Crosswinds, crashes catch out GC contenders at Paris-Nice

Crosswinds, crashes and a fast opening stage combined to knock nearly a dozen potential general classification contenders down the rankings after stage 1 at Paris-Nice.

Pre-race sprint favourite Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) suffered the biggest blow, going down in a crash 65km into the 138.5km stage and having to abandon.

Riders losing the largest amount of time among the GC men were Colombians Sergio Henao (UAE Team Emirates) and Ivan Sosa (Team Sky), both of whom hit the ground during the stage and finished 4:31 and 4:32, respectively, behind stage winner Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma). 

Other GC riders who fell victim to the conditions and racing included Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First) at 2:51, Domenico Pozzovio (Bahrain-Merida) at 2:48, Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data) at 2:44, Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) at 1:04, defending champion Marc Soler (Movistar) at 1:03 and Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) at 1:02.

Sosa, who was runner-up last month in Tour Colombia 2.1 behind countryman Miguel Angel Lopez, was blown into a ditch by crosswinds with less than 70km to go. He did an admirable job of riding to a soft landing, but the time it took to remount and get back into rhythm saw the peloton quickly riding away in the harsh conditions that split the bunch into echelons.

Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First) took an unexpected detour into the ditch a short time later, but he was able to regain the main bunch and finish on the same time as Groenewegen.

Crashes were frequent in the wind on the narrow roads around Saint-Germain-en-Laye as the nervous peloton jostled for position and echelons continued to form, disintegrate and re-form in the changing winds.

Pozzovivo yo-yoed back and forth out the back of the main group, losing contact for the first time halfway through the stage along with Meintjes. Henao's troubles, along with the slow start this season for UAE team Emirate's Fabio Aru, who lost 2:50 on the stage, means the team will likely shift focus to supporting Alexander Kristoff for the next two sprint stages, and possibly hoping for stage success with Henao later in the week. Kristoff also fell victim to the harsh racing, however, as he finished next to Aru at 2:50 back.

The fortunes of Astana, who have already taken 15 wins so far this season, suffered a mixed bag as both Lopez and Izaguirre lost time, while Luis Leon Sanchez gained five seconds in time bonuses at the two intermediate sprints and is third overall, five seconds behind Groenewegen and one second behind Lotto Soudal's Caleb Ewan.

Aside from Matthews, other abandons included Team Sunweb's Martijn Tusveld and Lotto Soudal's Jasper de Buyst.

The always-unpredictable Paris-Nice continues Monday with stage 2, a largely flat 163.5km stage from Les Bréviaires to Bellegarde, where the wind could cause chaos once again.  

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