Tony Gallopin took command of the Paris-Nice leader’s yellow jersey with a solo success on Nice’s celebrated Promenade des Anglais in Saturday’s sixth and penultimate stage.
The French hope goes into Sunday’s closing time-trial with a 36-second lead over Australia’s Richie Porte, and 37sec over the holder of the yellow jersey during the stage, Polish world champion Michal Kwiatkowski.
Gallopin, 26, seized control of the gruelling 180.5-kilometre ride from Vente a full 30km from the finish.
The Lotto rider was followed across the line half a minute back by a group led by Slovenian Simon Spilak and Portugal’s Rui Costa.
“I don’t win a lot but when I do it’s often like that,” said Gallopin, who wore the Tour de France yellow jersey for 24 hours last year.
“It’s to live moments like that that we train hard,” he added.
“I took a lot of risk coming down when Michal (Kwitkoski) attacked, I even gave myself a huge fright.
“But I’d done my homework and knew the descent well, that allowed me to deal with the difficult bits.”
Porte and Briton Geraint Thomas, who had left Kwiatkowski trailing in the last of the day’s six climbs, hit the deck on the run down into Nice.
The ‘Race to the Sun’ concludes Sunday with a 9.6km time-trial on the col d’Eze, with Gallopin hopeful he can hang on and win.
“It’s going to be tough but I reckon it’s possible,” the Frenchman said.
“I know the climb (to Eze) by heart.”
If Gallopin succeeds, he will become the first French rider to win the Paris-Nice since Laurent Jalabert in 1997.
Collated results of the Paris-Nice 184.5km sixth stage between Vence and Nice on Saturday:
1. Tony Gallopin (FRA/LOT) 4hr 52min 57sec, 2. Simon Spilak (SLO/KAT) at 32sec, 3. Rui Costa (POR/LAM) 32, 4. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/AST) 32, 5. Rafael Valls (ESP/LAM) 35, 6. Michael Valgren (DEN/TIN) 1:00, 7. Tim Wellens (BEL/LOT) 1:00, 8. Sylvain Chavanel (FRA/IAM) 1:00, 9. Arthur Vichot (FRA/FDJ) 1:00
12. Richie Porte (AUS/SKY) 1:00, 13. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 1:00, 14. Michal Kwiatkowski (POL/ETI) 1:02, 103. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/SKY) 27:37.
1. Tony Gallopin (FRA/LOT) 28hr 49min 42sec, 2. Richie Porte (AUS/SKY) at 36sec, 3. Michal Kwiatkowski (POL/ETI) 37, 4. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 38, 5. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/AST) 38, 6. Rui Costa (POR/LAM) 42, 7. Simon Spilak (SLO/KAT) 53, 8. Rafael Valls (ESP/LAM) 1:01, 9. Gorka Izagirre (ESP/MOV) 1:19, 10. Tim Wellens (BEL/LOT) 2:00
– Agence France-Presse