Live coverage of stage 1 of Paris-Nice, 196.5 kilometres from Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse to Contres.
The opening road stage of Paris-Nice is often laden with unexpected pitfalls for the general classification contenders but, on paper at least, today's offering ought to be one for the bunch sprinters. After the early climb of the Cote de Bel-Air, it's an entirely flat road all the way to Contres, and the fast men will be very reluctant indeed to let this one get away from them.
130km remaining from 196km
As we pick up the action with 130 kilometres still to race, the irrepressible Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) is up the road in the company of Antony Delaplace (Bretagne-Séché), and the French duo have a lead of four minutes over a peloton that is more than happy to leave them to it for now.
Delaplace's teammate Jonathan Hivert sparked the attacking this morning when he bounded clear on the Bel-Air, snaffling himself a day in the polka dot jersey in the process. Hivert built up a lead of 1:30 over the peloton in the first hour of racing but was gradually pegged back. Soon afterwards, 40 kilometres into the stage, his Bretagne-Séché stable-mate Delaplace tried his luck and quickly found a willing ally in the shape of Voeckler.
Hivert also picked up the three bonus seconds on offer at the first sprint in Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines during his excursion off the front, while Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) beat John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) to second place. The time bonuses move Degenkolb and Matthews to within striking distance of Michal Kwiatkowski's overall lead should either of them win the stage this afternoon.
This, incidentally, was how the general classification picture looked this morning:
1 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Etixx - Quick-Step 0:07:40
2 Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing Team
3 Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step 0:00:07
4 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team 0:00:10
5 Lars Boom (Ned) Astana Pro Team
6 John Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin
7 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling
8 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica GreenEdge 0:00:12
9 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin 0:00:13
10 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:14
11 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team
12 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:15
13 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky
14 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo 0:00:16
15 Jack Bauer (NZl) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team
16 Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa) Lampre-Merida
17 Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team 0:00:17
18 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
19 Gorka Izagirre (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:18
20 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal
Kwiatkowski's victory over Rohan Dennis (BMC) yesterday was a tight one. L'Equipe noted that Dennis was already being ushered towards the podium as Kwiatkowski entered the finishing straight, but the world champion summoned up the strength to pip the hour record holder by the tightest of margins. You can read the report here.
Speaking of reports, the findings of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission were published overnight and will rightly dominate the headlines for much of this week. You can read a summary of the full report here and details of who spoke to CIRC here.
116km remaining from 196km
Meanwhile, after 80 kilometres of racing, the gap between the bunch and the two escapees stands at 3:35. A headwind is tempering the pace somewhat this afternoon - the average speed after two hours of racing was 34.3kph.
There was one non-starter today, and it's not good news for Nacer Bouhanni, as his Cofidis lead-out man Geoffrey Soupe has been forced out through illness. Soupe was part of the group that came with Bouhanni from FDJ during the off-season and will be a big loss as the sprinter seeks his first win for his new team. "It's a bit of a problem to lead out Nacer Bouhanni in the sprints but we'll have to adapt. We have solutions but I won't tell you which," Cofidis directeur sportif Didier Rous told letour.fr, channelling his inner Bill Belichick.
Tirreno-Adriatico has drawn some of the star power away from Paris-Nice in recent seasons, but two of the headline acts due to compete in Italy this week have today withdrawn from the race. For the second year running, Chris Froome has pulled out,
, while Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) is reportedly still recovering from the virus that has so compromised his early-season campaign.
In a statement released by Giant-Shimano a short time ago, Kittel said: “I felt good enough to start the Tour of Qatar but during the race I started to feel worse and worse so with the team’s guidance we decided to step off the bike for a while. It was a very busy preparation time for me towards the first races and together with the virus and overreaching I am forced to rest now."
110km remaining from 196km
Europcar are still seeking a sponsor to ensure their survival beyond the end of the year, so it's no surprise, perhaps, that their most marketable rider is already showing off the jersey on the first major, televised rendezvous of the French season. When we caught up with Voeckler at the Tour de San Luis in January, however, he warned that his cachet alone would not be enough to save the team, as was famously the case when Bouygues Telecom withdrew in 2010.
107km remaining from 196km
Voeckler's racing programme after Paris-Nice is also something of a mystery. He delivered very encouraging displays on the cobbles in 2012 and 2013 but he admitted that after breaking his collarbone ahead of the Tour Down Under last year, he is a little wary of returning to the cut and thrust of the Flemish classics. On the smooth tarmac of the Eure-et-Loir département, Voeckler is motoring well, however. The break's lead is 3:45 over the peloton.
98km remaining from 196km
There's been a slight lull in the pace in the peloton, and Voeckler and Delaplace have gone through the mid-way point of the stage with a lead of almost five minutes.
88km remaining from 196km
The Etixx-QuickStep team of race leader Michal Kwiatkowski are at the head of the peloton but theirs is simply a controlling brief for now. Voeckler and Delaplace, meanwhile, are still tipping away together some five minutes up the road.
82km remaining from 196km
Stijn Vandenbergh is directing traffic for Etixx-QuickStep at the head of the peloton, and rather appropriately, he is donning a pair of white gloves that give him the appearance of a traffic policeman. Quite what they make of said gloves back in Oudenaarde is anyone's guess, mind.
Vandenbergh's efforts are making inroads into Voeckler and Delaplace's lead. The gap is down to a shade over three minutes.
Michal Kwiatkowski is safely ensconced in the main body of the peloton. The Pole strips off a layer as the stage enters its final 50 miles. After a relatively sedate opening, the pace will surely begin to ratchet upwards from here - though the sprinters' teams won't want to bring Voeckler and Delaplace back too soon, either.
76km remaining from 196km
While Delaplace flies the flag for Bretagne-Seche out in front today, their overall hopes could rest on the shoulders of an Argentinian, Eduardo Sepulveda, although he lost more ground than anticipated in yesterday's prologue. He arrives at Paris-Nice on something of a high, however, after winning the Classic Sud-Ardèche last week, and he was fourth overall at the Tour de San Luis in January.
72km remaining from 196km
Etixx-QuickStep's tempo at the head of the peloton has shaved Voeckler and Delaplace's lead back to a shade over two minutes. Ag2r and Astana are maintaining a watching brief just behind the Belgian squad, but as yet none of the sprinters' teams have committed men to the chase.
French cycling fans will be anticipating an Arnaud Démare-Nacer Bouhanni duel in the sprint this afternoon. The two young fastmen are both still to get off the mark this year and in need of a decent result after parting company during the off-season. Démare sits comfortably in the body of the peloton in his French champion's jersey.
66km remaining from 196km
Stijn Vandenbergh's huge frame - which he once hauled over the mighty Saint Patrick's Hill in Cork to win a stage of the Tour of Ireland - continues to shelter his Etixx-QuickStep teammates at the head of the bunch. The break's lead has been clipped back to underneath two minutes.
Vandenbergh went on to win the overall classification at that Tour of Ireland, and the race, which hasn't been held since 2009, was in the news this morning following a mention in the CIRC report. Speaking to RTE this morning, however, Pat McQuaid denied that there was any link between his decision to allow Lance Armstrong to ride the 2009 Tour Down Under without the requisite six months in the testing pool and the American's surprise participation in the Tour of Ireland late that year. "That was all done by my brother Darach, completely independent of me,” McQuaid said of Armstrong's participation in the Tour of Ireland.
60km remaining from 196km
When Stijn Vandenbergh swung over, Astana inadvertently found themselves at the head of the peloton but the men in light blue immediately fanned out across the road and all but slowed to a halt. They have no interest in riding on the front and the sprinters' teams don't want to bring back the break this early. Stalemate.
55km remaining from 196km
That impasse at the head of the bunch has allowed Delaplace and Voeckler to augment their advantage. Their lead is back out to almost three minutes. Vandenbergh, meanwhile, is back at the front of the peloton, with a gaggle of Sky riders huddling behind him.
The average speed thus far is 34.9kph, long behind the slowest, 40kph schedule anticipated by ASO in the roadbook.
Bradley Wiggins is sitting comfortably towards the front end of the bunch. The Englishman was 14 seconds off the pace in yesterday's prologue, but his entire spring, of course, is staked purely on Paris-Roubaix, his final race in the colours of Team Sky.
50km remaining from 196km
Voeckler and Delaplace share a joke as they glance at the chalkboard. Gallows humour, perhaps. The gap is now two minutes and the sprinters' teams have yet to enter the fray.
Prologues aren't Fabio Aru's forte and the Sardinian should be content to have made it into the top 20 yesterday and limited his losses to 33 seconds. The Astana man is a dangerman this week and he is well-placed near the head of the bunch, surrounded by a group of his teammates, including Paolo Tiralongo.
42km remaining from 196km
Voeckler and Delaplace cross the Loire at the narrow bridge at Muides with a lead of 1:30. At Paris-Tours, the crossing of the Loire at Amboise traditionally heralds the beginning of the race's endgame, and that may well prove the case here too.
For now, however, Stijn Vandenbergh continues to dictate the terms and conditions at the head of the bunch. And they're not especially stringent - the pace remains relatively gentle.
38km remaining from 196km
Etixx-QuickStep would doubtless be glad to keep Voeckler and Delaplace out in front until the second intermediate sprint at Soings-en-Sologne with 11 kilometres to go. That would take the 3- and 2-second time bonuses off the board and greatly bolster Michal Kwiatkowski's hopes of holding onto the yellow (it should still be white, of course) jersey.
German champion André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) is moving up in the peloton on the long, tree-lined straight near Chateau de Chambord. After missing Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne through illness, Greipel will be keen to test himself in the finale here.
35km remaining from 196km
It's something of a slow bicycle race at the moment. The bunch doesn't want to catch Voeckler and Delaplace just yet, and they don't want to lift their pace beyond what it is right now. "We've got time to look around," Voeckler quips to the television motorbike as he and Delaplace amble past the Chateau de Chambord.
33km remaining from 196km
Vandenbergh continues his lone effort on the front of the peloton, with the teams of the overall contenders and sprinters quietly marshalling their leaders into position behind him. The peloton's deficit is just under a minute.
30km remaining from 196km
A rear wheel puncture for Arnaud Demare, who unconcernedly slows to a halt and pops out the offending wheel while waiting for the FDJ team car to make its way up to him. The pace is still quite slack and the Frenchman will have no problems in beating a path back to the business end of the peloton.
As William Bonnet guides Demare back the rear of the bunch, Rui Costa also fights his way back on after a reported crash. The Lampre-Merida man doesn't appear to have suffered any undue distress in the incident.
28km remaining from 196km
The pace in the bunch has dropped a little more, and Voeckler and Delaplace have extended their lead back out to 1:32.
Rui Costa, meanwhile, shares a joke with his brother, Mario, and appears to have been unhurt in the incident.
26km remaining from 196km
The road narrows as the peloton trundles through the town of Bracieux, but everyone appears to be through safely. Vandenbergh - now minus the white gloves - remains in situ on the front. The gap to Voecklre and Delaplace is one minute.
25km remaining from 196km
And just like that, Voeckler and Delaplace's working alliance collapses. Voeckler attacks and tries to drop Delaplace, but the Bretagne-Seche man is immediately onto his wheel.
23km remaining from 196km
Voecklre and Delaplace are collaborating once again, albeit at a decidedly higher tempo than before. They take brisk turns on the front with the passive aggression of two footballers deliberately over-striking passes to one another. Whatever works. Their lead is 1:43.
21km remaining from 196km
Voeckler is racing for keeps now, his head nodding in time with his pedal strokes. Delaplace is matching his efforts and their lead is almost out to two minutes.
20km remaining from 196km
Tom Boonen seems to have divested himself of some extra layers and may well fancy a crack off the sprint. And to ensure said sprint, Lotto-Soudal take over from Boonen's Etixx-QuickStep team at the front of the bunch and duly up the pace.
18km remaining from 196km
Tom Boonen crashes towards the rear of the pelootn. He sits up on the road and holds his shoulder. This does not look at all promising for the Belgian and his classics prospects.
Boonen had dropped back to get rid of a layer and he came a cropper as he looked to move up through the bunch. He is being attended to on the road by QuickStep doctor Yvon Van Mol and it looks as though his Paris-Nice is over. He is cluching his left collarbone. If it's broken, that would spell the end of his Classics campaign before it even begins.
15km remaining from 196km
Boonen brought a Cannondale-Garmin rider down with him in that crash, by the way, but we haven't seen who it was, or whether he has been able to remount.
Etixx-QuickStep have since desisted at the head of the peloton, as Lotto-Soudal, Sky and FDJ instead move up. The two escapees remain 1:37 clear and will take the first two positions at the second bonus sprint.
13km remaining from 196km
Voeckler and Delaplace's lead of 1:37 with 13 kilometres left, in theory at least, even gives them a fighting chance of holding on for the stage win. They've timed their efforts very, very well, and the peloton can't afford any lapses between now and Contres.
We can confirm that Tom Boonen has abandoned Paris-Nice. He will be taken to hospital for scans and we should have news later today about his prospects of lining up at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
11km remaining from 196km
Voeckler and Delaplace zip through the intermediate sprint with a lead of 1:30 over the peloton, which is led by trains from Lotto-Soudal and Team Sky.
Etixx-QuickStep almost pulled off a perfect heist to guide Kwiatkowski to the bonus second for third place, but Geraint Thomas (Sky) was wise to the danger. The Welshman is third across the line and his overall deficit to Kwiatkowski is down to 13 seconds.
9km remaining from 196km
Voeckler and Delaplace are still defending a lead of 1:15 with just nine kilometres remaining. The French duo have been very, very smart today and the peloton is running out of road in which to peg them back.
Lotto-Soudal try to breathe some life into the chase behind. Bradley Wiggins is also present towards the front for Team Sky, who are massed on the left-hand side of the road.
7km remaining from 196km
Lotto have been left to perform the bulk of the pace-making and they are still trailing the two escapees by a minute...
6km remaining from 196km
Bradley Wiggins is at the front and he takes a look around, surprised, perhaps, that the sprinters' teams haven't taken matters in hand. Katusha, FDJ and Cofidis, for instance, are nowhere to be seen.
6km remaining from 196km
Lotto's efforts shave Voeckler and Delaplace's lead back to 46 seconds.
5km remaining from 196km
Voeckler puts in a mammoth turn on the front of the bunch. They have 45 seconds in hand on the bunch. That's nine seconds per kilometre that the peloton has to make up on the two leaders.
4km remaining from 196km
Voeckler has been the stronger of the two leaders in these closing kilometres, though Delaplace is still contributing. They still have 30 seconds in hand.
3km remaining from 196km
Orica-GreenEdge - finally! - start to move up, as do FDJ, but Lotto-Soudal still lead. The gap is down to 18 seconds now.
2km remaining from 196km
Voeckler tries to summon up one, final effort, but the house almost always wins. The bunch are within striking distance. 11 seconds the gap.
2km remaining from 196km
Voeckler grimances then looks for a turn from Delaplace. The bunch is right behind them. They won't last much longer out in front.
1km remaining from 196km
Voeckler and Delaplace are finally caught. The scene is set for a bunch sprint, though it promises to be a chaotic one...
1km remaining from 196km
Orica-GreenEdge lead into the final kilometre. There's a delegation from Katusha up there too.
Giant-Shimano lead out the sprint for Degenkolb...
But Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) comes through and open his effort from distance, with Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) on his wheel...
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) wins stage 1 of Paris-Nice.
Bouhanni took second ahead of Bryan Coquard (Europcar).
Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) was fourth, ahead of Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing), Degenkolb sat up in the final 200 metres.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) will retain the yellow jersey of overall leader. Some consolation on a day marred for his team by Boonen's abandon.
Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) seemed well-placed entering the final kilometre but had to settle for 10th. Degenkolb, too, seemed in the box seat as the sprint began, but went too early and then faded.
Degenkolb banged his handlebars in frustration as he sat up, suggesting that he perhaps had a mechanical problem. There were certainly no issues for Kristoff. He had Jacopo Guarnieri for help in the final kilometre, before burning Bouhanni off his wheel with a powerful sprint finish to claim his fifth win of the season.
"I'm really happy. It's my first stage win in Paris-Nice and this is my fourth time coming here. It's a step-up for me," Kristoff says as he waits to mount the podium. "I was sitting in good position but Degenkolb went early and I wasn't sure if I would hold on until I crossed the line."
1 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha 5:15:18
2 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
3 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Team Europcar
4 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) IAM Cycling
5 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek Factory Racing
6 Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team
7 Moreno Hofland (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo
8 Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Lampre-Merida
9 Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky
10 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica GreenEdge
1 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Etixx - Quick-Step 5:22:58
2 Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing Team
3 Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step 0:00:07
4 John Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin 0:00:09
5 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team 0:00:10
6 Lars Boom (Ned) Astana Pro Team
7 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica GreenEdge
8 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling
9 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin 0:00:13
10 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky
Thanks for following our live coverage on Cyclingnews today. We'll back with more tomorrow, but in the meantime you can find a full report, results and pictures here as well as all the news from Paris-Nice, including an update on Tom Boonen's condition after he crashed out of the race in the finale this afternoon.
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