Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) is competing in his first Paris-Nice this week. After winning Monday’s stage 1 in a mad sprint to the finish, the reigning French national road race champion will wear the yellow jersey for at least one day.
Beginner’s luck? Maybe.
“It’s my first Paris-Nice, and I’ve now got a victory,” the 22-year-old Bouhanni said. “And I’ve got a yellow jersey, that’s amazing. Of course we’re going to fight to keep it.”
Bouhanni out-sprinted Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale) at the end of the 195-kilometer stage from Saint-Germain-en-Laye to Nemours. Race officials had to use the finish line photo to determine the second- and third-place riders.
“The team did a great job for me,” said Bouhanni. “I am still young and taking part in only my third season as a professional, but I think I have grown in experience as well as strategy in the sprints and increasing my power.”
Mark Renshaw (Blanco) and Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) were in the finale with a shot at the sprint, but were boxed in on the second row late on the narrow finish straight.
“Tactically, I did not play it perfectly,” said Haussler. “I was well placed before the final few hundred meters, but I preferred to take my line up the center of the road. Consequently, I was not on the best wheel at the moment the sprint was launched in earnest. It’s a shame because otherwise the stage went perfectly with no crashes for me. But it’s all right since there will be more finishes that suit me in the coming days.”
Bouhanni has the same overall time as prologue winner Damien Gaudin (Europcar), but the former was awarded the leaders jersey in the post-stage awards. Gaudin is second, with Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) one second behind the pair in third.
Three riders attacked from the start, with Romain Sicard (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Bert-Jan Lindeman (Vacansoleil-DCM), and Yannick Talabardon (Sojasun) escaping for the better part of the day. Lindeman and Talabardon were still 30 seconds ahead of the peloton with 25 kilometers left, but the bunch swallowed up the two remaining attackers a few minutes later.
Soon after the catch, Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was among a number of riders caught out when crosswinds split the peloton. Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) made the split, but punctured with 15km to go. Both missed an opportunity at the sprint, finishing 1:53 back of the Bouhanni. BMC Racing played protagonist in the wind, but was unable to make the big differences the team had hoped for its GC rider, Tejay van Garderen. Rein Taaramae and Cristophe Le Mevel (Cofidis) were the big losers in the GC contest, missing the split.
“[Daniel Oss and I] been protected Tejay. I’m here for that and if there is a step for me … He had a good day, he avoided a lot of stress,” said Gilbert. “There was a little wind, we tried, we thought that another team would help, but it has not been the case. A good day’s work, it will serve me for the classics.”
The day’s other big story was a number of crashes and a few abandonments.
With about 90km left in the stage, Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) quit because of a flu he’s been suffering from since Sunday’s prologue. Later in the day, Rui Costa (Movistar) was one of many riders to crash and was forced to withdraw from the race. He was taken to the hospital for what was termed a possible broken left wrist. Sebastian Haedo (Cannondale), Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Leopard), and Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r La Mondiale) also crashed, though each rider finished.
Tuesday’s stage 2 measures 201km and is mostly flat, with two intermediate sprints.