Slagter wins 4th stage of Paris-Nice, Thomas leads

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BELLEVILLE, France (AP) -- Tom Jelte Slagter of the Netherlands won the fourth stage of the Paris-Nice cycling race on Wednesday, with British rider Geraint Thomas taking the overall lead after finishing second in a sprint to the line.

Slagter broke away from the main pack on the final and most difficult of four moderate climbs and Thomas was the only one who could keep up.

"Today was the best possibility to do something. That climb really suits me good but I didn't expect it," Slagter said. "I know Tom is pretty good and that he is fast and strong as well. I knew that if I wanted to beat him I had to wait until the right moment to sprint, otherwise I would maybe lose."

Thomas moved three seconds ahead of previous leader John Degenkolb of Germany, who finished 31st. Slagter improved to third overall, four seconds behind Thomas.

With defending champion Richie Porte pulling out just before the race to instead compete in the Tirreno-Adriatico, Thomas was handed the responsibility of leading Team Sky.

"Friday before the race started I was told I was going to lead the team, which was big. Paris-Nice is one the biggest stage races in the world behind the Tour de France and Giro (d'Italia)," Thomas said. "Coming here I knew I was going to play a key role to help Richie and I'd be there or thereabouts. But with Richie going to the Tirreno it was a great opportunity for me."

A competent climber, the 27-year-old Thomas will be favored to keep the yellow jersey in Thursday's fifth stage, which takes the peloton over 153 kilometers (95 miles) from Creches-sur-Saone to Rive-de-Gier and features four modest hills.