Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni has given the host nation its second straight stage win at Paris-Nice with a thrilling sprint into Nemours. 22 year old Bouhanni of FDJ continued his strong start to the season with a well timed burst to win Stage 1 ahead of Alessandro Petacchi of Lampre and Elia Viviani of Cannondale.
Bouhanni won the French National Road Race last year and Stage 6 of the Tour of Oman this year, and this win confirms that he is a rising star of French racing. The win also catapults Bouhanni into the General Classification lead, with a narrow margin over Prologue winner Damien Gaudin. He will start tomorrow’s stage in the yellow jersey, though he may need a hand to get into after he struggled to work out how to put it on at the jersey presentation.
Sylvain Chavanel of Omega Pharma-Quick Step is third overall, but starts the race in green tomorrow after his 12th place on the stage was enough to give him the lead in the Points Classification.
Australian Mark Renshaw of Blanco looked a winner with 50 metres to go, but baulked at going throw a narrow gap and lost all momentum. Renshaw will no doubt be disappointed when he watches the replay, as had he got through it’s hard to see how anyone could have beaten him.
Bert Lindeman, Yannick Talabardon and Romain Sicard broke away early and stayed away for most of the day, but couldn’t hold off the peloton, being caught with 25kms to go. Their efforts weren’t in vain as Bert Lindeman from Vacansoleil-DCM won the Category 3 climb up the Cote de Buthiers to put himself into the polka-dot jersey as leader of the Mountains Classification.
The stage wasn’t without incident, with Movistar’s Rui Alberto being forced to abandon after a crash with 65 kms to go, the Spaniard being taken to hospital with a suspected broken wrist. Pierrick Fedrigo of FDJ was also forced to abandon, struck down with the flu and in too much discomfort to continue in the race.
Tom Boonen’s horror start to the year continued when the big Belgium was in a group that was dropped by the peloton with 25 kms to go. Having recently undergone surgery for an infected elbow, Boonen was hoping to use Paris-Nice as a springboard for the imminent Classic races, but he appears to be short of form and fitness at the moment. He was joined in the second group by stage favourite Marcel Kittel, who suffered a puncture 15 kms from home and was unable to rejoin the peloton.
Orica Greenedge controlled the last 3 kms of the race, but their sprinter Leigh Howard could only manage 8th spot on the stage, though it shows the squad continues to develop and success is not far away.
Tomorrow the riders will cover 200 kms from Vimory to Cérilly on the edge of the Tronçais Forest, a flat stage that is expected to provide another sprint finish.