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In his first race of the year, Matthews surprisingly beat Dumoulin by 1 seconds in the Paris-Nice prologue; Bevin was a surprise third and Matthews is the first leader

Photo: Sirotti

MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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PARIS - NICE

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PATRICK BEVIN

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TOM DUMOULIN

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06.03.2016 @ 16:35 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) got his 2016 season off to the best possible start as he won his first race of the year, the Paris-Nice prologue. The Australian was one second faster than pre-race favourite Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) while Patrick Bevin delivered a surprisingly good performance by taking third in his first ever European WorldTour race. Matthews is of course the first leader of the race.

 

Michael Matthews may be known as a sprinter but he constantly proves that his talents are much more diverse. He has won uphill finishes in the Vuelta a Espana and the Giro d’Italia and in the past he has proved that he can do good short time trials, winning the Tour de Slovenie TT a few years ago.

 

Nonetheless, he was no more than an outsider for today’s Paris-Nice prologue, mostly because the race was his season debut. However, he has often proved that he has a great ability to get into great condition purely by training which he did at last year’s edition of the French race where he came away with a stage win and the points jersey.

 

Today Matthews again underlined all those skills by delivering an impressive performance in his very first race of the year. The Australian took a surprise win in the 6.1km prologue that was held on a flat course close to Paris.

 

Matthews was the seventh last rider to start and faced the daunting task of trying to beat pre-race favourite Tom Dumoulin who had lived up to expectations by posting the best time of 7.40. However, as soon as he hit the finishing straight, it was evident that the Dutchman had reason to be worried and when he sprinted across the line, the clock showed 7.39.

 

That time proved to be enough to win as the final six starters were no threat to him and so the Australian sprinter could step onto the podium as both the stage winner and the first leader. Dumoulin had to settle for second but could console himself with the fact that he put time into all the other favourites for the overall classification.

 

Patrick Bevin delivered the second big surprise of the day as the Kiwi took third place with a time of 7.41 and it even briefly looked as though Dumoulin would be unable to beat him. The neo-professional finished 10th in the Tour Down Under but today’s race was his first ever outing in a European WorldTour race.

 

Movistar had reason to be pleased as their two GC riders Jesus Herrada and Ion Izagirre completed the top 5 and Geraint Thomas (Sky) also confirmed that he is ready to go for victory by taking 7th. Defending champion Richie Porte (BMC) put illness behind to take a solid 11th place and so is also within striking distance as is Wilco Kelderman in 14th.

 

Pre-race favourite Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) had a disappointing ride with 27th and is already 15 seconds behind Dumoulin in the overall standings. He was even beaten by lieutenant Rafal Majka who had a surprisingly good ride for 17th. Romain Bardet limited his losses to 24 seconds to Dumoulin while the prologue was a disaster for last year’s top 5 finishers Simon Spilak (Katusha) and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) who both finished outside the top 80.

 

Matthews will of course wear the yellow jersey when racing resumes in tomorrow’s first stage. It’s an almost completely flat affair but in the finale, the riders will tackle fir dirt road sectors. The final of those is comes just four kilometres from the finish.

 

A course for specialists

The 74th edition of Paris-Nice kicked off with a 6.1km prologue in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. The first two kilometres were on a straight road along the Seine river and then the riders hit a small climb before as they turned away from the river. The final part of the race was made up of flat roads with a few turns along the way.

 

It was a nice, sunny day when Remy Di Gregorio (Delko) kicked things off as the first rider at 11.44 local time. He stopped the clock in 8.43 but had to chance to sit in the hot seat as he was immediately beaten by first Pierrick Fedrigo (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) with 8.24 and Stefan Denifl (IAM) with 8.16.

 

Kelderman takes the lead

The first big contender to hit the course was Jos van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) who was the fourth starter and he fully lived up to expectations by clocking 7.54. Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) slotted into second with 8.09 but was quickly relegated by first Lawson Craddock (Cannondale) and Daniil Fominykh (Astana) with 8.02 and 8.01 respectively.

 

Sam Bewley (Orica-GreenEDGE) became the next riders to take second with 8.01 before Spilak delivered a disastrous ride with 8.17. Instead, it was another GC rider who showed himself as Wilco Kelderman was two seconds faster than his teammate van Emden and moved into the lead with 7.52.

 

Terpstra gets close

Adrien Petit (Direct Energie) had a fine ride to take seventh but was pushed down one spot by Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis). Tanel Kangert (Astana) kicked off his GC campaign with a good fifth place in 8.02 while Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) showed good form by taking 10th.

 

Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) was expected to pose the first threat but he came up short with third place in 7.58. Moments later Costa delivered a poor performance as 8.11 was only good enough for 15th.

 

Coppel takes the lead

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) made it into the top 10 with 8.04 in 9th place but was pushed down one spot by Julien Loubet (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) who posted the seventh best time. However, everybody was eagerly awaiting the arrival of French champion Jerome Coppel (IAM) and he made the home crowd celebrate as he stopped the clock in 7.48 to take the lead by four seconds.

 

Paul Martens (LottoNL-Jumbo) did surprisingly well to take fifth with 7.59 before Dmitriy Gruzdev continued the solid Astana performances by taking 9th. Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) was slightly better as he slotted into seventh with 8.01.

 

Great ride by Izagirre

Pieter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep) became the next rider to make it into the top 10 with 8.02 but he was beaten by Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale) who slotted into 9th with 8.01. However, it was Lars Boom (Astana) who was expected to be a threat but the former prologue winner had to settle for fourth with 7.54.

 

Gorka Izagirre kicked off a great day for Movistar by posting the third best time of 7.53 and Ignatas Konovalovas (Delko) also did well by slotting into 8th. Bardet crossed the line in 20th, desperately trying to limit his losses.

 

Herrada surprises

Nicolas Roche (Sky) showed good form by slotting into ninth but most had their eyes on specialist Matthias Brändle (IAM). However, he came up short as 7.54 was only good enough for fourth.

 

Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) showed growing condition by moving into seventh with 7.57 but he was immediately pushed down one spot by Christophe Laporte (Cofidis). Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) became the third rider to post the seventh best time but it was another rider that created the surprise. Herrada blasted across the line in 7.45 to shave 3 seconds off Coppel’s time and move into the lead.

 

Bevin beats the stars

Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) did well to take sixth but Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) did even better with fourth. The French public was eagerly waiting for Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) to arrive but he missed out on taking the lead by just three seconds to move into second.

 

No one had given Bevin much attention and so it was a big surprise when he suddenly hit the finishing straight and stopped the clock in 7.41 to move into the hot seat. Moments later Tobias Ludvigsson (Giant-Alpecin) posted the fifth best time and Lieuwe Westra (Astana) was even better in third.

 

Dumoulin takes the lead

Majka delivered a surprise by taking 10th and Dries Devenyns (IAM) did much better than expected when he posted the fourth best time of 7.47. Fabio Felline (Trek) also had a good ride as he slotted into seventh.

 

Dumoulin was now the next big rider to reach the finish and he lived up to expectations by taking the lead with 7.40. Luis Leon Sanchez was expected to be a threat but he did poorly with 55th place.

 

Matthews takes the win

Izagirre did great to move into fifth before a disappointed Contador had to settle for 23rd. Instead, it was Matthews who delivered the surprise by beating Dumoulin by less than a second.

 

He now had to wait for the final six starters to arrive and it was Thomas who was his biggest rival. However, the Brit had to settle for seventh and when Porte stopped the clock in the 11th best time, the Australian could step onto the podium as stage winner.

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