New Zealand’s Greg Henderson (Team Sky) survived a crash-strewn first stage of Paris-Nice on Monday to take the sprint win ahead of Lampre’s Grega Bole and Saur Sojasun’s Jeremy Galland.
Prologue winner Lars Boom finished with the front group and will retain his leader’s jersey, increasing his gap over second-placed Jens Voigt by winning two bonus seconds at intermediate sprints.
Overall race favorite Alberto Contador crashed with less than 3 kilometers to go and quickly got up to finish. He was credited with a time 17 seconds behind Henderson, leaving him in eighth place overall.
Americans Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner also crashed, with about 44km to go. Leipheimer lost about 17 seconds at the finish line, and is now tied on the GC time with Contador.
Horner came in more than seven minutes behind the winner, but appeared to have no serious injuries.
The windy 201.5km race from Saint Arnoult en Yvelines to Contres rolled over some narrow, twisty roads in its final kilometers, perhaps contributing to the number of crashes.
An early break by Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano) and Roman Feillu (Vacansoleil) built a lead of nearly seven minutes, but was reeled in by Boom’s Rabobank squad in the second half of the stage. They were finally caught with about 15km to go, as the front of the pack splinted from aggression and crashes, with some teams working to set up a sprint and others working to bring their leaders — including RadioShack’s Leipheimer.
Echelons formed to fight crosswinds in the final 20km, further breaking up the field. Boom managed to stay in the front group, which was whittled to about 20 riders by the last 5km. Among the GC favorites in the group were Caisse d’Epargne teammates Alejandro Valverde and defending Paris-Nice champion Luis Leon Sanchez.
Tony Martin had a go in the final kilometer, but Henderson timed his effort to take a clear win ahead of Bole and Galland.
Boom said his experience racing in crosswinds was an advantage.
“It was a hard day, but a good day,” he said. “If we have another day with the crosswinds (tomorrow), we should be okay.”
Contador said he was not concerned about the lost time.
“”My worry is not the time lost on the first stage, even though I would have liked it to have turned out differently, but the pain,” said the Madrid-born Astana rider, who hurt his left thigh in the fall.
“It is not the 17 seconds lost that concerns me right now but mainly how I will feel tomorrow (Tuesday) morning,” he added.
Agence France Press contributed to this report.
Top ten for the stage:
1. Henderson Greg (NZL) Team Sky in 4:22:17
2. Bole Grega (SLO) Lampre-N.G.C, s.t.
3. Galland Jérémie (FRA) , s.t.
4. Kolobnev Alexandr (RUS) Team Katusha, s.t.
5. Belmonte Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse D’epargne, s.t.
6. Roche Nicolas (IRL) Ag2r La Mondiale, s.t.
7. Voigt Jens (GER) Team Saxo Bank, s.t.
8. Marcato Marco (ITA) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team, s.t.
9. Martin Tony (GER) HTC – Columbia, s.t.
10. Kreuziger Roman (CZE) Liquigas Doimo, s.t.
Top Ten GC:
1. Lars BOOM (Netherlands) Rabobank
2. Jens VOIGT (Germany) Team Saxo Bank, at 0:05
3. David MILLAR (Great Britain) Garmin-Transitions, at 0:13
4. Luis Leon SANCHEZ GIL (Spain) Caisse D’epargne, at 0:14
5. Roman KREUZIGER (Czech Republic) Liquigas Doimo, at 0:15
6. Greg HENDERSON (New Zealand) Team Sky, at 0:20
7. Levi LEIPHEIMER (United States) Team RadioShack, at 0:25
8. Alberto CONTADOR VELASCO (Spain) Astana, at 0:25
9. Peter SAGAN (Slovakia) Liquigas Doimo, at 0:29
10. Xavier TONDO VOLPINI (Spain) Cervelo TestTeam, at 0:29