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Paris-Nice – the Race to the Sun. 1447 kilometers with no time trial or prologue, and no defending champion. Who will be the first to put their mark on the 2014 race?
They are off! The riders have a beautiful early spring day to take off on the 162.5 km course with start and finish in Mantes-la-Jolie.
We have our first break of the race! Christoph Laborie (BSE) has managed to already build up a five minute gap!
Laborie took off right as the flag was dropped. He may well have his eye on the first climb of the race, which comes at km 40.
The biggest news is that defending champion Richie Porte is not here. His teammate Chris Froome had to bow out of Tirreno-Adriatico with back problems, so Porte was shuffled over to the Italian race, with Geraint Thomas moving over to Paris-Nice. Bradley Wiggins also decided then to do T-A rather than P-N.
After nearly 22 km, Laborie has built his lead up to 7:30.
Christian Knees (Sky) was surely not the only one happy to see the sun this morning. "The sun is already shining over Paris, so actually we don't need to ride at all!" he twittered.
Today's stage has a rather confusing course, with the peloton crossing the finish line three times before it really counts. Along the way they will face not only two intermediate sprints but also the first climbs of the race, the cat. 3 Cote de Vert.
Trek has the youngest AND oldest riders in this race. The youngster is Bob Jungels, who is 21, and the "oldie" is Danilo Hondo, who is 40.
Laborie is really going all out -- after 23.5 km, the gap is up to 10:30, with Giant-Shimano leading the chase waaaay behind. .
There is no time trial here, something which hasn't occured since the 1955 race. And no mountaintop finishes.
Our climb today is the Cote de Vert, and it pops up at km 40.5 and 107 km. It is a cat 3 climb, 1.5 km long at 4.4%. And Laborie should be rapidly approaching it.
Here the top five in GC from 2013: 1 Richie Porte (Sky) 2 Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) 3 Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R) 4 Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) 5 Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) Of those five, the first three are not at the race at all. Van Garderen and Chavanel, now with IAM, will look to land on the podium this year.
All 18 WorldTour teams are here, of course, this being a WorldTour ranked-race. We also have three wild card teams, Bretagne-Seche Environemente and Cofidis (both French) and IAM Cycling.
Top photographer Tim de Waele has followed Paris-Nice for years, and Cyclingnews is happy to present a gallery of his shots of P-N over the years.Click here
The various sprinters' teams are leading the chase, with the gap down to 9 minutes.
Speaking of sprinters, how would you like to win a Giant-Shimano jersey personally signed by Marcel Kittel? It's easy enough to enter, check it out here.
The weather is so nice today that we have opened the sun-roof on the Cyclingnews blimp and are working on our tan. Actually, we should not be saying the “Race to the Sun”. Race organizers ASO have changed the nickname to “Race for the Daring”.
What do we know about Laborie? He is 27 years old and in his first year with Bretagne-Seche Environement, after riding for Saur-Sojasun for three years.
After more than 67 kms, the gap has dropped to 7:05.
The race opens with four flattish stages, so we can expect the usual break groups and bunch sprints.Orica-GreenEdge is counting on its two sprinters
Matt Goss and Michael Matthews to shine in those finishes.
We have also had the first intermediate sprint of the day, with, of course, Laborie taking it. He was followed, quite a bit later, by Gianni Meersman and Tom Boonen, both OPQS.
LeTour now tells us it was not Boonen in third place, but Sky's Geraint Thomas.
We have had a crash, and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) has hit the pavement. But the Frenchman bounced back up and is riding again.
We expect a bunch gallop today – or a mass sprint, if you prefer – so let's take a look at the fast-legged men. John Degenkolb of Giant-Shimano is an obvious choice. He has gotten his season off to a good start, winning the first three stages of the Tour Med.
Apparently Bouhanni landed on his left knee, and the race doctor has taken a look at it. Last year he had to abandon the race whilst leading it, due to a crash. That is not something he wants to repeat!
Now here is a surprise -- Tejay van Garderen of BMC has just abandoned! He finished fourth here last year and was a favourite to win it this year. We will see what we can find out for you.
We are having quite a streak of bad luck in the race at the moment. Another crash has taken down Vasil Kiryienka (Sky), Mattia Cattaneo and Jose Serpa, the latter both Lampre.
We are doing double live reports today. Check out our Roma Maxima live report here -- but be sure to come back here !!
The gap keeps on dropping, with 70 km to go it is 4:40.
We are vigorously applying our sunscreen here in the open-air blimp, hope the riders remembered to do the same.
Here is another sprinter to watch for: Tyler Farrar, sprinting for Garmin-Sharp, hasn't had an easy start to the year and is still looking for that first win. He opened his season in San Luis and most recently finished pretty far back in Omloop and KBK.
Another of his rivals for the sprint finish today is Tom Boonen, who seems to be turning into a sprinter again. The OPQS Belgian won two stages in Qatar, finishing second overall, and last weekend put on a good display to win Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne for the third time.
Lampre has moved up to help Europcar with the lead work.
We understand that BMC says van Garderen had to drop out due to stomach problems.
Laborie of course won the KOM ranking at the second climb, with second going to Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre) and Europcar's Quemeneur again taking third. That give Laborie the polka-dot jersey this afternoon!
And having won that polka-dot jersey, Laborie is fading back into the peloton. The gap is now a grand total of 35 seconds!
It will be interesting to see what happens now. 50 km is a very long time for the sprinters' teams to hold things together.
Laborie looks back to see the horde right behind him.
That's it! He is caught and the field is all togehter.
44km to go and the field is still holding together.
Sylvain Chavanel is leading the IAM team here and looking to take the overall title.
Looks like one rider decides to see if the field will let him get away. They won't.
The peloton has split!
Don't worry, it has only been split by some lane dividers.
Another rider is taking his chance. If only we could read his jersey....
That, too, came to nothing.
, Romain Bardet and Carlos Betancur will be leading things. Bardet may be an outsider, but thinks he has a chance.
There's a a wild sprint to the finish line! Yes, they do realize they still have one more lap to go. That was just the next intermediate sprint. And meanwhile Laborie is falling off the back.Add an Icon
Here is what BMC DS Max Sciandri told Letour about van Garderen's abandon. "He was feeling unwell but we hoped that he would be able to make it to the finish as it was an easy stage. He just couldn't. It was on his priority list so it's a big disappointment. He's now going home and will have to reassess the situation. Catalunya should be his next race. We still have a few good support riders like Stephen Cummings who can still go for the GC and others like Greg Van Avermaet or Taylor Phinney who can look for stage wins."
Looks like only two riders were involved and neither injured. Maxime Monfort now scurries his way back up to the peloton.
Here's how that sprint at the finish line turned out: 1, Gianni Meersman (OPQ), 2. Greg van Avermaet (BMC) and 2 Sylvain Chavanel (IAM)
Astana is lead here by Vincenzo Nibali, who, we will remember, just became a papa for the first time. He doesn't expect to be at his best here – not only does he have those new-baby sleepless nights behind him, he is building up to the Tour de France, where he will need to be at his peak in July.
There was apparently anothe rcrash which has split the field. The two groups aren't that far apart. We do have some small groups of riders trailing along behind trying to catch up.
The leading group, of course, is turning on the speed as much as it can, to try and drop the rest.
We actually have three groups.Oops, make that two again. The first two have joined up. There are maybe 40-50 in teh chase group? No idea on the time gap.
Letour says that Andy Schleck was caught behind that crash, but we are not sure which group he is in.
Romain Bardet (AG2R) is one of the unfortunates in teh third group..That group is desperately working its way up through the team cars.
We do still have three groups. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Simon Gerrans (Orica) are in the second group, at about 28 seconds, with the Bardet group nearly a minute down.
Bardet had his eye n the overall title here, so it couldn't have gotten off to a worse start for him. He hs not given up yet, though.
Belkin has moved to the head of the first group. The Dutch team can surely hold the speed high.
Belkin is indeed turning on the speed, to force an early decision for not only the stage but possibly the whole race.The second group is at 30 seconds, with the Bardet group at 55 seconds.
Looks like Bardet and four or five others are about to catch on the second group.
Bardet is indeed now in the first chase group. However, Andy Schleck is not, and is still behind.
Sky is now leading the first group, and they are putting down a furous pace.
4 km to go. Which sprinters are in this group?
Make that 3 km and counting down. It is a large group, so maybe there are in there.
45 seconds to the chase group.
A series of roundabouts here in teh finale.
And here they go for the closing sprint!
It was a close one with a lot of riders together but it looks like Bouhanni took it ahead of Shimano!
It was indeed a three-man race, with Bouhanni coming up from behind to clearly take the win. So his early crash didn't affect him.
Second place went to John Degenkolv of Giant-Shimano, with Gianni Meersman (OPQS) third.
In GC, Bouhanni leads with Meersman second (having picked up time bonuses underway) and Degenkolb third.
Stage top ten:
1 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ.fr
2 John Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano
3 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team
4 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
5 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin Sharp
6 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Team Europcar
7 Luca Wackermann (Ita) Lampre-Merida
8 Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek Factory Racing
9 Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Cannondale
10 Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Astana Pro Team
This will be the second consecutive year that Bouhanni has worn the leader's jersey here. He got it last year after winning the first stage, only to lose it the next day when he crashed out. He surely hopes that part of history won't repeat itself.
And the top ten in GC:
1 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ.fr 3:53:01
2 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team 0:00:01
3 John Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano 0:00:04
4 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:00:08
5 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:09
6 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling 0:00:09
7 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:10
8 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin Sharp 0:00:10
9 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:10
10 Luca Wackermann (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:00:10
That was the first stage of this year's Paris-Nice. Thanks for reading along and be sure to join us again tomorrow for more action!