Live coverage of stage 1 of Paris-Nice, 198 kilometres from Condé-sur-Vesgre to Vendôme.
As we pick up the action with a shade over 116 kilometres still to race, a break of four riders - Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), French champion Steven Tronet (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Thierry Hupond (Delko Marseille Provence KTM) and Perrig Quemeneur (Direct Energie) - holds a lead of 9:30 over the main peloton.
There was a minute's silence before the start in memory of the late Romain Guyot, the young French amateur rider who was tragically killed in a training accident last week.
As soon as the flag dropped, our current quartet moved swiftly up the road, and the peloton was content to leave De Gendt, Tronet, Hupond and Quemeneur to their task. After 10 kilometres, their lead was already in excess of five minutes.
The leading quartet covered 44 kilometres in the first hour of racing, and stretched their lead out to 8:30.
They maintained a similarly brisk average over the second hour of racing and the pace in the peloton eventually stiffened accordingly. The gap has stayed steady at around 9 minutes for much of the past hour.
98km remaining from 195km
A Race to the Sun is rather different to, say, a Ruta del Sol. Miserable weather is one of the grand traditions of Paris-Nice and the peloton is enduring frigid temperatures on today's stage. It snowed before the start in Condé-sur-Vesgre and though it had relented by the time the race got underway, word is reaching us that the flakes, silver and dark, are falling again on the Paris-Nice peloton.
92km remaining from 195km
The miserable weather is not the only obstacle on the menu this afternoon. The stage features a brace of third category climbs in the finale and, more intriguingly, four of what the road book labels ""dusty and hardly paved country lanes." Strade Bianche à la française? Time will tell...
The overall standings, incidentally, are as follows after yesterday's prologue, where Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) delivered a minor surprise by claiming the win in what was also his first race of the 2016 season.
1 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge 0:07:39
2 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin 0:00:01
3 Patrick Bevin (NZl) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:00:02
4 Jesus Herrada (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:06
5 Jon Izaguirre (Spa) Movistar Team
6 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Astana Pro Team 0:00:07
7 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky
8 Dries Devenyns (Bel) IAM Cycling 0:00:08
9 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Direct Energie 0:00:09
10 Jerome Coppel (Fra) IAM Cycling
11 Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:10
12 Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo 0:00:13
13 Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) Team Giant-Alpecin
14 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
15 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo 0:00:14
90km remaining from 195km
Out in front today, meanwhile, Thomas De Gendt has won the first intermediate sprint of the day in Bonneval, ahead of Tronet and Hupond. The escapees' lead over the bunch has begun to recede, and it now stands at 7:45. De Gendt, who began the day 37 seconds down on Matthews, is our maillot jaune virtuel but there is a lot of road, paved, dusty and otherwise, between here and the finish.
Matthews' healthy disregard for the two months of racing just past will be appreciated by those who feel the season really starts with Paris-Nice. The Australian, incidentally, is the early leader in the Super Prestige Pernod of our imaginations..
Matthews, who is building towards Milan-San Remo, will fancy his chances of holding his jersey today, despite his slender lead over Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin). "It wasn't really on the top of my goals list for Paris-Nice," Matthes said yesterday. "I was hoping for a top five today to be around the guys and then try and take the yellow in one of the next stages. It obviously all came together and I am happy I was able to take the win."
79km remaining from 195km
Matthews' Orica-GreenEdge teammates currently lead the peloton, 7:45 down on the four escapees. Tronet, a surprising but deserving French champion after a decade of racing at Continental level, has been particularly active in front, along with De Gendt.
Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) was not pleased to miss out on wearing the first yellow jersey of this Paris-Nice, admitting that he had made a gearing error as he lost out to Matthews by one second. "I am a little disappointed with the result, I made one mistake on the climb, my gear was too high and I was not as fast as usual in the corners," he said.
76km remaining from 195km
The break's lead is continuing to fall gently. The gap to the peloton now stands at 7 minutes.
Dumoulin is, naturally, the best-placed of the overall favourites at this Paris-Nice. Geraint Thomas (Sky) finished 7 seconds down yesterday, Richie Porte (BMC) was 11th at 10 seconds, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) lost 16 seconds, while Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) came in 25 seconds behind in 53rd.
Contador pointed out afterwards that he had not taken any risks during Sunday's rather technical opening time trial. "In the first part, the prologue had a lot of cobbles and in that sense, I wanted to make sure I stayed out of trouble, so I took my hands off the extensions as well as in most of the curves," Contador said. "I am happy because when I had to accelerate, my legs were responding well. I felt in good form."
A little more information on the dirt roads to be faced by the peloton in today’s finale. The bunch will rattle across the 1,350m-long Chemin de Tourteline with 23km remaining and then tackle the unpaved category 3 climb of the Côte du Chemin du Tertre de la Motte (750 metres at 8%) with 18km to go. After passing through the finish line for the first time with 14km left, the peloton loops back to tackle those same dirt road sectors for a second time. The summit of the second ascent of the Côte du Chemin du Tertre de la Motte is just four kilometres from the finish…
According to Philippe Bouvet in this morning's edition of L’Équipe, the roads have more in common with Strade Bianche or the magnificent Breton race, Tro Bro Leon, than Paris-Roubaix, though as Sky directeur sportif Nicolas Portal noted: “I think for Geraint Thomas and the Classics riders, it’s going to be interesting…” A keenly-fought finale is in store. “It’s definitely going to break up into groups and get very stretched out,” warned Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie).
65km remaining from 195km
The break's lead continues to fall gently. It now stands a shade over five minutes as the pace in the peloton ratchets upwards. Positioning will be absolutely crucial ahead of those dirt roads, and it seems as though the run-in has already started in that regard.
57km remaining from 195km
Away from Paris-Nice, it was a busy weekend at the Track World Championships in London, culminating in Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish's gold medal-winning ride in the Madison. Fabian Cancellara confirmed he has no intention of bowing out quietly by winning Strade Bianche, while world champion Lizzie Armitstead made light of the curse of the rainbow jersey by claiming her second win out of two races in 2016 at the women's event. You can catch up with all of the action over the past 48 hours in our Weekend Wrap.
55km remaining from 195km
On the road at Paris-Nice, meanwhile, Tronet, De Gendt, Hupond and Quemeneur must be developing the sinking feeling that the peloton will be rapping on the door momentarily. Their lead has been sliced to just over 4 minutes.
52km remaining from 195km
The sun has poked through the clouds and the snow has abated, but it's still very cold out there. Leg warmers seem to be de rigueur today. The break's lead has dipped just below four minutes.
Orica-GreenEdge and Etixx-QuickStep are sharing the pace-setting duties on the front of the peloton for the time being. Marcel Kittel is in the Etixx-QuickStep line-up at Paris-Nice, but this afternoon's finale might ultimately prove to be one for teammates Tom Boonen or Niki Terpstra.
47km remaining from 195km
The four escapees are still collaborating smoothly but they must realise they are fighting a losing battle here. Their advantage is down to 3:43 and the speed of the chasing pack is rising steadily.
45km remaining from 195km
The peloton is beginning to string out and could be stretched to breaking point even before the denouement on the dirt roads. With that in mind, delegations from Sky and Tinkoff are looking to positioning themselves towards the front.
42km remaining from 195km
And, inevitably, the elastic snaps in the crosswinds. The peloton is breaking up and the small front group is being powered by Tinkoff, Sky and Etixx-QuickStep - with Michael Matthews safely on board.
40km remaining from 195km
There are fewer than 40 riders in this front part of the peloton, with other groups scattered behind and scrambling desperately - hopelessly? - to get back in touch.
Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Marcel Kittel, Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep), Michael Matthews, Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe (Sky) are all in this front group of 40 or so riders.
36km remaining from 195km
Richie Porte (BMC) did not appear to be in that front group, though his position is not confirmed just yet. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) certainly aren't at the front - they're tucked into the second part of the peloton, which is the third group on the road.
Crisis averted for Richie Porte fans. The Australian is in fact safely in the front section of the peloton, right behind Tom Boonen. Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) is also on the right side of this potentially decisive split, along with Matthews, Dumoulin, Contador and Geraint Thomas.
32km remaining from 195km
Etixx-QuickStep have taken up the reins in this front portion of the peloton, and they have whittled the break's lead down to just 51 seconds.
31km remaining from 195km
Sky are happy to help Etixx-QuickStep pile on the pressure at the front, with Ian Stannard and Nicolas Roche contributing generously. They have almost a minute in hand on the rest of the peloton, which features all of the Katusha team, including Kristoff and Ilnur Zakarin.
29km remaining from 195km
The break's lead is down to just 33 seconds as Ian Stannard leads this very elite chasing group of 40 riders. Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) is tucked in behind him, and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) is also on board.
The situation as the race approaches the first dirt road section:
Steven Tronet, Thomas De Gendt, Perrig Quemneur and Thierry Hupond are still out in front.
There is a group of 40 riders barely half a minute down, which includes overall leader Michael Matthews, overall contenders Tom Dumoulin, Alberto Contador, Richie Porte, Romain Bardet and Geraint Thomas, sprinters Nacer Bouhanni and Marcel Kittel, and possible stage winners Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra, Sylvain Chavanel and Tony Gallopin.
The main body of the peloton is 1:30 down on the break and a minute down on the yellow jersey group. Alexander Kristoff, Ilnur Zakarin and Philippe Gilbert are among those caught out.
25km remaining from 195km
A change in direction might have proved the saviour of those caught behind. Coming out of the crosswinds, the yellow jersey group is just 20 seconds down on the four leaders, but the main peloton has closed to within 30 seconds of them.
24km remaining from 195km
The four escapees have reached the finishing circuit and will tackle the first dirt road section shortly. 13 seconds the gap.
23km remaining from 195km
De Gendt and Tronet swap big gurns on the front, but a delegation from Sky is leading the yellow jersey group, which on closer inspection perhaps features as few as 30 riders.
22km remaining from 195km
De Gendt leads the break on to the first dirt road section, the 1,350m-long Chemin de Tourteline. Sky lead the bunch on just 10 seconds later.
21km remaining from 195km
Hupond and De Gendt press on from the break as Tronet and Quemeneur are swallowed up. Ian Stannard puts in a mammoth turn on the front of the peloton in support of Geraint Thomas.
20km remaining from 195km
The bunch is safely off the first sector and is about to shut down De Gendt, the final survivor of the early break.
19km remaining from 195km
De Gendt is swept up and the yellow jersey group spreads across the road. They won't want to knock off the pace for too long given that they have a solid 30 seconds in hand on the rest of the peloton.
18km remaining from 195km
The pace in the yellow jersey group shoots up once again on the approach to the Côte du Chemin du Tertre de la Motte (Category 3).
18km remaining from 195km
A small group featuring Gregory Rast (Trek) opens a small gap on the climb before the off-road section begins in earnest.
17km remaining from 195km
Pierre-Luc Perichon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) forges clear of that small group on the off-road section and the Frenchman drops down the other side off the climb alone in front, though the yellow jersey group is just 4 seconds behind. The rest of the peloton is 40 seconds down.
15km remaining from 195km
Perichon stretches his advantage out to 20 seconds as Sky briefly slacken the pace at the front of the yellow jersey group. The British squad is looking for help from some of the others in this group.
14km remaining from 195km
Luke Rowe rides on the front for Sky. Alberto Contador, Tom Dumoulin and Michael Matthews, as well as the Etixx-QuickStep delegation, are all well placed.
14km remaining from 195km
Perichon crosses the finish line for the first time with 15 seconds in hand on the yellow jersey group and picks up 3 bonus seconds.
Michael Matthews is a comfortable winner of the sprint for second and 2 bonus seconds. Geraint Thomas (Sky) edges out Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) to take the final bonus second.
The second part of the peloton looks to be closing the gap on the yellow jersey group. They cross the finish line just over 20 seconds behind Matthews et al.
12km remaining from 195km
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) has a mechanical problem at the rear of the second peloton, but he remains just in touch for now.
11km remaining from 195km
Orica-GreenEdge take up the reins at the head of the yellow jersey group in support of Matthews and they are about to shut down Perichon.
9km remaining from 195km
Perichon is swept up by the yellow jersey group and Sky's Luke Rowe again muscles to the front ahead of the Chemin de Tourteline dirt road section.
8km remaining from 195km
There are four Sky riders at the front as the leading group rattles across the unmade road, but Matthews remains well-positioned in 6th place.
8km remaining from 195km
Matthews has lost one of his few remaining teammates, Daryl Impey, to a puncture. Luke Rowe stretches out the front group on the dirt road and nobody has been able to attack on this sector.
7km remaining from 195km
Rowe's cameo has been impressive and the Welshman continues to lead. Andrew Talansky (Cannondale), Matthews and Richie Porte are all well-positioned in this group. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) is also present.
6km remaining from 195km
Indeed, the front two groups have coalesced on the approach to the final ascent of the Côte du Chemin du Tertre de la Motte. We'll have about 60 riders or so contesting this finale.
5km remaining from 195km
Marcel Kittel and Nacer Bouhanni are still well-placed near the front. The puncheurs will have to do something special on the final climb to deny the fast men here.
5km remaining from 195km
A puncture for Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) has undone all of his good work this afternoon. Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) has latched back on after an earlier puncture of his own.
4km remaining from 195km
Ben Swift and Geraint Thomas ride on the front on the climb, with Matthews in third well. The pace for now is high enough to discourage attacks.
3km remaining from 195km
Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) attacks on the 750 metres of dirt road near the summit and opens a small gap. The group is breaking up under the impetus of this forcing.
3km remaining from 195km
Gallopin doesn't succeed in breaking clear but his attack has had the effect of stretching out the group ahead of the descent to the line...
2km remaining from 195km
Gaps are opening in the stretched out bunch on the way down the descent. Thomas, Gallopin, Contador, Matthews, Porte and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) are all well-placed near the front. Marcel Kittel, meanwhile, seems to have been distanced...
1km remaining from 195km
Edward Theuns (Trek Factory Racing) takes a flyer and opens a small gap over the front group...
1km remaining from 195km
Theuns leads into the final kilometre and has an advantage of 6 seconds over his pursuers...
Theuns leads into the finishing straight but is swept up after the sprint begins behind him...
Arnaud Démare (FDJ) wins stage 1 of Paris-Nice.
Démare outsprints Ben Swift (Sky) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) to claim the win. Adrien Petit (Direct Energie) takes fourth, while yellow jersey Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) has to settle for fifth.
1 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ 04:29:53
2 Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky
3 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis
4 Adrien Petit (Fra) Direct Energie
5 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica GreenEdge
6 Tom Boonen (Bel) Etixx-QuickStep
7 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo
8 Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin
9 Jonas Van Genechten (Bel) IAM Cycling
10 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky
Swift opened the sprint and was the first man to come past Theuns. Demare, however, made up an enormous amount of road in the final 200 metres to come past his former lead-out man Petit, his former teammate and eternal rival Bouhanni and, finally, Swift, to claim his second win of the new season.
The yellow jersey remains on the shoulders of Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) who in the finishing sprint perhaps paid for his efforts earlier during that tough finale to stage 1.
General classification after stage 1:
1 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge 04:37:30
2 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin 00:00:03
3 Patrick Bevin (NZl) Cannondale Pro Cycling 00:00:04
4 Jon Izaguirre (Spa) Movistar Team 00:00:08
5 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky
6 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Astana Pro Team 00:00:09
7 Dries Devenyns (Bel) IAM Cycling 00:00:10
8 Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team 00:00:12
9 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ 00:00:14
10 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo 00:00:15
Thanks for following our live coverage of Paris-Nice today on Cyclingnews. A full report, results and pictures will follow here, and as ever, we'll be back with more kilometre-by-kilometre updates from stage 2 on Tuesday.
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