Kristoff crushes Paris-Nice stage 1 sprint

Norwegian sprinter Alexander Kristoff freelances his way to his first-ever win at Paris-Nice in Contres

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) won stage 1 of Paris-Nice, taking advantage of a disorganized sprint in the run-in to Contres, France on Monday.

“I’m really happy,” the winner said. “It’s my first stage win in Paris-Nice. … It’s a step up for me. Many of the best guys in the world were here.”

The day was characterized by a very leisurely pace — well behind the organizer’s slowest anticipated finish time.

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) were off the front for much of the 196.5-kilometer stage. With 25 kilometers to go, Voeckler whipped up the pace. The peloton was just under a minute behind.

With just under 20km to go, Etixx-Quick-Step’s Tom Boonen touched wheels in the bunch and crashed. He withdrew from the race with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.

The lead duo had a 1:41 lead with 15 kilometers remaining. With 10km to go, the gap was down to 1:20 as the peloton squabbled for seconds in the final intermediate sprint of the day.

Voeckler and Delaplace kept grinding away, holding a 42-second lead with five kilometers to go. But with 1.5km to go, the break was caught.

Orica-GreenEdge started the sprint after the red kite. Giant-Alpecin barged up the opposite side, aiming to set up John Degenkolb. However, Kristoff timed his jump to perfection in the finale, comfortably taking his fifth race win of the season

“I don’t have really the lead-out train here,” Kristoff said. “I could save lots of energy into the last 700 meters. … I managed to get Bouhanni’s wheel. Degenkolb started early. … I was not sure I won until I got to the line.”

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was second, and Bryan Coquard (Europcar) placed third. Etixx’s Michal Kwiatkowski kept the overall race lead. Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) sits second overall with the same time, and Kwiatkowski’s teammate Tony Martin is seven seconds back in third.

Tuesday’s stage 2 should offer more sprint action. It includes mostly flat terrain from the ZooParc at Beauval to Saint-Amand-Montrond in central France, over 172 kilometers.