Carlos Alberto Betancur (AG2R La Mondiale) has secured much more than Colombia’s first ever win in Paris-Nice’s 81 year history on Sunday. He is also the new leader of the UCI WorldTour.
As is traditional in the fast, fraught racing that has characterized Paris-Nice in recent years, Betancur’s overall win was by measured by seconds, not minutes. The young Colombian finished just 14 seconds ahead of reigning World Champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), whilst French national champion Arthur Vichot (FDJ.fr) took third at the last moment possible, moving onto the podium 21 seconds back after claiming victory in a tricky small group sprint into Nice on stage eight.
By far the biggest victory of his career, Betancur first made his intentions clear when he captured the win from a late break of three on stage five’s short, punchy trek from Creches-sur-Saone to Rives-de-Gier.
The next day’s only summit finish of the race, at Fayence, proved decisive overall. After 221 kilometres – by far the longest stage of the 2014 Paris-Nice and running through the foothills of the French Alps – Betancur both claimed his second stage win of the race and simultaneously ousted Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) from the lead.
Although Simon Spilak (Team Katusha) proved a very dangerous rival on the last stage with an all-out attack over the Col d’Eze climb above Nice, Betancur’s team reeled the Slovenian all-rounder back into the pack within sight of the finish line. The Colombian finished eighth, with his overall win safely in his possession.
For AG2R La Mondiale, Betancur’s victory means they are the first French team to win Paris-Nice in 23 years, since Tony Rominger’s victory for Toshiba back in 1991 – the year after Betancur, 24, was born.
As for his UCI WorldTour lead, Betancur is currently tied on 114 points with Tour Down Under winner Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE). Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) now lies in third with 88 points but again equal on points – with Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team). Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) is fifth with 83 points, yet another indication that as yet it has been tricky for a clear UCI WorldTour leader to emerge.
That is far from the case in the UCI WorldTour nations classification, however, where Australia’s imperious start to the season in the Tour Down Under, with 334 points, allows them to remain in the top spot overall. Post Paris-Nice Colombia have now moved into second spot, but with 114 points, the Australia’s overall margin of advantage is still more than comfortable.
The teams classification is far more unsettled: Lampre-Merida, with 171 points, are the new leaders, 21 points ahead of the squad which was formerly in the top spot, Orica-GreenEDGE. Betancur’s team, AG2R La Mondiale are the other squad to make a major gain, shooting up from 11th to third overall with 115 points.
The main Classics of the first half of the season are fast looming, but Tirreno-Adriatico, due to finish on March 16th , could well see yet more major changes in the UCI WorldTour rankings before the main one-day races of the spring. Could we see another new UCI WorldTour leader in the individual rankings, and perhaps the teams classification, this week? Don’t rule it out.