Deceuninck-QuickStep leader Julian Alaphilippe's hopes of a high overall finish at Paris-Nice were dealt a considerable blow on Monday when the Frenchman punctured in the last 30 kilometres of stage 2, and lost 1:25 to the day's winner, Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT), and now trails overall leader Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) by 1:32.
It came just a day after Alaphilippe had stolen a march on the other GC favourites by going on the attack on Sunday's opening stage, eventually finishing fourth, 12 seconds ahead of a number of contenders.
"I was part of the front group when I punctured, and right up amongst it at the front," Alaphilippe told L'Equipe of Monday's incident, which occurred just after the race had split apart in the crosswinds with around 30km left to race. "By the time I'd changed bikes, I was already down in the third or fourth group."
A frenetic chase ensued, with Alaphilippe helped by the entirety of his team, including sprinter Sam Bennett, Yves Lampaert, Michael Mørkøv and Kasper Asgreen.
"My team did an amazing job of limiting how much time I lost, and gave it everything, all the way to the line," explained Alaphilippe.
He finished the stage in a group of a dozen riders, 1:25 down, which included teammates Mørkøv and Zdenek Stybar, and pre-race favourite Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), and is still nevertheless Deceuninck-QuickStep's best-placed rider overall, in 24th place, 1:32 behind Schachmann.
"I'm not going to say that my race is over for the GC, but it's been made a lot harder. It's never good to lose so much time, especially when the coming stages are going to be at least as tough. But that's life, and the race goes on; I was just unlucky," Alaphilippe said.
While stage 1 winner Schachmann holds a 15-second lead overall from stage 2 winner Nizzolo, the real danger man now is EF Pro Cycling climber Sergio Higuita, who battled it out in the final sprint to take fifth place in Chalette-sur-Loing on Monday, and is now in fourth place overall, 23 seconds off the race lead.
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