The first road stage of Paris-Nice caused some important splits in the peloton towards the end of the 186.5 km between Etampes and Chabris, with plenty of favourites losing 40 seconds or more to the lead group of 23 containing Jens Voigt (CSC) and new leader Erik Dekker (Rabobank). A crash with 8 km to go on the narrow roads saw Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile), Cadel Evans (Lotto), Jorge Jaksche (Liberty Seguros), Gilberto Simoni (Lampre), Michael Rogers (Quick.Step), Floyd Landis (Phonak), Lance Armstrong and Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery) and Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) all lose valuable time, and possibly their chances of winning the "race to the sun".
It's not over yet, of course, but with Voigt's CSC team placing five men in the top 23, and riders like Erik Dekker (Rabobank), Philippe Gilbert (FDJ), Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears) and Kim Kirchen (Fassa Bortolo) all making the front split, it's going to be hard for the rest to take back any time.
The stage saw a powerful win by Tom Boonen, whose Quick.Step team was one of those not caught out when the crash happened. Boonen comfortably beat home Luciano Pagliarini (Liquigas) and Jaan Kirsipuu (Credit Agricole), taking his third win of the season and probably one of the race's only bunch sprints. Afterwards, Boonen acknowledged his team for its excellent work and dedicated his victory to his best friend Dieter, who died last week while skiing in Germany. "On the day of his funeral, I promised his dad to win a stage of Paris-Nice for him," said Boonen.
After claiming 3 seconds in bonus sprints during the stage, Erik Dekker (Rabobank) found himself in the leader's jersey at the end of the day. "Today was my chance for taking the lead," said Dekker. "I don't know if I'll be able to win Paris-Nice. I don't think I'll be good enough for Friday's stage up to the Mont Faron. This climb suits Jens Voigt better than me, he won up there at the Tour of the Mediterranean last month. Even the best Erik Dekker struggles on the Mont Faron."
The bad luck story of the day was Robert Hunter (Phonak), who crashed at km 81 and was taken to the hospital in Châteauroux, receiving six stitches. "It could have been more but the doctor wanted to keep the leak instead of risking an infection," Hunter declared. "I didn't hurt anything but I have a big cut in my right arm. It's a U. The whole thing was all open!"
Hunter wanted to start in Wednesday's Tirreno-Adriatico in order to get some racing kilometres in before Milan-San Remo. But the South African was denied by the UCI, who did not agree to give him permission to start in another race, despite organiser ASO's compliance. "But I need the racing before Milan-San Remo!" an extremely upset Hunter reacted. "Does that mean my next race is the Three Days of De Panne?" he questioned. "I'm not a cheat, I was injured, I pulled out for going to the hospital."
Tomorrow's second stage to Thiers may be affected by some route changes due to the snow in the center of France. After signing on in La Châtre at 11:45, the riders will leave with their buses and team cars to start at one of three alternative points: Montaigut-En-Combraille (km 94), Aigueperse (km 144.5) or Maringues (km 163). The latter would result in just 28 km being ridden in the second stage!