Davide Cimolai of Italy won the fifth stage of the Paris-Nice, the so-called “Race to the Sun”, on Friday, leaving Frenchman Bryan Coquard in his wake in a sprint finish.
World champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland retained the leader’s yellow jersey, two days from the finish on the French Riviera.
Belgium’s Thomas De Gendt led a heroic breakaway a long way from home on the 192.5km ride from Saint-Etienne to Rasteau, but was visibly flagging as he was hauled in and left behind 300 metres from the line.
Cimolai hit the front on the gentle climb to the finish and crossed the line a wheel’s length ahead of Coquard in the dash for victory.
Australia’s Michael Matthews grabbed third place from French rider Nacer Bouhanni.
Cimolai, 25, who turned professional five years ago, has made an impressive start to the year, having already won the Trofeo Laigueglia, a traditional early season race in Liguria.
“The favourite today was (John) Degenkolb. I tried to position myself not far from him but when I saw Coquard pulling ahead, I made the effort,” the Lampre-Merida rider explained.
“I haven’t changed anything this season. I’ve improved year after year by working for others. I arrived in form and worked for (Niccolo) Bonifacio and the flat sprints in the first few days.
“I am fast but I am not as fast as (Andre) Greipel, (Mark) Cavendish or (Marcel) Kittel…”
Saturday’s sixth and penultimate stage is a gruelling 180.5km ride from Vence to Nice, with a finish on the celebrated Promenade des Anglais after a series of six hill climbs. – Agence France-Presse