The switch from Paris-Nice's usual prologue time trial to a road stage resulted in a very nervy start to "the race to the sun." The most obvious result of this was a big crash 20 kilometres from the finish of stage 1 that left many of the stage and race favourites stranded, including Ag2r-La Mondiale team leader Romain Bardet, the Fränk and Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) and Australian champion Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge).
Bardet came into Paris-Nice as one of the pre-race favourites, but he trailed in as part of a group that finished more than a minute down on stage winner Nacer Bouhanni. "We weren't particularly far back, but the crash occurred about 35 places down the peloton. I ended up in the ditch under a pile of bikes. It was all just down to bad luck," Bardet told reporters as he sat on the steps on his team bus at the finish.
"We were on the right and the crash happened on the right. I could see all of the other riders going by on the left. When I got back on my bike, the peloton had gone. It's really disappointing, a minute really is a big handicap," said Bardet, who added that he doesn't see the race as completely lost but now needs to turn opportunist in to reassert his GC ambitions, but acknowledged team-mate Carlos Betancur will have the lead role after finishing in the front group.
Trek’s Fränk and Andy Schleck were also among those caught out, although the former did manage to get back up to the front group, momentarily at least. "On a circuit like this, with these small roads, it can become dangerous… then this can happen," said Trek DS Kim Andersen.
"The team was in a quite good place towards the front, but the crash happened where we were. Bob [Jungels] and Fränk [Schleck] were able to come back, but then Fränk was dropped after a turn," explained Andersen, who added: "We didn't expect to lose time today, but I don’t believe that a lot has changed.
"Fränk will remain the leader with Bob, which was the plan from the start. There are more leaders who have lost time as well, so that’s promises an interesting race. They all need to do something. We would like to take advantage of that."
Sky had been looking to Edvald Boasson Hagen to carry their hopes at the finish, but he was another held up by the crash. Orica-GreenEdge leader Simon Gerrans and sprinter Matt Goss were also delayed.
"The plan today was to work for Gossy in the sprint," said Orica DS Dave McPartland. "We committed all the guys to him. It was unfortunate to lose an opportunity, but we were lucky to get away without any major injuries… 'Gerro' took a chain ring to the back leg, but he somehow managed to avoid cutting himself."
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