March 13, 2016

NICE, France (AP) British rider Geraint Thomas withstood a strong challenge from two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador on the mountainous seventh and final stage to win the Paris-Nice race for the first time on Sunday.

Contador, who has also won Paris-Nice twice, was in second place overnight and trailed Thomas by 15 seconds. The veteran Spanish rider attacked repeatedly on the last two climbs only to finish four seconds behind Thomas overall.

''I came there obviously wanting to do my best but to actually do it . I'm over the moon,'' Thomas said.

Contador crossed the line just behind stage winner Tim Wellens of Belgium, with defending champion Richie Porte of Australia finishing the stage in third place.

Despite finishing the stage in 11th, Thomas had done enough.

''It's definitely the greatest win in my career so far,'' the 29-year-old Welshman said. ''To win ahead of Alberto, who is one of the greatest stage racers ever, and Richie, who won almost every race he entered last year, I can hardly believe it.''

Porte, also a two-time Paris-Nice winner, placed third overall and was 12 seconds behind Thomas, his former Sky teammate. The two men have been key support riders on both of British star Chris Froome's Tour wins - last year and in 2013 - but Porte left Sky to become No. 1 rider at BMC racing.

Stage 7 featured four modest climbs before finishing with back-to-back Category 1 climbs - the second-toughest category - up Cote de Peille and Col d'Eze, before a downhill finish to Nice.

Contador had chances to launch his trademark attacks in the high climbs.

''When Alberto went, we took it calmly at first but then on Col d'Eze, I must admit my legs gave way,'' Thomas said. ''I really thought it was over even for the podium.''

Although Thomas held on, Contador felt he could have won the race.

''I don't like second places. I did everything I could to make up for lost time and in the end I nearly won,'' the 33-year-old Contador said. ''At least I'm confident I made the show even if I didn't succeed. In any case, Geraint Thomas played it well. He has a very strong Team Sky around him, but he could be beaten.''

Wellens, meanwhile, won the stage in 3 hours, 16 minutes.

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