HOUILLES, France (VN) — Damien Gaudin (Europcar) won the prologue to Paris-Nice on Sunday.

The 26-year-old pursuiter took the twisting, turning 2.9km prologue in three minutes and 37 seconds, just a second better than Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) finished third.

It was the first victory for Gaudin since he turned pro five years ago — and the first victory by a Frenchman in a Paris-Nice prologue since Laurent Brochard, 13 years ago.

“I was fearful right down to the final moment and shaking when I saw Westra,” said Gaudin. “It’s my first win as a pro. It’s just mad. I’ve been waiting for this for six years. Every year at the end of the season, I was telling myself, ‘It went well, only a win is missing.'”

Chavanel pronounced himself happy with second place.

“After the finish line, you know, you start thinking about the small things that can change the result. But I think Gaudin deserved this victory. He was really strong. He is a specialist of this kind of race and he is also a good track rider,” he said.

The prologue started in ideal conditions, with sunny skies and cold temperatures. Several riders chose to use their regular road bikes, and French champion Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) set one of the first reference times, confirming that the course suited sprinters.

While the top spot quickly changed hands, Borut Bozic (Astana) stayed in the lead for nearly an hour with a time of 3:40 before slipping to eighth at the finish.

Monday’s stage 1, also one for the sprinters, will cover 195km between Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Demours. And Gaudin hopes to use it to stay in yellow just a little bit longer.

“I’m doing pretty well this season, the whole team does, so much so that the team directors struggled to pick a team for Paris-Nice,” he said. “They put a little bit of pressure on me, asking me to come with the prologue in mind.

“Now I count on my mates to help me keep this jersey for a while. I can tell you one thing — I won’t have it in Nice, but I’ll hold it tomorrow at the start, and hopefully at the finish.”

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from Paris-Nice.