MANTES-LA-JOLIE, France (AFP) — Nacer Bouhanni picked himself up off the tarmac following a crash in the first stage of Paris-Nice on Sunday to take the victory and the leader’s yellow jersey.
The 23-year-old FDJ rider, whose left knee was covered in blood as he crossed the line, triumphed in a bunch sprint at Mantes-la-Jolie following a 162.5km stage that was disrupted by several pileups.
John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) took second on the stage with Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) third.
Due to time bonuses along the course, Bouhanni has a one-second lead over Meersman going into Monday’s second stage, a 205km leg from Rambouillet to Saint-Georges-sur-Baulche.
Bouhanni likewise won stage 1 last year only to crash out of the race the very next day while wearing the leader’s yellow jersey.
The FDJ rider became reacquainted with the tarmac on Sunday but said he simply put it out of his mind.
“It’s an incredible day. I fell badly on my left knee after 40-50 kilometers,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m really jinxed on Paris-Nice.’ My knee was really hurting. But at the end, I forgot about the pain and thought only about the finish line.”
Several times during the race he was seen going back to the doctor’s car for attention before positioning himself near the front for the run-in.
It was a poor day for some other riders, too. Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) abandoned at mid-distance with digestive issues while Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) both lost more than a minute after being caught up behind a crash 20km from home.
Van Garderen called it quits after the first two hours, while Bardet and Gerrans found themselves caught out when a crash 20km from the finish split it into three distinct groups.
Falling completely out of contention was Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing), who finished almost two minutes back in the third group after getting caught up in a crash. Brother Fränk Schleck, also hampered by a spill, finished more than a minute down.