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Bam! goes Paris–Nice as winds explode the race

Although called the 'Race to the Sun', it is easy to forget just how brutally hard Paris-Nice can be.

Photographs: James Startt

With all of its talk about being called the ‘Race to the Sun’, it is easy to forget just how brutally hard the Paris-Nice race can be. But stage 2, Monday, served as another vivid reminder. Yesterday’s opening stage in the wind and rain left its mark on the peloton, not to mention the overall standings. But while there may have been a bit more sun on the second stage, the crosswinds were just as stiff and the pack finished even more splintered than the previous day.

Starting in the picturesque town of Chevreuse, the mood was particularly quiet as there were many sanitary measures deployed to protect the riders from the coronavirus. Much of the pre-race protocol was put on hold, and only a sprinkling of fans managed to make it into this remote village which has few access roads.

Just about everyone knew that any calm before the start would be passing as the stage headed due south, towards the Loire River Valley. Strong, blustery winds were announced to be waiting at the finish.

With just under 40 kilometers remaining, the big classics teams simply went to the front and starting doing what they do best in such conditions: driving the pace up until the pack splintered.

Three time world champion Peter Sagan was a regular at the front along with current world champion Mads Pedersen, as both were happy to put in team duties for their house sprinters. And with Bora–Hansgrohe and Trek-Segafredo driving the pace, the pack just continued to fall apart through the finish.

Behind, the damage was lethal, as many of those in the front yesterday got caught unaware. Colombian Nairo Quintana, who rode so impressively in the front on stage one, crashed on the second day, and spent much of the final kilometers chasing, as did Julian Alaphilippe. The Frenchman who animated stage 1, suffered an ill-timed puncture just when the pack exploded. Alaphilippe finished with Quintana, just under a minute and a half off the pace.

While Bora worked for Pascal Ackermann, and Trek for Jasper Stuyven, it was Italy’s Giacomo Nizzolo who profited most, as he stormed to victory when the race finally arrived in Chalette-sur-Loing. The NTT rider bested both Ackermann and Stuyven in the dash for the line.

Perhaps the biggest winners, however, were EF Pro Cycling‘s Sergio Higuita and Trek’s Vincenzo Nibali. Both came to this year’s Paris-Nice with an eye on overall victory and both finished in the front group. Certainly Maximilian Schachmann rode impressively to defend his yellow jersey today, but few here expect him once the race hits the high hills of southern France. But then Nibali and Higuita will be entering more familiar territory!