Paris-Nice — the “Race to the Sun”— kicked off on Sunday with all the excitement and fanfare commanded by a race which many consider to be a good indicator of potential performance at the Tour de France later in the year.
With climbing stages, and a time trial stage, as well as flat stages for sprinter, Paris-Nice is also a dress rehearsal for teams still adjusting to new rirder combinations and scenarios.
Stage one was for the sprinters to be sure — a rolling route with a few climbs but a wide-open final 500-meter drag after a short climb — and the attacks throughout the day were inevitably brought back.
But it was Sam Bennett of Deceuninck-Quick-Step — the green jersey winner at last year’s Tour de France — who rushed to victory in the kickoff of this year’s Paris-Nice stage 1.
The second day of racing featured a route nearly devoid of elevation changes, and teams looked to be at relative ease until the final hour of racing.
As speeds ramped up, nervousness swept through the peloton, and crashes put the peloton further on edge.
Several crashes marred the final 40 kilometers. And the winds blew apart an already strung-out peloton.
While Deceuninck-Quick-Step and Trek-Segafredo kept vigilant and tried to set up for the stage win, it was spoiler Cees Bol of Team DSM who sprinted to victory on day 2.
And on the successes of his intermediate sprints and third-place finish on the day, Michael “Bling” Mattews slotted into the overall lead, pushing Bennett out of the overall leader’s yellow jersey into the sprint competition leader’s green jersey.
Arnaud Démare escorted by his Groupama-FDJ squad past one of the numerous churches along the day’s route.
Tao Geoghegan Hart is sure to be looking at the podium later in the week.
Groupama-FDJ animated throughout stage 1, to try to deliver Démare to the finish line.
Several crashes throughout the first stage — as well as some rolling hills and wind — caused a few splits in the group.
Richie Porte ran afoul of an errant water bottle and took a slow-speed tumble on stage 1. He initially tried to ride his way back into the peloton, but eventually abandoned the race.
Philippe Gilbert, a former world champion and winner of four of the five cycling monuments, animated the race in the final 15 kilometers. But as such an accomplished rider and threat, he was not afforded much leash by the main group.
Primoz Roglic stayed safely at the front of the peloton, protected by his Jumbo-Visma team so he could save his legs for the stage 3 time trial and then climbing later in the week.
Sam Bennett again proved he’s the sprinter to beat. He’s won stages at all three grand tours, the UAE tour, and now Paris-Nice.
Bennett took the lead in the general classification after his stage 1 win.
Bennett stayed tucked behind the Deceuninck-Quick-Step “Wolfpack”, out of the wind, so he could save his energy for the sprint at the end of the stage.
When the peloton is rolling effortlessly, it bunches together and it’s not uncommon for several teams to be near the front when no pace-making is needed.
A two-man break included Dries De Bondt, unmistakable in his Belgian national champion’s kit.
A flat route without tall wheat or corn to offer shelter from the wind meant that when the pace quicked, riders looked for cover wherever it could be found.
Deceuninck-Quick-Step used the crosswinds to blow apart the peloton. In a matter of one kilometer, a single group was splintered into three echelon groups.
But echelons offered little protection from the wind in such a wide-open route.
Navigating a very technical final 4km, and ahead of several crashes, Team DSM’s Cees Bol rode clear of the other sprinters for a dominant victory.
Bol takes his fifth professional win — the first of the season for Team DSM.
After the podium presentation was over, and the riders were off to their hotels, the real work began as team mechanics thoroughly maintained bikes to look — and work — showroom-new for the next day’s start.