CERILLY, France (VN) — Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) won stage 2 at Paris-Nice in a bunch sprint on Tuesday.
Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), the GC leader entering the day, crashed hard with 58 kilometers left in the 201km stage and was forced to abandon. “He has a split lip, and maybe a damaged tooth; he is also complaining of a sore arm,” FDJ director Frank Pineau told France Television, adding he had been taken to hospital in nearby Bourges.
Finishing second to Kittel was Elia Viviani (Cannondale), while Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEdge) took third.
“The last 80km were really nervous today,” said Kittel. “We lost the race leader, Bouhanni, so his team stopped working and we took the responsibility together with Orica-GreenEdge. But it was not easy to control the bunch and it was very chaotic. When we brought back the four leaders it became clear that we were heading for a bunch sprint.”
With a strong headwind facing riders on the finish straight, Kittel waited late to make his move. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Merida) opened the sprint too early, looking over his right shoulder as the front of the peloton surged past him. Kittel came from the second row around the right side of the road and surged to a commanding win by three bike lengths.
Viviani won the time bonus sprint with one lap to go on the circuit and is the new GC leader, with Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) seven seconds back in second. Damien Gaudin (Europcar), who won the prologue and was the race’s first GC leader, is eight seconds behind Viviani in third.
“It’s a very, very important objective for the season. I worked very hard all winter to take a good result this year on the road after a good year for the Olympics on the track,” said Viviani. “Today it was very, very important to take this jersey and I’m very happy.”
A group of four riders — Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Thomas de Gendt and Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM) — rode ahead of the peloton for much of the day, but they were caught with around 45km left.
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) showed himself at the front of the peloton in the approach to Cerilly, pushing a hard tempo in the wind to position Chavanel for the sprint and hone his form for the classics. When Boonen came off the front, Omega Pharma shared the work with Lampre and Argos, but the Dutch squad was not to be denied.
Stefan Denifl (IAM Cycling) made a late bid to escape, but could not free himself of the peloton’s tether.
“The day proved long for everyone, especially the riders. Near the end Stefan took his chance to get away when he realized he had a bit of a gap, but in the end, no one was going to escape from that pack charging at full speed, said IAM director Eddy Seigneur. “But I’m certain it will happen for us soon. Heinrich [Haussler] certainly is in good condition and position to take a finish like this.”
Kittel said he’d come to Paris-Nice to target the first two stages. A late puncture ended his chances on Monday, but Kittel was satisfied with his victory on Tuesday.
“Now the race for the GC will start,” he said. “I do not expect any more opportunities, so I will stay in the bunch and survive the upcoming hard days.”
Wednesday’s stage 3 is a 171km route from Châtel-Guyon to Brioudeand and features three categorized climbs and two intermediate sprints. The race ends Sunday.
Agence France Presse contributed to this report.