Germany’s Tony Martin retained the lead in the Paris-Nice after Saturday’s stormy seventh stage was won by French rider Remy Di Gregorio.
This first major-stage race of the season is known as the Race to the ‘Sun’ but there was little of that in evidence as strong winds and rain made life difficult for the peloton during the 215.5km ride. One man singing in the rain was Marseille-born Di Gregorio, who made his winning move 13km from the finish to edge home a chasing group headed by Spain’s Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez.
This was only the 25-year-old Astana team member’s second career stage win after picking up a stage on the 2006 Tour de l’Avenir. The home rider said: “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. I almost fell (2km from the finish), but you have to take risks to win. Behind this success was a lot of work.”
Saturday’s stage, the longest of the race, was marked by a clutch of falls as the slippery surface took its toll and there were a number of key retirements, including Frank Schleck, suffering from a stomach problem,
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche and Slovak rider Peter Sagan, who was regarded as a potential winner of the race.
Martin, who came in fifth, reflected on what he described as “a very difficult day.” “The most important thing was to avoid the fallers…even taking a bend slowly you could end up on the deck. I’m happy to have made it to the finish intact.” He added: “I’m in great condition and I expect I’ll be under more attack tomorrow, but I’m worried about the state of the roads if it keeps on raining, once again we’ll have to be careful of accidents.”
HTC-Highroad rider Martin moved to the top of the overall standings after winning Friday’s sixth stage time trial. Sunday’s concluding stage is an arduous 124km run north of Nice.