Rive-de-Gier - Carlos Betancur has claimed the 152.5km fifth stage of the Paris-Nice race on Thursday but Geraint Thomas did enough to hang on to the leader's yellow jersey.Colombian Betancur, of the AG2R team, was part of a three-man breakaway that opened a gap on the peloton 9km from home.
And he proved strongest in the sprint to the line with Bob Jungels of Luxembourg taking second and Dane Jakob Fuglsang third at the end of the stage from Creche-sur-Saone to Rive-de-Gier.
"I knew it would be quite a hard stage, the last climb suited me quite well and I knew the final descent," said the winner.
"In a three-man sprint I had a good chance. I'm pretty good when it's a small group.
"I still need to lose weight but I've got power."
But the fast-finishing bunch limited the deficit to just two seconds, meaning Betancur came up five seconds short of snatching yellow from Britain's Thomas.
At one point the leading trio had a 10-second gap, which would have been enough to propel Betancur into yellow.
Betancur moved up to fourth in the overall standings while Fuglsang is now sixth at 13sec.
German John Degenkolb, the stage three winner, is second, 3sec back, while the stage four winner Tom-Jelte Slagter of the Netherlands is a second further back in third.
Betancur believes Friday's sixth stage, the longest of the race taking the peloton over 221.5km from Saint-Saturnin-les-Avignon to Fayence, is made for him.
"I think Paris-Nice can be won on the next stage," he said. "The arrival at Fayence is good for me so I hope to be having a good day."
But Thomas is looking more to Astana duo Vincenzo Nibali and Fuglsang as his main threats.
"They have two cards to play and I can't chase after everyone," said the Team Sky rider.
With four climbs in the final 60km the stage promises to be key to overall 'Race to the sun' victory.
On Thursday, five riders, including Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel whose overall hopes ended Wednesday when he lost almost a minute, made the main breakaway of the day but they were reeled in with 20km remaining.
Giro d'Italia champion Nibali was next to try his luck at the end of the final climb but Thomas reacted and chased him down, ensuring he was right on the Astana rider's wheel when the technical descent -- Nibali's forte -- began after the summit.
As Nibali let up, though, Betancur attacked with only Jungels and Fuglsang managing to respond.
"I knew Vincenzo would attack, especially on the descent, so it wasn't a surprise," said Thomas.
"It's hard to control everyone because a lot of riders are fighting for the overall victory."
And Thomas is not expecting to be wearing yellow come the final two stages at the weekend.
"A lot can happen tomorrow (Friday). It's a very long stage and I'd be surprised if I was still in the same place (come the end)."
Results from Thursday's 153km fifth stage of the Paris-Nice race from Creches-sur-Saone to Rive-de-Gier:
1. Carlos Betancur (COL/AG2R La Mondiale) 3hr 38min 15sec, 2. Bob Jungels (LUX/TRE) same time, 3. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/AST) s.t., 4. Bryan Coquard (FRA/EUC) at 2sec, 5. Tom Boonen (BEL/OPQ) s.t., 6. Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (RSA/GIA) s.t., 7. Tony Gallopin (FRA/LTB) s.t., 8. Greg Van Avermaet (BEL/BMC) s.t., 9. Borut Bozic (SLO/AST) s.t., 10. Marco Marcato (ITA/CAN) s.t.
12. Rui Costa (POR/LAM) s.t., 16. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) s.t., 24. Tom Slagter (NED/GRM) s.t., 30. John Degenkolb (GER/GIA) s.t., 36. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) s.t., 110. Andy Schleck (LUX/TRE) 7:30
1. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 21hr 52min 42sec, 2. John Degenkolb (GER/GIA) 3, 3. Tom Slagter (NED/GRM) 4, 4. Carlos Betancur (COL/ALM) 5, 5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP/MOV) 8, 6. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/AST) 13, 7. Jan Bakelants (BEL/OPQ) s.t., 8. Wilco Kelderman (NED/BKN) 15, 9. Zdenek Stybar (CZE/OPQ) 19, 10. Cyril Gautier (FRA/EUC) s.t.
12. Rui Costa (POR/LAM) s.t., 13. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) s.t., 56. Tom Boonen (BEL/OPQ) 4:29, 132. Andy Schleck (LUX/TRE) 23:17