Stage 2 of Paris-Nice was a day of mixed fortune for Belkin as Lars Boom crashed out of the race with 10km left but there was salvation in victory which came courtesy of Moreno Hofland who bested John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and race leader Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ). Despite losing Boom in the finale of the 205km stage from Rambouillet to Saint-Georges-sur-Baulche, the Dutch team's lead out was inch perfect in delivering the 22-year-old first across the line.
"It's a great victory. The team rode great today. The stage was hectic again, because there were some crosswinds. We all tried to be in the front at the dangerous points," Hofland said after the podium ceremony.
"I wanted to surprise the bunch, so I made a long sprint. I jumped with 250 metres to go, and no one came around me. I am so happy, because this is a big race. This is Paris-Nice."
Swirling crosswinds helped Belkin to set up Hofland for a chance at the win on a day that saw a two-man breakaway of Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) and Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling) spend almost 200km alone out in front having attacked the bunch inside the opening two kilometres.
Hofland's best result of the season had been second in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne last weekend behind Tom Boonen but he surprised the favourites to confirm his impressive start of just his second pro season and proved he that he doesn't necessarily need a lead out train to win a sprint.
"Lars Boom crashed, which was a pity because he was supposed to be my lead out man, so we had to improvise," Hofland said.
"With 2km to go, I was so far back I thought I had no chance. I found an opening on the left, and then Jos [Van Emden] took me to the front, and did such a great job dropping me off on the wheel of Degenkolb. Then I was able to make my sprint."
Peter, Hofland's father, rode to fifth in a stage during the 1984 Paris-Nice while riding for the Dutch amateur team. "My dad was telling me about his race in Paris-Nice just last week. Now I am better than he is. That's in the pocket," Hofland said. "After finishing second at Kuurne, now to win at Paris-Nice, I just cannot believe it. It's very special to win a stage in this race."
With the opening two stages decide in a bunch sprint, Hofland will again have another shot at victory on the 180km third stage that finishes on a former Formula One race track but will be without the service of Boom.
"Tomorrow will be a more quiet day, but we will make a plan and try again," Belkin sport director Merijn Zeeman.
"The race later this week will be more difficult. We'll have Wilco [Kelderman] and Lars-Petter [Nordhaug] as GC options. The race is harder than people think. We will see the climbers move to the front. It will be an exciting week."