Nacer Bouhanni was the number one favorite to win the 1st stage of Paris-Nice and he lived up to the expectations to swap his French champion tricolore for the Yellow Jersey of the Race to the Sun. The FDJ ace sprinter overpowered Italians Alessandro Petacchi and Elia Viviani to snatch one of his most brilliant victories to date thanks to a perfect lead-out work by his team-mates.
As a result, three Frenchmen are now leading the general classification, prologue winner Damien Gaudin trailing Bouhanni by fractions of a second while Sylvain Chavanel is third, one second adrift, and holds the green jersey.
Three out on the gun
The break of the day took shape from the start when Romain Sicard (EUS) attacked, quickly followed by Bert-Jan Lindeman (VCD) and Yannick Talabardon (SOJ). Their lead steadily increased to reach a maximum of 7:20 at kilometer 42. While there was hardly any wind on the roads of Ile-de-France, the pace was leisurely with an average speed of 39.7 kph after two hours.
The peloton gained momentum and the gap went down (5:00 after 100 kms). Argos Shimano then joined Europcar in organising the chase. After 96 kms, Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ), who suffered from flu since the start, was the first rider to give up in this edition. At the first intermediate sprint in Malesherbes (km 115), Lindeman was first ahead of Talabardon and Sicard.
Polka dot for Lindeman
The first climb of this Paris-Nice, Cote de Buthiers (Km 119.5), was only a 4th category ascent, but it mattered since it is the only one to award points in the first three days of the race. Sicard beat Talabardon at the top to seize the polka-dot jersey he should normally keep for two more days since there are no climbs in stage 2.
At km 127, a crash took place in the peloton involving Rui Costa (MOV), Tony Gallopin (RLT), Lucas Haedo (CAN) and Samuel Dumoulin (ALT). Costa was forced out of the race with a wrist injury. Eleven kilometers later Alexander Kristoff crashed in turn on a pavement but made it back on his bike.
With 40 kms to go, FDJ joined the chase as the gap kept going down (1:30 at km 160). Another pile-up took place after 160 kms, with Kevin Seeldrayers (AST) the most seriously hurt. While the second intermediate sprint again went to Lindeman ahead of Talabardon, Sicard was dropped and caught by the main pack with 30 kms to go.
Junction and echelon
The break ended at kilometre 172 and the junction led to an immediate split in the peloton. Rein Taaramae (COF), Tom Boonen (OPQ) and Marcel Kittel (ARG), who punctured at the worst moment, were among the riders trapped at the back while BMC seized the reins. The gap between the two bunches topped increased regularly and reached 1:23 on the line.
In the finale, while Chavanel found himself unexpectedly in the front, Bouhanni came back from behind with the help of Geoffrey Soupe and William Bonnet and launched the sprint from afar, holding back Petacchi and a late surge by Viviani, who should be his main rivals in the two stages ahead.
RESULTS: 1st stage of the Paris-Nice, a 195km ride from Saint-Germain-en-Laye to Nemours:
1. Nacer Bouhanni (FRA/FDJ) 195km in 4hr 47min 24sec
2. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA/LAM) s.t.
3. Elia Viviani (ITA/CAN) s.t.
4. Jens Debusschere (BEL/LTB) s.t.
5. Heinrich Haussler (AUS/IAM) s.t.
6. Mark Renshaw (AUS/BLA) s.t.
7. Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP/MOV) s.t.
8. Leigh Howard (AUS/ORI) s.t.
9. Borut Bozic (SLO/AST) s.t.
10. Romain Feillu (FRA/VAC) s.t.
1. Nacer Bouhanni (FRA/FDJ) 4hr 51min 01sec, 2. Damien Gaudin (FRA/EUC) s.t., 3. Sylvain Chavanel (FRA/OPQ) at 1sec, 4. Lieuwe Westra (NED/VAC) s.t., 5. Elia Viviani (ITA/LIQ) s.t., 6. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA/LAM) 2, 7. Wilco Kelderman (NED/RAB) s.t., 8. Geoffrey Soupe (FRA/FDJ) s.t., 9. Peter Velits (SVK/OPQ) 3, 10. Tony Gallopin (FRA/RSH) s.t., 11. Borut Bozic (SLO/AST) s.t., 12. Sebastien Turgot (FRA/EUC) 4, 13. Andriy Grivko (UKR/AST) 5, 14. Jose Herrada (ESP/MOV) s.t., 15. Nikolas Maes (BEL/OPQ) s.t.