Paris-Nice stage 2: Sky attacks crosswinds; Groenewegen wins again

Sky's Luke Rowe takes advantage of crosswinds to give his GC leader Egan Bernal the upper hand. Groenewegen handily wins small sprint.

The Paris-Nice peloton was again shredded by crosswinds in stage 2 Monday, and Jumbo-Visma’s Dylan Groenewegen won his second stage in a row, sprinting from a small group in Bellegard, France.

Ivan Garcia (Bahrain-Merida) ended up second in the sprint with Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) third in the 163.5km race.

“It was difficult at times, but my teammates got me through it,” said Groenewegen. “In the end, we remained with seven leaders. It was a matter of waiting and to not start the sprint too early.”

Groenewegen extended his overall lead by 12 seconds on Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski.

Wearing the yellow jersey, the Dutch sprinter benefitted from Team Sky’s aggressive tactics in stage 2, as well as strong team support.

“Sometimes we were in the second group, sometimes we were in the first group,” Groenewegen said. “It was very hard to stay there, but the team held me in position.”

The early kilometers of the race were marked by crashes and splits due to persistent crosswinds. Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First) crashed. Kwiatkowski suffered a puncture. Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic) abandoned after crashing at the halfway point.

After those mishaps and other setbacks for many riders in the peloton, things regrouped inside of the final 10 kilometers.

However, Team Sky was prepared to press its advantage.

Luke Rowe split the peloton by attacking into the crosswinds with five kilometers to go. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The pace eased momentarily, and Luke Rowe went right to the front of the bunch to set up another echelon with about five kilometers remaining.

His hard effort immediately split the peloton again. At first, 16 riders were able to follow in the wheels. A couple kilometers later, only eight men remained in that front echelon provoked by Team Sky. Crucially, the team’s Colombian GC leader Egan Bernal was right there, hanging tough alongside classics riders such as Groenewegen, Gilbert, and his teammate Kwiatkowski.

“With Kwiato [Kwiatkowski] and Luke [Rowe] it is easy to be in the front as the peloton has a lot of respect for them, so it easy for me to follow them and in the final it was good. When you just have to follow it is earlier,” said Bernal.

“They told me all day, ‘left, right, over here, stay focused here, we need to move over to the right or the front.’ When you have people telling you what you need to do it is much easier!”

The front group held its tenuous lead into the last kilometer. With an ace sprinter like Groenewegen in the mix, Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) opted to open up his sprint earlier, trying to surprise his rival.

Groenewegen wasn’t about to allow Trentin to take the advantage, and the Dutchman handily won his second stage in a row at Paris-Nice.

“I waited until the very last second,” said Groenewegen who won by a tire’s width. “I wouldn’t have been good enough to win that stage last year.”

After those riders battled for the stage honors, the clock started to see how much of a lead Bernal would take on GC rivals. Despite his team’s best efforts, he ended up just five seconds ahead of climbers such as Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin).

“We just about survived,” said Bardet. “That was maybe one of my three hardest days ever on a bike.”

Groenewegen may have one final opportunity to race for a stage win Tuesday in stage 3, a pan-flat 200-kilometer race from Cepoy to Moulines.