The Spaniard nailed the win on a day in which Dan Martin sealed a top 3 overall finish, while Julian Alaphilippe took the green and white jerseys.
Quick-Step Floors has been one of the dominant forces at the 75th edition of Paris-Nice, a race which can easily go down as one of the best of 2017, despite being still early in the season. Crosswinds, crashes, spectacular finishes and dramatic racing, these were the ingredients of an incredible week, at the end of which Quick-Step Floors made a significant jump in the World Tour standings, confirming its status as one of the best outfits in the world.
The cherry on the cake came on the final day of the French event, a short but intense one around Nice, which awaited the riders with five classified climbs: Côte de Levens, Côte de Châteauneuf, Col de Calaïson, Côte de Peille and Col d'Èze. Early on the day, David De La Cruz went into the break, which formed before the first ascent and contained no less than 24 riders. Together, they opened a 3:10-gap over the peloton, which decided to ramp up the chase before the penultimate climb of stage 8.
On Côte de Peille, with 52 kilometers to go, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) attacked and the race exploded. The peloton fragmented and soon the Spaniard had half a minute over the group which included Julian Alaphilippe, Dan Martin and Paris-Nice leader Sergio Henao (Team Sky). Not long after, Contador caught the front group of David De La Cruz and by the bottom of Col d'Èze, the lead was extended to almost a minute.
Col d'Èze, the legendary climb at the top of which Eddy Merckx won in 1969, shredded the front group to pieces, and with two kilometers remaining to the top, only David De La Cruz, Marc Soler and Contador were still up the road. Soler was the first to attack and get a gap, but David dug deep on the descent and almost dropped the two-time winner of Paris-Nice, before reeling in the Movistar rider.
Inside the last 2500 meters, as the gap to the yellow jersey group was shrinking, Contador had another go, pilling on the pressure and putting some distance between him and his countrymen, but David didn't give up and came back, before outsprinting the seven-time Grand Tour winner on Quai des États-Unis, for his maiden victory of the year.
"It's a really nice victory. The plan was to go in the break, and once Alberto bridged over, I knew there was a strong chance this move will stick. It wasn't until the final three kilometers, when I realized we still had a healthy gap on the chasers, that I began thinking of taking the victory. It was a tough day out there, I suffered a lot, but kept my composure on the descent and now I'm very happy. It's one of the best days of my career", said David De La Cruz, the first Spaniard in five years to take a stage win at Paris-Nice.
The first chasers arrived less than 30 seconds behind David De La Cruz, and Julian Alaphilippe sprinted to fifth place; that result was enough for him to secure the green jersey, which he won in addition to taking the white one, for best young rider of the race, which he wore from the opening stage.
"You can't imagine how happy I am! It was another tough day from kilometer zero, but we had a good strategy, sending David in the front, while Dan and myself stayed with the GC contenders, keeping an eye on what was happening. David deserved to win, he did a great job for the team throughout the week, and I'm very happy for him. It's been a fantastic race for Quick-Step Floors and I am very proud of what we have achieved", said Julian, fifth in the overall standings, and at the same time the first rider in history to win the green and white jerseys at a single edition of the "Race to the Sun".
Since joining Quick-Step Floors, Dan Martin made significant improvements and these could be seen in last year's Volta a Catalunya and Critérium du Dauphiné, two prestigious races in which he concluded on the podium. Now, he finished again in the top 3, half a minute down on the Paris-Nice winner, confirming his good form in this first part of the season.
"I couldn't follow Alberto when he attacked, so from that moment on it was a case of dropping Sergio, which I did on Col d'Èze, but the others chased me back immediately. When I realized the GC victory was out of the question, I said in the radio that David should go and seeing him win this stage is really great. I am extremely happy for him, he gave everything this week for us and deserves to be there", explained Dan Martin at the finish.
"Third in the general classification at such a big as Paris-Nice is an important result in my career, solid proof of how much I have developed since joining Quick-Step Floors, especially as I didn't arrived here in the best condition. Finally, I am also satisfied and super glad to see the entire squad on the podium at the end of this race, as this fantastic team spirit is what brought us at the top", concluded the 30-year-old Irishman after Quick-Step Floors won the team classification at Paris-Nice for the second time.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele