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Gallery: The flat and fast opening days of the 2021 Paris-Nice

The eight-day ‘Race to the Sun’ is the first big European stage race of the season, and the French event had the look and feel of a grand tour.

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.

Trek-Segafredo tried to line up 2019 world champion Mads Pederson for victory, and Groupama-FDJ looked to have placed Arnaud Démare in an opportune position to take the stage win.

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.