Two-time Paris-Nice stage winner Michael Matthews placed fifth on stage four of the WorldTour race today, successfully retaining his lead of 14seconds in the general classification.
Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis Solutions Credits) took the stage honours in a fast bunch sprint after the 195.5km lumpy stage from Juli?nas to Romans-sur-Is?re.
“Today was about saving energy,” Matthews said. “I was really tired after yesterday. It was only 100km but it was really tiring. So today was about saving strength and keeping out of trouble as there were several crashes in the bunch.”
“Tomorrow is another hard day but I think I can get over Mont Ventoux. If that’s the case and there’s a few sprinters left, I’ll be among those who stand a good chance. I’m really going to take it day by day.”
Sport director Laurenzo Lapage explained how today’s stage was one of the last chances for the ‘real’ sprinters.
“After yesterday didn’t change anything with the overall, the gaps were really small between riders going into today,” Lapage explained. “So for a lot of sprinter teams it was the last chance to go for the win with the real sprinters.”
“It was a hard stage, always up and down but through the stage the sprinter teams came to us to help and control it into the final.”
Matthews will head into tomorrow’s stage five in the yellow leader’s jersey on a tough, hilly 198km stage.
“Tomorrow the riders go up Mont Ventoux, of course it’s a big name but it’s still a long way to go to the finish,” continued Lapage. “I don’t think that climb will make a difference for a rider like Matthews at the end. In fact the Mout Ventoux can actually be and advantage for us against the other sprinters.”
“We will see how the race goes tomorrow. When it’s not as easy to control anymore then we have Simon Yates, a good alternative for us. Then of course we have the other stages still to come on Saturday and Sunday.”
How it happened:
In an almost identical repeat of the previous stages, four riders went clear of the peloton in the early kilometres.
Matthew Brammeier (Dimension Data), Elvaldas Siskevicius (Delko Marseille), Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) and Florian Vachon (Fortuneo-Vital) worked together to force a gap of one minute within the first 12km of racing.
As the riders progressed through two category three climbs, their advantage moved up to over four minutes 30seconds. Teams came to the front to start the chase, gradually reeling in the escapees on a warmer, sunnier day in France.
Inside the final 50km of the race the breakaway’s advantage dropped down to one minute 30seconds when Voeckler decided to take his chances and rode away solo from his three other breakaway companions.
At 163km into the race the riders made their way over a harder category two climb C?te de Saint-Uze, causing splits within the main group. Voeckler maintained a 30second gap as he crested the top of the climb with 35km left to race.
After the twisty decent the peloton regrouped and almost immediately two riders tried their chances to bridge across to Voeckler. Making contact with 20km to go the trio hovered around 15seconds as Team Katusha led the chase into the closing kilometres.
It was touch and go for the breakaway, still holding a lead of 15seconds in the final three kilometres. However the charge from the peloton proved too much for the trio and they were overcome with 300metres remaining.
Nacer Bouhanni (COF) took the stage victory with Matthews placing in fifth position to maintain his lead in the general classification and the green jersey sprint classification for yet another day.
Tomorrow’s stage is a tough one including a third category climb, three second category climbs and the first category climb Mont Ventoux early on at kilometre 71.
Paris-Nice Stage four results:
1. Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis Solutions Credits) 4:42:29
2. Edward Theunes (trek-Segafredo) ST
3. Andre Greiple (Lotto-Soudal) ST
5. Michael Matthews (ORICA-GreenEDGE) ST
General Classification after stage four:
1. Michael Matthews (ORICA-GreenEDGE) 9:41:46
2. Tom Dumoulin (Team Giant-Alpecin) +0:14
3. Patrick Bevin (Cannondale Pro Cycling) +0:19