15.3km at an average gradient of 5.7 per cent.

Thomas went into the climb with six team-mates for company, with Sky once again showing their strength in a race they have won for three of the past four years: with Bradley Wiggins in 2012, and Porte in 2013 and 2015.

Thomas tops the general classification by 15 seconds going into the final stage

Contador, himself a two-time winner of Paris-Nice, attacked with five kilometres remaining, and only Thomas and his Sky lieutenant, Sergio Henao, were initially able to follow, before Zakarin and Porte made it a lead quintet.

Porte then attacked as the leaders headed into the final kilometre, but the Australian wasn’t able to make his move stick, prompting Thomas to break clear. It looked like the Welshman had done enough to claim both the yellow jersey and the stage win, but Zakarin edged the two-time Olympic gold medalist on the line.

Contador finished a second back, with Porte seven seconds adrift and Henao ten seconds off the pace after his efforts setting up Thomas. British rider Adam Yates, riding for Orica-GreenEDGE, crossed the line in sixth to move up to eighth overall.

Thomas now has a 15 second advantage over Contador in the overall standings, with Zakarin 20 seconds back and Porte 21 seconds adrift. The final stage of Paris-Nice follows a 134km route which scales six climbs, finishing with a double header of two category one ascents: the Cote de Peille and the Col d’Eze, before the final descent into Nice.

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