COL DE LA COUILLOLE, France (AP) — Two-time champion Richie Porte showed his climbing credentials are intact with a superb breakaway win on stage seven of the Paris-Nice, while Sergio Henao took the overall lead heading into Sunday's final stage.
Porte's chances of a third Paris-Nice success were ruined when he lost more than 15 minutes this week, but the Australian veteran rider showed what might have been with a brilliant attack on the final ascent up Col de la Couillole, the third and final of three tough climbs on a 177-kilometer (110-mile) route starting from Nice.
Porte, who used to be a SKY Team support rider for Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome when they won the Tour de France, completed the stage in a fraction over five hours on Saturday.
"It hurt so much but it's such a sweet victory after what happened earlier in the week. Hats off to my team who never lost faith in me," said Porte, who became BMC Racing's lead rider last year. "I love this race; it means so much to me."
He paid credit to promising French rider Julian Alaphilippe, the overnight leader, who cracked in the climbs and fell to fifth overall.
"He's going to become a great champion," Porte said.
With about three kilometers to go, Porte made his move and it was enough to distance two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador by 21 seconds. But the Spaniard stands a great chance of winning this race for the third time as he moved up to third in the standings: 31 seconds behind Henao.
Contador hoped for the stage win, but Porte dropped him with about one kilometer to go.
Dan Martin of Ireland finished the stage in third place and was one second ahead of Contador overall.
This sets up a thrilling finale on Sunday's two big climbs.
"Every rider dreams of winning Paris-Nice and of wearing this yellow jersey," said Henao, who finished the stage in fourth.
The last stage is 116 kilometers (72 miles) starting and ending in the southern city of Nice, with a long downhill finish after the second tough climb.