Paris-Nice: Contador wins… no wait

Stage 8: Nice to Nice

You had to pay attention, but I think I counted something like eight moments that said Sergio Henao was beaten today, which is all the more incredible given that he’s now this year’s winner of Paris-Nice.

The first moment was when Alberto Contador attacked with 52km to race, setting up the day’s drama.

The second came when Contador pushed ahead, building a lead of about 45 seconds over the Colombian.

Sergio Henao, alone, and forced to ride in front

The third when the two Team Sky riders dropped off in the middle of a commercial break with 21km to go, forcing Henao to the front as he rode up the Col D’Eze. Henao, and the situation, looked pretty miserable at this point.

The fourth when Contador, along with David De La Cruz of QuickStep and Marc Soler of Movistar pulled away, increasing the gap to one minute.

Then fifth when Porte went, which convinced everyone Henao was beaten, or worse, collapsing. He certainly had me fooled. But somehow Henao followed Porte, who then made way to leave Henao to do his own work on the front.

The sixth when Porte went again at 18.4km left. Again Henao followed, getting his punishing place back at the front as reward. No chicken wing would get anyone to ease his burden at the front and take over.

Then there was this period when Ilnur Zakarin, and Ion Izagirre decided to make his life even harder for Henao, attacking and forcing Henao to follow, which he did, then forcing him back to the front. Same again when Dan Martin attacked, looking to secure his podium spot, and again when Julian Alaphilippe made a similar move. If Henao wasn’t already feeling ruined, not to mention victimized, surely he was now. That was seven.

De La Cruz heads for the line, followed by Contador

But it turned out Henao knew how to descend, doing so in such a way that defied the story being told further up the road. For Contador had broken free of De La Cruz, chasing for the full ten-second bonus, to add to the two seconds he’d picked up at the intermediate sprint. Having just climbed an actual mountain, Henao now had a proverbial one left to climb.

And so, while the Contador story was unfolding at the front, the Henao story was about to finish within two seconds of being an after thought.

De La Cruz, nudging past Contador, took the win, and four seconds that Contador was counting on. Henao, somehow, had done it, defying Contador, and everyone who thought he was done.

Including me. Eight. I lost count after eight moments he was supposed to be beaten.

Go to ProCyclingStats.com for all the results from Paris-Nice.

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Paris-Nice: Alaphilippe, Martin, and the value of teammates

Paris-Nice Stage 6: Aubagne to Fayence 

As the race reached the second ascent of the Mur de Fayence Julian Alaphilippe knew one thing – to find the wheel of Dan Martin and stay there until he’d safely

Simon Yates takes the win in Fayence

crossed the finish line. But with that job done, and the yellow jersey safe for another day, Alaphilippe found he couldn’t let him go of Martin, even after they’d reached the finish.

The superlatives of the day rightly belonged to Simon Yates, who with every win guarantees an exciting talent to cheer home for the next decade or so; but behind him was another battle, the one between Alaphilippe and himself.

With Yates up the road, Alaphilippe knew he had more than two minutes on the Bury man. And when Porte went he knew the cross winds of Stages 1 and 2 meant the Aussie’s efforts were for pride more than anything. But Sergio Henao was different, trailing on GC by little more than a minute.

Julian Alaphilippe in yellow, follows his teammate Dan Martin up the climb in Fayence

Alaphilippe, couldn’t follow Henao, but didn’t panic. Neither did Dan Martin, slotting in ahead of his teammate and pulling him up what, even on TV, looked like an unforgiving climb. Martin, who only last month was leading the Volta ao Algarve, was now demonstrating cycling’s egalitarian side, putting in the work for his teammate.

Alaphilippe knew what to do, and followed Martin all the way to the summit. Martin, in one of those moments that really sticks, swung wide as the finish line appeared, waving Alaphilippe through ahead of him while he kept watch on those chasing behind. Watching the footage you’d guess Martin assumed there wer

Dan Martin waves through his teammate Julian Alaphilippe

e still bonus seconds to be had, or maybe wasn’t sure and didn’t want to risk it. But the gesture, waving Alaphilippe through just in case, stuck.

Post race the cameras picked out Yates. A few feet away Alaphilippe had his arm around Martin. Both were smiling. Martin had done his job and Alaphilippe had too, keeping the lead for another day. Instinctively Alaphilippe then embraced Martin a second time, the thanks and gratitude all too obvious.

These moments encapsulate the best of cycling. Here we had a race leader showing his gratitude, acknowledging his frailties, and his dependence on others for his own

Alaphilippe and Martin embrace after crossing the finish line

success. It’s moments like this when you understand what makes cycling such a compelling story, as well as such a human one.

Attention will rightly be on Yates tonight, and the performance that reminds us of what we have to look forward in the future. But Alaphilippe keeps yellow tonight, thanks to his own grit, and that of an Irishman who left everything on the Mur de Fayence for a teammate.

For full results from Stage 6 of Paris-Nice, go to ProCyclingStats.com.

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