They call it the “race to the sun,” but what they don’t often underline is that Paris-Nice many times actually starts in the rain. And Sunday’s opening stage around Plaisir, just southwest of Paris, proved to be a classic opening stage, one filled with heavy crosswinds, and yes, rain.
Few would have picked the German all-rounder at the start. After all the flat opening stage of Paris-Nice is firstly tailored to sprinters. But Julian Alaphilippe and his Deceuninck—Quick Steep team appeared to have no interest in waiting around for a field sprint, and every time the road turned into a crosswind, the Belgian Armada could be seen driving the pace at the front.
And it worked just after the mid-way point of this 154-kilometer stage as the pack shattered, leaving virtually all of the sprinters in their wake, not to mention pre-race favorites like Australian Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) or the unfortunate Frenchman Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), who crashed heavily just as the pack accelerated.
Alaphilippe kept the pressure on as he grabbed an intermediate sprint 30 kilometers from the finish with Belgian Tiesj Benoot on his wheel. And the duo quickly capitalized on their gap and forged more than a 30-second gap.
Many thought the two would sprint for victory, but on the final 1.5-kilometer cobbled climb, Schachmann along with Dylan Teuns jumped across, and the German proving to be the fastest of the bunch at the line.
“I’m really happy,” Schachmann said after the stage. “It was the first really, really hard race of the year for me today. I wasn’t sure how my legs would be. And my legs were a little painful during the day. But in the end it seemed like the others were having even more pain and that gave me confidence.”
“I went with Dylan (i.e. Teuns) on the last climb and we managed to bridge across, but still the last turn was really tricky,” the German continued. “But I am really happy to win today. I had a good start to the season and just barely missed out on a stage victory in the Tour of Algarve. This is my first time in the race, so to have the leader’s jersey on my shoulders is just great.”