Damien Gaudin put France back on the time-trial map when he became the first home rider since Laurent Brochard 13 years ago to win the Paris-Nice prologue on Saturday. The three-times French pursuit champion made the best of his track skills to upset the favorites and snatch his first pro victory in three minutes and 37 seconds on the winding 2.9-kms course in the streets of Houilles. The Europcar rider left French time-trial champion Sylvain Chavanel trailing in second place, one second behind, just ahead of last year's runner-up in Nice, Dutchman Lieuwe Westra. Another talented Dutchman, Wilco Kelderman, finished 4th and took the best young rider's white jersey.
The prologue started in ideal conditions, with a sunny and cold weather. Several riders chose to use their normal bikes rather than TT ones. French champion Nacer Bouhanni set one of the first reference times, confirming that the course ideally suited sprinters.
While top spot quickly changed hand, Slovenia's Borut Bozic stayed in the lead for nearly an hour with a time of 3:40, slightly improved by Slovakia's Peter Velits (OPQ).
France's Geoffrey Soupe (FDJ) was the first rider to break the 3:40 barrier in 3:39 and his time held shortly before being bettered for 0.06 seconds by Dutch prospect Wilco Keldermann, one of the two youngest riders in the peloton at 21.
Last year's winner Gustav Larsson of Sweden clocked a disappointing 3:48, nine seconds slower than Keldermann. Boosted by the chance of racing on home ground, French riders then stole the show. French time trial champion Sylvain Chavanel ousted Kelderman from top spot in 3:38 only to be dislodged in turn by triple French pursuit champion Damien Gaudin on 3:37.
Three Frenchmen in the top five
Westra was the only late starter to pose a threat to Gaudin's lead. But the Dutchman, who will still be a major contender this season, had to be content with third spot.
While Kelderman retained fourth place, Soupe held to a top five position making sure three Frenchmen finished in the top five of a major stage race prologue, a first in the last decade.
RESULTS: After the prologue of the Paris - Nice, a 2.9km ride around Houilles:
1. Damien Gaudin (FRA/EUC) 3min 37sec
2. Sylvain Chavanel (FRA/OPQ) at 0:01.
3. Lieuwe Westra (NED/VAC) 0:01.
4. Wilco Kelderman (NED/RAB) 0:02.
5. Geoffrey Soupe (FRA/FDJ) 0:02.
6. Peter Velits (SVK/OPQ) 0:03.
7. Tony Gallopin (FRA/RSH) 0:03.
8. Borut Boric (SLO/AST) 0:03.
9. Sebastien Turgot (FRA/EUC) 0:04.
10. Andriy Grivko (UKR/AST) 0:05.
11. Elia Viviani (ITA/LIQ) 0:05.
12. Jose Herrada (ESP/MOV) 0:05.
13. Nikolas Maes (BEL/OPQ) 0:05.
14. Cyril Lemoine (FRA/SAU) 0:05.
15. Rui Costa (POR/MOV) 0:06.
16. William Bonnet (FRA/FDJ) 0:06.
17. Gianni Meersman (BEL/OPQ) 0:06.
18. Alexander Kristoff (NOR/KAT) 0:06.
19. Robert Gesink (NED/RAB) 0:06.
20. Gatis Smukulis (LAT/KAT) 0:07.
21. Maartens Tjallingii (NED/RAB) 0:07.
22. Thomas De Gendt (BEL/VAC) 0:07.
23. Michael Matthews (AUS/GEC) 0:07.
24. Tom Boonen (BEL/OPQ) 0:07.
25. Jonathan Hivert (FRA/SAU) 0:07.
26. Michael Albasini (SWI/GEC) 0:08.
27. Ruben Plaza (ESP/MOV) 0:08.
28. Gregory Rast (SWI/RSH) 0:08.
29. Martijn Keizer (NED/VAC) 0:08.
30. Jerome Pineau (FRA/OPQ) 0:08.
31. Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP/MOV) 0:08.
32. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA/LAM) 0:08.
33. Nicki Sorensen (DEN/SAX) 0:08.
34. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/BMC) 0:08.
35. Jean Christophe Peraud (FRA/ALM) 0:08.
36. Xavier Florencio (ESP/KAT) 0:08.
37. Jeremy Roy (FRA/FDJ) 0:08.
38. Mark Renshaw (AUS/RAB) 0:08.
39. Richie Porte (AUS/SKY) 0:09.
40. Jens Keukeleire (BEL/GEC) 0:09.
41. Baden Cooke (AUS/GEC) 0:09.
42. Imanol Erviti (ESP/MOV) 0:09.
43. Ivan Gutierrez (ESP/MOV) 0:09.
44. Simon Gerrans (AUS/GEC) 0:09.
45. Rick Flens (NED/RAB) 0:09.
46. Heinrich Haussler (AUS/IAM) 0:09.
47. Yoann Offredo (FRA/FDJ) 0:09.
48. Marcel Kittel (GER/ARG) 0:09.
49. Jens Debusschere (BEL/LTB) 0:09.
50. Alexis Vuillermoz (FRA/SAU) 0:10.