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"Last year, I worked a lot and I was not rewarded but it had to pay off. I did not give. I invested a lot in the winter, I insisted without changing a lot. It smiled at me today."

Photo: Sirotti

AG2R LA MONDIALE

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ALBERTO CONTADOR

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ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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ARNAUD DEMARE

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BMC RACING TEAM

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DIMENSION DATA

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DIRECT ENERGIE

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EF EDUCATION FIRST-DRAPAC

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EDWARD THEUNS

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FORTUNEO-SAMSIC

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FRANK SCHLECK

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GERAINT THOMAS

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GROUPAMA-FDJ

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IAM CYCLING

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ION IZAGIRRE

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JEROME COPPEL

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JESUS HERRADA

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JONAS VANGENECHTEN

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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LIEUWE WESTRA

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LOTTO SOUDAL

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MARCEL KITTEL

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MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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NACER BOUHANNI

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PARIS - NICE

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PIERRE LUC PERICHON

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QUICK-STEP FLOORS

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RICHIE PORTE

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ROMAIN BARDET

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RUI ALBERTO FARIA DA COSTA

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SEP VANMARCKE

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SERGE PAUWELS

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SIMON GESCHKE

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SIMON SPILAK

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SYLVAIN CHAVANEL

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TEAM LOTTONL-JUMBO

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TEAM SUNWEB

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THOMAS DE GENDT

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TOM DUMOULIN

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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UAE TEAM EMIRATES

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VEGARD STAKE LAENGEN

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WILCO KELDERMAN

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07.03.2016 @ 22:12 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Arnaud Demare (FDJ) put a year of disappointments behind when he took his first WorldTour win for almost three years by winning a reduced bunch sprint on a dramatic and windy first stage of Paris-Nice. Having been attentive when the peloton split in the crosswinds, he survived the final gravel sectors and finally launched a powerful sprint to pass Ben Swift (Sky) just metres from the line. The Brit had to settle for second and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) for third while Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) was fourth and retained the lead.

 

We have gathered several reactions.

 

Arnaud Demare after big win: I never gave up

"I'm super happy,” Demare said. “It was a hard day with the snowflakes. It was tiring, especially the little lanes in the finale. We were not that many in the end. It's a victory I had been waiting for for a long time. The team did a good job. Everybody is smiling.

 

”Last year was a struggle and it's nice to be able to prove I can still win a big one. For me, the last big one I won was my French title in 2014.

 

”In the days ahead, it will be different. This wasn’t a normal sprint and things could have worked out differently because I was badly placed. I launched it from afar. I had decided to focus on Nacer (Bouhanni) as he had two team-mates left with him. I was lucky to be able to overtake him in the last stretch and to retain enough strength to upstage Swift. There is no petty rivalry between the French. I'm glad to win against anyone.

 

“I felt good on the chalk road sections. They’re nothing at all like the pavé to be honest, you turn your legs much quicker here.

 

“It is Paris-Nice and this year there are many super sprinters here. It's a victory that I waited for a long time so it's a huge relief. This victory will reassure me but also my team mates who will have even more desire to help me to win again quickly. Since the beginning of the season, they have there for me like now Ignatas Konovalovas who did a great job and also Arthur Vichot who sacrificed himself for me as a gentleman. 

 

“It had nothing to do with the pave. There were easy times and you could relax at times. This is what I did before the finale. We had to stay up there.

 

”It was not the perfect sprint. I was misplaced and I had to start too early with 250 meters to go. I focused Nacer (Bouhanni) because he had two team members with him and then I had to catchBen Swift. It was not easy.

 

”Nothing has changed since 2015. Maybe I've just not been lucky enough last year. This time I can smile. It was time as it is sometimes cumbersome to try to understand what is not working. I have always worked in the same way with the same determination. It finally pays off.

 

"There were a lot of frustrations. Very often I was not there, nothing worked. I'm glad it worked out today. I have a good winter behind me and knew I was doing good. Today was not a normal sprint, after such a hard stage, but I won here and it's a relief. My Paris-Nice is actually already a success. There will be opportunities, but we have already won. Last year I worked too hard, but the results never came, now I am rewarded and that feels good.

 

“There is no conflict with Bouhanni. There is no controversy. It does not matter whom I beat if I win. Here are many great sprinters and I beat them here. Okay, they were not all there in the sprint, but that does not matter. I survived this heavy day and that is especially good for the confidence.

 

”True, there have been many frustrations last year but I had a great winter, I knew before the start that I have good legs. In Paris-Nice, I wanted to show that I'm here, not only today but also in the following stages. I can tell you that I have not given up. It is only in the dictionary ghat the word success comes before work. Last year, I worked a lot and I was not rewarded but it had to pay off. I did not give. I invested a lot in the winter, I insisted without changing a lot. It smiled at me today.

 

”It was very very cold. When it started to snow, it was important to have rain jackets to avoid being trapped by the cold. Then there was the expected echelons. We reacted quickly and immediately I was in the right group. I did not stay at the front in the approach to the gravel. I knew it was going to be aggressive but I did not want to suffer, rather let me stay back around the twentieth place. I wanted to be better placed before the sprint but everyone was tired. I started very far back.  I caught Ben Swift at the last moment.

 

”This victory makes Paris-Nice successful. There will still be opportunities ... It gives me confidence and my team-mates will have the heart to succeed. Ignas Konovalovas was great. He knows how to sacrifice himself and knows what he has to do. It reassures me that he is with me here and soon in the classics. Arthur Vichot was there too and worked for me as a gentleman.

 

”With the field here, victory is all the more beautiful.”

 

Team Sky: We had planned to attack in the crosswind

Ben Swift sprinted to a close second place while Geraint Thomas moved up to fifth overall following a memorable day at Paris-Nice.

 

An action-packed stage one saw the peloton blown apart on exposed roads and tested to their limits by sectors of gravel during a tricky finishing circuit around Vendome.

 

With the line in sight Swift launched an opportunistic early sprint to come within touching distance of victory. The Yorkshireman was just edged out by Arnaud Demare (FDJ) but was able to hold off Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) in the bike throw for second.

 

Swift had taken turns on the front heading into the final kilometres as part of a rousing team performance to help further the GC ambitions of Geraint Thomas.

 

The Welshman (who crossed the line in 10th) was kept safe and upfront on a hectic 198km jaunt and moved up to fifth overall, eight seconds behind continued race leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge).

 

On a chilly day which brought periods of snow Team Sky sat tucked in the bunch, yet with 45km to go they surged forward en masse. Nicolas Roche and Luke Rowe hit the front and quickly the peloton split in the crosswinds.

 

Six of the team's eight riders were present in the front split, with the gap sitting at around a minute at one point. Swift and Ian Stannard further added to the firepower, while Sergio Henao held a strong position in reserve.

 

That effort continued onto the tricky gravel roads, with Classics men Rowe and Stannard in their element as they strung out the bunch. At the late intermediate sprint Thomas finished on the wheel of Matthews in second, elevating himself up the standings and keeping the GC battle tight.

 

After dishing out some punishment on the front of the bunch TeamSky.com caught up with Luke Rowe and asked him whether it was possible to enjoy such a hard stage.

 

"I think it's a bit of a love/hate relationship with something like that. Sometimes you hate it when you're out there but looking back it was good fun," said the Welshman. "I think there was a bit of everything today. We had probably a good half-hour to an hour of full-on snow. It was starting to settle on the ride of the road. We were a bit worried that the race might have to get stopped but then it cleared up and the race began."

 

On the Team Sky attack that helped split the race he added: "It was something we decided before the race even started - that we were going to try and commit at that point. It was always going to be quite a big fight going into those gravel sections, so if we could narrow the peloton down it would make our lives easier. We definitely gave it a go and went for it.

 

"The gravel sections weren't actually too bad. The race organisers had filled in all the potholes and craters. It was quite messy and a bit of crosswind on them - but in terms of the roughness and the dangerousness of them they weren't too bad at all. There were a few punctures which is to be expected but I don't think there were any crashes and there were no massive splits on the sections.

 

"On a personal note I feel good. It's an important part of the season for myself and a few of the guys here. I think I'm where I need to be and I'm looking forward to a good week of solid racing. G is in really good form so we'll do our best to give everything for him. Let's see where he is in a week's time."

 

Nacer Bouhanni: It was a missed opportunity

"It was a very difficult race, Bouhanni told Eurosport. “There was a lot of movement but I was always at the front. It’s a shame not to win in the end because the sprinters were not all there and it was a good opportunity to win today. Unfortunately, it did not work out.

 

"I was clearly boxed in.  When I wanted to start my sprint, Arnaud passed me on the right. I was sandwiched, and it was over. I tried to get back. I got back to Swift but it was over. It was too later when I launched my sprint. 

 

"It was not a pure sprint today. We rode hard to be in a good position for the gravel. The condition is here, that's what I remember. It was an opportunity to win, but I did not succeed, it's like that, that's racing. Now I will focus on the next stages that should really be decided in a bunch sprint.”

 

Sylvain Chavanel after late puncture: I am still jinxed

"I punctured 5 kilometers from the finish. I am still jinxed! The peloton was strung out,” Chavanel told Cyclingpro.net

 

"The stage was nice,” Chavanel told Cyclingpro.net after having lost 23 seconds. “Personally, I have not had any luck because I punctured four kilometres from the finish. The peloton was strung out so I missed a split.This is not three minutes but I am still jinxed. " 

 

"Adrian [Petit] was in the wind to try to shelter me. The goal was to protect me to defend a place overall because you never know what can happen this week.Today what happened happened, but we remain motivated."

 

Michael Matthews: With this jersey, I have to ride in a different way

Yesterday's Paris-Nice prologue winner Michael Matthews has successfully defended the yellow jersey today on stage one of the WorldTour race.

 

The 25-year-old world championship silver medallist finished the day in a respectable fifth place and now leads by three seconds on the general classification thanks to two intermediate bonus seconds in the last 15km. 

 

Arnaud Demare (Française des Jeux) took the stage victory in the 198km stage from Condé-sur-Vesgre to Vendôme.

 

"It was a hard day all day," said Matthews. "I'm glad we had a super strong ORICA-GreenEDGE team today to take care of the race and bring back the four escapees. The main focus today was on defending the jersey.

 

"It would be nice to win a stage but the jersey was the main focus. It's great to hold it for one more day especially as I managed to take two seconds in the last intermediate sprint.

 

"The final lap was tougher than I expected. I saw that some of the general classification guys were up there so I had to make the effort to chase them. Maybe it took away some of my energy for the sprint."

 

"I tried to take bonus seconds. It was not easy but good for the general classification. The weather? The stage was not easy. It was cold. When it snowed, we talked a bit about it in the bunch, but you could see that the sky was clearing up. Personally, I'm not afraid of extreme conditions. 

 

”With the yellow jersey, I do not ride in the same way. My team worked all day and I found myself a little isolated in the final. I had to keep an eye on the GC riders while the sprinter can wait.

 

"It was very hard. I suffered today because it was a long race of 200 kilometers and it's been intense. The cold did not facilitate our task even though I'm still pretty good in these conditions. At first, with the snow, we were at the limit of the protocol but we knew it would not last. If it had snowed from start to halfway, we would have talked about it in the peloton.

 

"I had planned to go for bonus seconds. It was hard but it was a good bonus. I want to be leader of the race as long as possible. With the yellow jersey, I have to ride like I did. The situation is different from what I usually do because I was obliged to respond to attacks from my direct competitors while the sprinters had time to sit in. My team has done a lot of work, I finished up there and I did the job to keep the jersey, also on those gravel sectors that I loved. It's different and it's nice to see it in cycling. Despite the rain, there were no security problems, it was really interesting."

 

During the race riders had to tackle demanding conditions with low temperatures, a period of snow fall and sections of dirt roads on the final circuits. Sport director Laurenzo Lapage was pleased with the way the race played out today for the team.

 

"It was a hard day for the boys with really bad weather," explained Lapage. "At one point we had snow, temperatures of one degrees and only up to five degrees at the end. It was a hard stage with the wind also and the boys did a great job, everything went perfectly and exactly what we wanted.

 

"Michael took a two second time bonus on the last lap at the finish line sprint, he always had the team around him and everyone did a great job."

 

With 40km to go the breakaway's advantage plummeted due to strong winds and open roads which subsequently created echelons and a split in the peloton. Around 30 riders formed a front group including race leader Matthews along with teammates Daryl Impey, Simon Yates and Michael Albasini.

 

Heading into tomorrow's 213.5km stage the team will be defending the yellow general classification jersey along with the green sprint jersey on a tougher, longer stage.

 

"Tomorrow is a bit hiller so again we will control and try to keep the jerseys," continued Lapage. "I am sure we will have some help from other teams again controlling the race."

 

 

Tom Boonen takes over from Kittel, criticizes UCI due after stage in bad weather

As the small peloton was preparing to tackle the final 5 kilometers and the Etixx – Quick-Step riders were starting to make their way to the front, the team was struck by bad luck, as Niki Terpstra punctured, while Nikolas Maes and Marcel Kittel lost contact on the tricky dirt patch, and as a result, the German couldn't contest the sprint.

 

From the Etixx – Quick-Step squad, Tom Boonen was the one to get involved in the sprint, finishing 6th in Vendôme. While cooling down, the seven-time Monument winner talked about Monday's stage: "We did 200 kilometers in really bad weather, so it wasn't easy at all. I don't like the cold, but I was happy to be at the front. When the peloton split, I worked to keep the break going. Then, after Marcel was dropped, I tried to do my own sprint, took the last corner in a good position, but it wasn't too much acceleration left in the legs. For me it was very important to finish safely and gain kilometers before the Classics. Now I'll try to recover after this hard stage and continue to improve in the following days."

 

Boonen was critical about the weather.

 

“There is a new UCI protocol and they don’t follow their own rule. That's the most important fact of this stage.

 

"We did 200 kilometers in really bad weather. I know it's hard to find solutions here, but nothing has happened yet again.

 

"The problem is that there is nothing to do once you get started. You can stop and sit on the side of the road, but what does it help?

 

"It was freezing. It's just unfortunate that nothing happens and nobody takes the initiative. It is already the 35th time that nothing happens.

 

"It was too cold to talk. And we have not yet talked to the organizers.

 

"They have to do it without us. It is their own rules, they don’t follow them. We should not ask them to follow their own rules.”

 

“He was a little bit sick, but he’s back on the right way,” sports director Tom Steels told VeloNews about Boonen. “He had a very bad crash at the end of last season, so the training over the winter was not like it usually is, so things are a little bit later than usual. The last few races, we’re seeing he is going well. He will be ready for the classics.”

 

“Let’s not forget he’s a special rider,” Steels said of Boonen. “He is still who is. He is very strong, very gifted, and he can recover faster than anyone else. There is no doubt that he is going to be good in the races he needs to be.”


Wilco Kelderman: I was not afraid of this stage

Wilco Kelderman survived a hectic Paris-Nice stage one today that included gravel roads, wind and rain, and kept his eyes on the classification battle. Team LottoNL-Jumbo team-mate Sep Vanmarcke placed seventh from the first group of riders, led home by Arnaud Démare (FDJ).

The conditions left their mark on Monday, with the wind and rain breaking the group into echelons already 30 kilometres before the first gravel sector.

 

“Wilco Kelderman had a flat tire, just before that moment,” sports director Frans Maassen explained. “That’s why we were a little too far back in the group. Wilco returned just in time to join Sep in the first group of 40 riders. That was the most important thing, actually.”

Not long afterwards, a big group of riders closed the gap.

 

“The race started once again,” Maassen continued. “I was expecting more differences today. It was our priority to bring Wilco to the finish without any damage and the team worked hard, very hard, for that. You can lose heaps of time in stages like today’s, and sometimes that’s out of your control. Everything ended up quite well today.”

 

Kelderman didn’t fear today’s stage that many had considered dangerous beforehand.

 

“I was looking forward to it, actually,” he added. “Anything can happen of course, but I wasn’t thinking about that at all. It’s the right mindset not to fear a stage like today’s, but that doesn’t come naturally. When you’re tired, especially in days like these, you can lose your focus. Everything went well today for me. I rode with confidence, partly thanks to the team being at such a high level.”

Tuesday’s stage seems perfect for a bunch sprint.

 

“When you look at the profile, it’s quite the same as today, but we don’t cross gravel sections,” Maassen said. “Tomorrow, the chances of a bunch kick are big, but the wind can play a role too.”

 

Tom Dumoulin: I always felt comfortable

Tom Dumoulin went into the stage sitting in second overall with just a one-second deficit on the lead time and he managed to keep his position as he finished safely in the first group after a strong performance. Simon Geschke sprinted to 8th place in the reduced bunch sprint.

 

Wintry condition made it a tough day for the riders but Team Giant-Alpecin were focused on looking after to Tom Dumoulin and keeping him safe in the pack.

 

With 50km to go, the first decisive moment formed as the peloton split into echelons with Team Sky increasing the pace at the front. Team Giant-Alpecin got boxed in and lost some positions but Tom Dumoulin managed to be in the select group at the front of the peloton with the help of Koen de Kort.

 

In the final local lap, the riders were all back together and Tom Dumoulin was in a good position before the final climb and the last gravel section.

 

It was a front group of 50 riders who headed into the finish after 198km of racing, and from this group Arnaud Démare (FDJ) came over the line first with Simon Geschke sprinting to an impressive 8th place. Tom Dumoulin was in the main cluster of riders in the bunch and finished in 16th place and he remains in the second position in the general classification, three seconds behind the leader.

 

Tom Dumoulin said: “It was a really nervous day today and I am happy with my performance. I managed to be in the first echelon with Koen and I always felt comfortable.

 

“I want to thank my teammates, the whole team were great today in looking after me in the peloton.”

 

Coach Aike Visbeek said: “It was tough stage today with the weather conditions making it a nervous day on the bike. With 50km remaining in the race, there started to be echelons and the team weren’t really in a good position but we managed to have Tom and Koen in the first group which was important.

 

“For the final climb before the finish, the team positioned Tom at the start of the climb and Tom went with the attack on the gravel section but the gap was too small and the race ended up in a bunch sprint.

 

“It was a great team performance today and the level of the riders is very good.

 

“Tom was constantly good at, even earlier in the race when there was a split. Unfortunately, we were not very sharp as a team at that point, but our main guy was always at the front.

 

“To drop Matthews was difficult, but Tom did not get away from the group. What is clear is that he's recovered well from yesterday. Physically and mentally he's all right.”

 

IAM after dangerous Paris-Nice stage: We hope that it will be a lesson to the guys

The echelon break which happened around the 150th kilometer nearly cost IAM Cycling dearly.  All caught off guard by the acceleration that Sky, Orica-GreenEdge and Tinkoff made, the riders on the Swiss World Tour team had to ride flat out along with Katusha in order to be able to bridge back up to the main peloton containing all the favorites.

 

 “I breathed a sigh of relief when the chase group with our guys rejoined the main peloton at the front of the race,” explained Eddy Seigneur, one of the directeurs sportifs for IAM Cycling alongside Lionel Marie.  “We were able to fix our mistake this time.  I hope that this stage will be a lesson to the guys.”

 

“In the last kilometer Dries Devenyns dropped me into position perfectly.  But I was limited because we had spent a lot of energy trying to keep the wheels after Sky and Orica-GreenEDGE forced an echelon,” Jonas Van Genechten explained after taking ninth place in the sprint that was won by Arnaud Démare (FDJ).  “I was not able to do much more as a result.  This is definitely a missed opportunity, but I can tell that my condition is there, and I’ll try again tomorrow.”

 

Vegard Stake Laengen was not able to finish in the lead group.  In spite of the fact he suffered a puncture just before the echelon blew up the pack late in the race, the Scandinavian was able to bridge back up to the peloton only to suffer a second puncture on one of the final sectors of dirt road.

 

Jérôme Coppel has been suffering with a bad cold since Friday, and is hoping simply to “survive” the racing, with the care and advice of a team doctor.

 

Frustrated Wippert ran out of legs in Paris-Nice sprint

Wouter Wipper was in the perfect position to start his sprint but had to settle for 11th.

 

"If you are still in second position 300 meters from the finish line and you have to sit u, it hurt yous as a sprinter," he told De Telegraaf.

 

 

"It was really perfect. But the circuit with those four stretches of gravel was just too hard and the cold also hit my legs.

 

"Initially I was set to ride in West Flanders and then I might have won a stage. But I learn more here at this high level, in this strong field of sprinters. This kind of stage makes me stronger and maybe it will work tomorrow."

 

Richie Porte: Today I proved that the condition is where it needs to be

The opening stage of Paris-Nice was a battle of epic proportions, with the peloton facing cold weather, wind and snow in what can only be described as an intense day of racing.

 

Arnaud Démarre (FDJ) took the win in a reduced-bunch sprint with Ben Swift (Team Sky) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) rounding out the top three.

 

BMC Racing Team leader Richie Porte crossed the line safely in 12th place and has been elevated to eighth place in the General Classification. Michael Matthews (Orica GreenEDGE) has retained the leader's Yellow Jersey.

 

“It was one of the most nervous and sketchy kind of days I’ve had. You could feel in the peloton all day that everyone was stressed. I think it was actually a bit of a godsend when the peloton split because I don’t think the whole peloton would have made it around there. Eventually on the lap when the peloton did catch up there were so many tired guys there that it worked out quite well,” Porte said.

 

“It was a spectacle today and all is well that ends well. If I’d known going into it how the stage was going to be, I would have been a lot more stressed that what I was. To be up there at the front in those gravel sections shows that my form is where it needs to be.”

 

Stage 2 will see the peloton ride 213,5km from Contres to Commentry.

 

“It’s typically a sprinter’s stage tomorrow so the most important thing for us is to avoid any splits and get the riders across the line safely,” BMC Racing Team Sports Director Fabio Baldato said.

 

Lieuwe Westra after missed split: I was sleeping

Lieuwe Westra is still sixth overall but missed the split in the crosswinds.

 

“It was a very tough stage today, with snow, rain, cold, dirt roads… it looked like a very epic race but it wasn’t easy to stay in the front group,” said Lieuwe Westra after the finish.

 

“We have had all the most difficult weather situation you can have in one year concentrated in one stage and it wasn’t easy because, even if I have raced pretty much in this start of the year, most of the times it was in Australia, Dubai, Oman where it was more or less summer time.

 

“Today with the cold, the snow and the rain, my main goal was to lose as few seconds as possible to the GC contenders and I have to thank my team mates who did a great job to help me and to get back to the first group. We are in the same GC position as yesterday and this is the most important thing after a stage like this.”

 

 

”I was sleeping and they were gone,” he later told De Telegraaf. “We have done everything to come back, but I could easily have lost a lot of valuable time. Fortunately, we could correct the situation

 

Movistar blame Mavic car after time loss for Herrada in Paris-Nice

Luck worked both ways for the two riders shining the most for the Movistar Team at yesterday's opening Paris-Nice TT. In stage one of the 'Course to the Sun' - 198km between Condé and Vendôme, with a final circuit including two double sections of dirt roads -, Jesús Herrada was taken out of GC contention due to a puncture in the first gravel segment, while Ion Izagirre showed he's coming to the French event determined not to go unnoticed.

 

The younger of the Ormaiztegi saga was the first of the Blues to join the front as Sky and Tinkoff created a selection in the crosswinds with just over 50km to go. Rubén Fernández, Gorka Izagirre and Jesús Herrada later bridged back to the first peloton, with several attacks following the junction. Izagirre prominently featured in a late move chased down by Geraint Thomas (SKY), the Basque off the front along with Vanmarcke (TLJ) and Gallopin (LTS) in the last dirt section, just 3km from the line.

 

Démare (FDJ) won the selected group's sprint at the finish, while Michael Matthews (OGE), 5th, conserved his yellow leader's jersey as Ion Izagirre now sits in the 4th place obtained by Herrada in the prologue. His move in the finale, a Cat-3 climb, also awarded him the KOM jersey, which he'll wear on Tuesday  during stage two to Commentry (213.5km). Gorka Izagirre and Rubén Fernández are now 12th and 18th overall.

 

Sports director José Luis Arrieta analyzed the stage.

 

"It was a matter of remaining strong in the wind not to lose any terrain today. That first section of crosswinds split the peloton, but they weren't as intense as one could expect later on, and actually, after the first loop around the finish, the two main groups got back together.

 

“We'd have liked to have Jesús at the front, which he actually was; however, having Ion, Rubén and Gorka up there with the very best is already satisfying. The rest of the team worked hard and left them at the front in the finale, so they didn't suffer much.

 

"Jesús punctured at the very start of the first dirt section, and the Mavic car between the two groups didn't see him. He was off the bike until the second Mavic car went through, which was behind the second peloton, and ultimately, he lost sight of that group, too. Had that first Mavic car helped him, it'd have gone just like with Gorka, who also punctured but could get into the second group. All in all, we must remain hopeful and look forward to what's to come; let's hope our guys recover well, with such a cold day and even some snow on the route today."

 

Romain Bardet: The gravel roads were a nice invention

Romain Bardet didn’t lose any time.

 

"It was a nervous stage, as every year at Paris-Nice, with difficult conditions,” Bardet told L’Equipe. “We stayed together, united. We passed the stage smoothly. The gravel road? It was a nice invention. It made the finale lively.”

 

"It was a beautiful stage with the demanding climatic conditions,” Ag2r sports director Julien Jurdie said. “It was stage for warriors with four passages of gravel roads in the last 25 km. We saw a great team AG2R La Mondiale. We werenot surprised by the attack from Team Sky. We had anticipated well with Stéphane Goubert when we looked at the course. Everything went well with three riders in the lead group (Romain Bardet, Mikael Cherel and Alexis Vuillermoz).”

 

Alberto Contador: It’s on a day like today that you can lose the race

Alberto Contador continued his Paris-Nice campaign with a strong ride in the first road stage, finishing with the peloton after a reduced bunch sprint in Vendôme. Performing well on a wintery stage that took in two categorised climbs and gravel sectors, the Tinkoff leader remains in a strong position to fight for the GC in the later mountain stages.

 

The first stage of the 51st Paris-Nice race took place over a 198km course that covered exposed and windswept roads, with a 23km finishing circuit with two gravel sectors. After a day’s racing that started with challenging and changeable weather conditions that could have made racing hazardous, Contador was pleased with his performance. "It's been a very complicated and very tense day, right from the outset. It was snowing at the start, then it seemed as if the weather would change but started snowing again. There were constant temperature changes as well as a lot of wind, however we stayed focused.”

 

Sport Director, Sean Yates, was pleased with the team’s performance. “Today was good, and the guys rode well all day to stay out of trouble before what was a hectic final. The race split with about 50km to go in the crosswinds, forming a select group of about 50. Alberto Contador and Rafal Majka were there with all the guys apart from Sergio Paulinho who got caught out. All the GC guys were there as well.”

 

The day’s gravel sections created the potential for punctures and crashes, and with steep climbs punctuating the gravel, and coming so close to the stage’s finish, the potential for lost time was great, and Rafal Majka, who started the race strongly in yesterday’s prologue, was hit by a puncture on the first gravel section of the finishing circuit.

 

“When we hit the first sector on the finishing lap Rafal punctured and managed to get a wheel from neutral service before dropping back to the chasing peloton which came back up to Alberto’s front group for the last lap. Luck was important today as anything could happen on the off-road sectors – our goal was to not to lose any time and to rally around Alberto and we did that well.”

 

Throughout the stage, the Tinkoff leader stayed close to the front, protected by his team mates, but showed fighting spirit in contesting the intermediate sprint 13km from the finish. With the aim of picking up time on the later uphill stages, as the tempo rose in preparation for a bunch sprint, Contador managed to stay out of trouble.

 

“From here it was hell for leather to the finish,” Yates continued. “Alberto was good today and the motivation was there which is good to see. Lots of guys went out the back but everyone was up there for us apart for Sergio and also Michael Valgren who punctured on a dirt sector.”

 

After a stage raced in tough conditions, Contador had a huge amount of praise for his team mates. “The squad was incredible today, providing support at all times. Getting into the final sections was tense and the breeze made it more complicated. We were well positioned, we didn't encounter any problems or mechanicals, we stayed out of trouble and I'm satisfied with the way it played out. It's on days like this that you can lose the Paris-Nice. You might not win it but you can definitely lose it. So, overall, it was a positive day, we finished safely and we ticked one stage off."

 

With another day’s racing complete, Yates turned his attention to the team’s approach for tomorrow’s stage. “Tomorrow should be a fairly straight forward stage for the sprinters, and we will again focus on not losing any time with an eye on Wednesday’s uphill finish.”

 

Rui Costa: They attacked when I was at the team car

Rui Costa saved a dangerous situation after missing the split.

 

”Today was a hard day in many ways. First it was due to the old. The thermometer peaked at -1 ° C and my feet suffered, especially one toenail that is no black,” he wrote in his diary.

“When the weather began to improve, we decided to take some clothes off about 50km from the finish. At this time Sky attacked with the aim of split the group and leave us behind. And so it happened. We were almost a minute behind until we alongside riders from Tinkoff and Katusha who also had their leaders back chased it down and about 8km from the finish could re-enter the main group. It was very hard but it paid off At the end we were about 50 riders in front. We continue to fight.”

 

Edward Theuns: The stage was just 150m too long

It was a race fit for a Belgian – wind, snow, rain, mud – and Edward Theuns bettered the epic conditions in the 198-kilometer stage one in Paris-Nice Monday with a thrilling attack with two kilometers remaining.

 

Under the flamme rouge, Theuns still held a few seconds lead, and as he rounded the final corner with 500 meters to go it was a nail-biter. When the sprinters kicked into high-speed behind, Theuns had nothing more to give – with 150 meters to go they swarmed Theuns, leaving him nothing more that a 'what if' and an audacious memory.

 

"I didn't wait for the sprint because I was afraid that the second group would catch us and then it would have been risky to be overruled by that 2nd group," explained Theuns. "I felt it was a good moment to attack and gave it my all. 

 

"In the last kilometer I couldn't think much, my legs hurt like hell, and I was hoping I could hold on, but every time I looked back I saw them approaching. At 500m, I thought that I hope they don't start the sprint too fast…I almost succeeded, but there was a lot of wind, mainly a head/cross wind, so that made it more difficult. The race was 150 meters too long for me."

 

Arnaud Demare (FDJ) won the stage, and Michael Matthews defended his leader's jersey with a 5th place in the final sprint.

 

The dirt roads left riders and bikes covered in mud, but it was the wind that wreaked the most havoc splitting the peloton with 30 kilometers remaining.

 

There was a regrouping ahead of the final dirt section, but a few fierce attacks over the muddy hill stretched the group again. Theuns was in the front positions over the top with three kilometers to go, and sensing the peloton may come together again, he bolted.  

 

"I was in the first group after it split, and I was always in the front on the dirt roads," added Theuns. "The dirt roads were okay. I think you had to be in the front there, but they didn't really race super hard on those gravel sectors. 

 

"I felt really good all day. Already yesterday I thought that maybe today was a stage for a good chance to win. It hurts to be this close to my first [World Tour] victory… it's a pity. Yes, I am disappointed, because I came so close, but on the other hand, I think it's better to come so close than not be in the story of the stage at all.

 

"You hope for a good outcome, you hope that the sprint doesn’t start. I believed in it, but 500 meters from the finish I saw that they came very close.  It was difficult in the end, the wind was against me and then the finish was just a little too far away and I was not fast enough anymore. I showed me, but I got nothing. Still, it's better than not being part of the story. I was close to a big win a few times. My day will come. Well, I hope that day is not far away.

 

"I already felt very well all day. Also on that last climb I was in front, in the top ten. Everyone looked at each other, everything was tired and I just decided to take my chance. If I had waited there, there would probably be guys getting back and I would have lost my position. It was just a good time to go on the offensive. It was a bit quiet, I had a gap and I continued to go full gas.

 

"I knew after the opening weekend that I was good and here I get the confirmation at World Tour level. That's a nice feeling, to realize that you can ride there with the best. That is a good signal, but unfortunately I did not win. I take a step forward compared to last year. I feel I am good and it works well. It is motivating to ride in such a team. Fabian Cancellara wins, Jasper Stuyven wins, the whole team is at a higher level and you want to show yourself.

 

"Of course, I hope to get my opportunity, but I realize that it is difficult with such a strong team with riders like Fabian and Jasper. I think I showed today that I can be with the best riders and I hope for a free role in the spring classics. Now it's still early, we'll see later in the spring what the team has in store for me.

 

"It was really cold. But if you dress warm enough, it is not really a problem. It is not that snow hurts and it was not snowing  for very long. The course also was not dangerous, even on those stretches of sand.”

 

Puncture takes Frank Schleck out of GC contention

"Snow, dirt, rain, wind, we saw it all today," said Fränk Schleck. "It was a rough day. I was chasing behind the front group of 30 riders after the peloton split. I was in the chasing group that made it back on, but then the first time on the circuit I flatted. Fumy [Beppu] gave me his wheel, and we made it back to a group, but not the peloton. There is nothing to do but suck it up and move on."

 

Thomas De Gendt: I attacked to be able to help my leaders in the end

"Too bad I had to deal a mechanical in the end," Thomas De Gendt told Het Nieuwsblad after a day in the breakaway. "Without that misery I could have helped my team more in the finale.

 

”The team asked me to go on the attack. I'll do that. We knew it would be a nervous stage. I am not at my best in all that fight for position and riding in echelons so it is better to go on the attack early. If the peloton or part of it comes back, I can still do something for my team. That was the intention here.”

 

"It is unfortunate that I had to deal with a mechanical in the end. There was something in my gear. Without the problems I had in the finale, I could do my job for Tony Gallopin and Tim Wellens. I had something in the tank. The escape was not crazy, we rode at a good speed and were eating and drinking. I had something reserve. It was too bad, because I could have assisted my leaders. That sand section gave no added value. It does not belong to Paris-Nice.”

 

“The team said it was a good opportunity to be in the break today because there was a big chance that echelons would be formed. In that way I could play a role for the team, especially for the riders who were present in the first echelon. I’m not so keen on riding in echelons myself, I probably would have been in the second or third group and then I’m not useful at all. By riding in the front group I was able to do some useful work.

 

“We rode away in the beginning of the stage and there was a smooth cooperation, we got a lot of advantage from the peloton. When our lead was more than nine minutes, I started to think that perhaps something was possible. As long that it was snowing, the peloton rode at a slow pace. From the moment that it was dry, the men of Orica, Astana and Sky started to pull at the front of the peloton so the gap decreased fast. I tried to attack in the final 30 kilometres but I didn’t make it to the climb. I took some clothes from Tim Wellens and then I was dropped. Whether I’ll join another break during this Paris-Nice will depend on how the race will evolve in the coming days.”

 

 

Difficult day for Dimension Data in tough Paris-Nice stage

As a group of about 40 riders went off the front, Tyler Farrar and Serge Pauwels were positioned in the 2nd group on the road with all other Dimension Data riders left chasing in group 3.

The 2nd group never gave up on chasing the first group though and with 10km to go, Pauwels made it back to the head of the race thanks to some good team work by Tyler Farrar and Nathan Haas.

Sports director Jean-Pierre Heynderickx said:
 

“It was a hard day for the boys, with most of them coming from the dessert races like Qatar and Oman where it was 30 degrees. Today for the most part of the day it was cold, raining, snowing and windy. So it was a tough day for our team. We hope that the weather will be better in the next days and we remain positive to take a good result.”

 

Punctures cost Kristoff sprint opportunity and take Spilak out of contention

The first regular stage in the 74th Paris-Nice stage race didn’t play out the way Team KATUSHA had hoped it would, but the riders made the best of the situation on the road and kept GC rider Ilnur Zakarin in the front group, protecting his position to fight another day. KATUSHA’s sprinter Alexander Kristoff was ready to fight for the victory, but bad luck rolled him out of stage contenders.

 

”We had a lot of bad luck today and it was a hard day. The team did a very good job to bring me back after the peloton split. We managed to come back, but with 10 km to go something happened with my rear shift, maybe somebody hit me, because there was a crash so I had to change the bike. I came back in the group just before the climb, but I was at the back of the group and it was really impossible to do more. Hopefully tomorrow will be better,” said team sprinter Alexander Kristoff.

 

"I was surprised by the first echelon. I was changing and I was not careful. It is my own fault. I managed to get back but someone hit my wheel from behind . It broke and I had to change it, losing a lot of time. "
 

"I felt good, I thought I could play for the win, but that's cycling. I hope I will be better tomorrow.”

 

In the last 22 km of the 198 km stage from Condé-sur-Vesgre to Vendôme, the peloton faced four sectors of gravel country roads. A day-long break of four was caught between the first and second sections, and the front two groups were joined together by the first time through the finish line. Once the sectors were repeated, the sprinters still in the game were ready to do battle in a group sprint with Frenchman Arnaud Démare (FDJ) able to win ahead of Ben Swift (Team Sky) and Nacer Bouhanni of Cofidis. Ilnur Zakarin arrived with this front group, all on the same time of 4:29.53.

 

”We had some bad luck today with a few punctures in the wrong moments. With more or less 40 km to go the peloton split in several parts, while with 23 km to go on the first sector Simon Špilak got a flat tire. Later Ilnur Zakarin and Alex Kristoff were in the second chasing group and the team did everything possible to bring the guys back. They achieved this at the first pass of the finish line. So we had Zakarin and Kristoff in front, but with 10 km to go, Alex was forced to stop to change the bike and it was over for him for this stage. He tried to come back, but it was impossible with the climb and gravel sector. We still had Zakarin in front as our GC contender and that was good. It was a tough day, but we will see what happens tomorrow,” said sports director Dmitry Konyshev.

 

Ilnur Zakarin is currently 19th at 21 seconds.  

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