German cyclist Max Schachmann, of BORA-hansgrohe, sealed overall victory in Paris-Nice on Saturday as Colombian Nairo Quintana won the seventh and final stage in Valdeblore-La Colmiane.
Schachmann held a 36-second lead going into what became the final day, after the coronavirus outbreak led to the cancellation of Sunday’s scheduled eighth stage, and he was pushed to the limit in pursuit of the title.
Tiesj Benoot’s dramatic late attack for Team Sunweb inside the last kilometre of the punishing 16km final ascent forced his GC rival Schachmann to respond from a chasing group also featuring Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo).
But the Belgian Benoot ended second both on the stage and in the overall race, eventually reducing his arrears in the general classification to 18 seconds. Schachmann, who collapsed in exhaustion after the finish line, had led the week-long race from start to finish after securing an impressive victory on the first stage in Plaisir.
Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal) had earlier launched a trademark solo bid for final-stage glory after a breakaway group that featured some big hitters such as Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale), Alberto Bettiol (EF Pro Cycling) and Quintana (Arkea Samsic) was whittled down to just two: De Gendt and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).
De Gendt dropped his French rival inside the final 15km as he went for broke, but was then reeled in by Quintana’s powerful attack which came less than five kilometres from the finish on the long final climb. Quintana passed the breakaway specialist De Gendt and won the stage by 47 seconds with Pinot coming home third, 56 seconds back.
Schachmann said: “It was very, very hard. The last three kilometers were a walk through hell, through pain. Now it’s like being in heaven and it erases all the pain in my legs.
“It’s not my first success, but the biggest so far, and the most important because a whole lot of people doubted that I could be a GC rider,” Schachmann said. “Now I won the most prestigious one-week race.”
Quintana, who has been in eye-catching recent form having already recorded victories at the Tour de la Provence and Tour des Alpes, said: “I always try to win stages with some elegance. I wanted to win [a stage] to bring a little joy to this team, and this is a gift for the whole team for the job done. Now I’m going to go back to Colombia to stay with my family.”
As top-level sports were postponed across the globe on Friday, race organisers had announced their decision to scrap the final stage but conclude the race with no fans permitted at the start and finish areas.
That decision followed the French government’s move to ban gatherings of more than 100 people in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Several high-profile teams such as Team Ineos, Mitchelton-SCOTT and Astana Pro Team had withdrawn before the race began.
Along with every other sport, the future of the professional cycling season is clouded in uncertainty. The Giro d’Italia has already been postponed, along with a number of the Spring classics including E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. The Tour of Flanders, one of the biggest one-day races on the calendar, is scheduled for 5 April and as things stand could in theory go ahead, with all professional sport in Belgium called off until 31 March.