Hello there, and welcome to Cyclingnews live race centre for the start of the 2020 Paris-Nice. We've been live blogging about the coronavirus over the past few days but today we have actual racing to bring you. Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo have all been lost at the hands of Covid-19 but Paris-Nice is go.
We're in Plaisir (that's French for pleasure, so we're literally in pleasuretown), some 30km west of Paris. We'll be getting no closer to Nice, as the stage starts and finishes here. It's a largely flat 154km parcours but we have a cobbled climb in the finale which is sure to spice things up. The riders are just gathering on the start line and they'll be rolling out in a couple of minutes.
Here's the Groupama-FDJ team, led by Thibaut Pinot, on the podium at the start. They will have all used separate pens to sign on - just one of a series of measures designed to try and stop the spread of the coronavirus.
🤚 pic.twitter.com/ONH5xfA6tLMarch 8, 2020
Pinot, incidentally, appeared via video link (another of those measures) yesterday to tell the press that he thought the TV coverage of coronavirus was out of proportion to the reality of the situation, and that he has Nairo Quintana as the big favourite for the Paris-Nice victory. More from Pinot, who is making his Paris-Nice debut, at this link.
A slightly late start, but the riders are on the move, currently negotiating the neutralised zone. Now would be a good time to have a ready of Barry Ryan's race preview.
Before we get going, here's the stage profile. It's lightly undulating terrain and the sprinters would have little concern were it not for that big red '3' near the end. That's the cobbled climb at Neauphle-le-Chateau, it's 1.4km long with an average gradient of 7.8%, and it tops out just 4.5km from the line. As launchpads go, it couldn't be more obvious.
After a slightly extended neutralised zone, the 2020 Paris-Nice is underway! With all that's been going on, you couldn't be absolutely sure this was going ahead until that flag was waved.
The first attack comes from Romain Combaud (Nippo Delko Provence). It's countered by Jonathan Hivert (Total Direct Energie), and that's it - that appears to be our breakaway.
The French duo open up a lead of just over a minute as they approach the early climb of the Côte des Mesnuls after 8km. It's 1.2km at 5.7% and it's not going to have any real impact on the stage as a whole.
Hivert gets to the top of the climb ahead of Combaud. That's three mountains points to him, two to Combaud, and there's one left for the bunch. There are two more Category-3 climbs to come today.
As the peloton cruise over the top of the climb, they're now almost three minutes back.
131km to go
Hivert and Combaud now have five minutes as the peloton continues to enjoy a steady start to the day. It's windy out there, and it'll be blowing from the side soon, but there's no sign of action for now.
The big news today is that the Groupama-FDJ and Cofidis squads at the UAE Tour have finally left the country. I say finally - they've actually been released from quarantine six days early, but that's still seven days later than all the other teams whose coronavirus tests came back all negative. Here's the full story.
I mentioned the wind, and we now have Deceuninck-QuickStep on the front of the bunch, which is ominous. The pace picks up and the gap to the break falls to 4:30.
A first shot of our breakaway duo - Romain Combaud leading Jonathan Hivert.
Here we go! We talked about crosswinds and QuickStep coming to the front. Well, it looks like the hammer is coming down. Big surge in the bunch.
QuickStep have split this peloton in three.
Battle is on @ParisNice ECHELONS #ParisNice pic.twitter.com/rwSCxb7woiMarch 8, 2020
Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) is among the riders caught out at the back of these splits.
The gap to the breakaway duo plummets to 1:30. The splits in the bunch are still small at the moment. There's still a long way to go so we'll see if anyone really wants to drive this on.
The first two pelotons come back together. Porte and his group are around 10 seconds back.
104km to go
After 50km, Combaud and Hivert are on the verge of being caught. They're now just 30 seconds ahead of a charging bunch that's still in two.
Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Pierre Latour (AG2R) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) are among the big names caught out in the second peloton, along with Porte.
There are around 30 riders who are in this second peloton, and they're losing ground. They're now 30 seconds down on the main bunch.
There's a slight calming in the main peloton, with the gap to the two leaders now stabilising at 30 seconds. That's allowing the second peloton to work their way back.
Here's the world champion Mads Pedersen joining QuickStep to help split the bunch a little earlier. Trek, however, have seen Richie Porte caught out, but their main GC card is Vincenzo Nibali.
95km to go
The second peloton of 30 riders - including Porte, De Gendt, Latour, and Martin - has made it safely back to the main bunch. As you were.
After that flurry of action, the peloton takes its collective foot off the gas and Combaud and Hivert's lead starts to grow once more. A minute now, and counting...
Here's a map of the parcours. It's a stiff south westerly wind, and so the peloton split when they turned south east at the top left corner of the route. They're about to turn down and then back across into Plaisir, but this section will b far less exposed. There is still opportunity for echelons later as the route heads back out into the country for a snaking section north of Plaisir.
As I say that, the peloton turns east again and it's still exposed for now and there's another surge in tempo.
Combaud and Hivert have just 15 seconds now as NTT keep the pressure on.
78km to go
Just shy of the half-way mark, Combaud and Hivert are caught by the peloton. All together.
Things calm down a little now. The bunch is still as one and the urgency ebbs again.
And now they turn left again into a cross tailwind and the pace ratchets up once more. They're on the approach to Plaisir now and they're going to get a first run at the cobbled climb that is set to shake up the finale later on.
The climb of the Côte de Neauphle-le-Chateau begins. It's 1.4km long at 7.8%. The start is very gentle indeed but the last 400m are cobbled and steep.
Onto the cobbles and Total Direct Energie look interested here. They had a rider in the break but that was nullified.
And it's Hivert who attacks again on the cobbles. He's surely in search of the points at the top of the climb, having already collected three at the first climb.
Hivert has a gap and leads the race over the top. That's a maximum of six point for him so far and, with just this climb to appear again later on, no one can catch him. Hivert will wear the mountains jersey tomorrow.
Hivert presses on alone over the top. There's a plateau and then a dip down to the finish.
Hivert is caught on the downhill.
66km to go
So, the race heads into Plaisir, skirts around the finish line, and heads back out. It's still one big bunch at the moment but there's still a big threat of echelons and then of course that cobbled climb again in the finale.
Given the coronavirus situation, it's an eclectic start list here, with Classics hopefuls and GC riders who were targeting Tirreno joining those who had been thinking about this race since the start of the season. We've picked out seven who are particularly worth keeping an eye on.
The riders have been through the feed zone but it's no leisurely lunch. The pace and tension are still high. Sunweb, AG2R and FDJ are particularly active near the front of the bunch.
There's a 90-degree left-hander and the wind is suddenly blowing from the side again. Sunweb sprint out of the corner.
There was a crash out of that corner on a traffic island but we also now have another crash at a roundabout
Bardet and Barguil are both down! This does not look good for either.
Bardet is holding his elbow. Barguil is still stricken on the tarmac.
The peloton had started to split after Sunweb's acceleration through the corner, and while most of the peloton went on the right-hand side of the roundabout, a small group of riders went left. It's unclear what brought them down.
Bardet is back on his bike. Barguil is back on his feet a while later and gets going again. The French champion is holding his hip, though, and looks in some discomfort.
Meanwhile, aided by those crashes, the peloton has blown to smithereens!
We have three groups on the road here. Sunweb and FDJ are rewarded with strong representation in the front split of around 20 riders.
Barguil is pedalling but doing so very slowly and seemingly very painfully. He's behind his team car and this looks like a long ordeal just to finish the stage.
57km to go
The third echelon has caught the second. So we have a front group of around 18 riders 25 seconds clear of what is now a main bunch.
Barguil is about to abandon... or is he...?
The French champion comes to a standstill and climbs off his bike. He looks confused but after a few moments decides to get back on and carry on.
Julian Alaphilippe and Nairo Quintana are both in the front group.
Sunweb have four in this front group - Tiesj Benoot, Cees Bol, Nikias Arndt, and Soren Kragh Andersen. Benoot has done a lot to drive this clear and Bol would seem to be the favourite for the stage victory, given Sagan and the other faster riders are in the peloton behind.
Alaphilippe has Zdenek Stybar for company.
QuickStep also have Asgreen up front.
Lott Soudal and Bahrain McLaren lead the chase in the second group on the road, having missed out on the move.
It appears Viviani has been caught out in the third group on the road.
An acceleration from Alaphilippe on an uphill rise. The Frenchman is committed to the cause here.
EF Pro Cycling have now taken up the chase in the group behind.
EF are riding for Higuita. They're 23 seconds down with 47km to go.
The main peloton splits!
EF's pace setting, combined with the wind, cuts that main second group in two.
Bardet is in a small group chasing at 1:37. Barguil has disappeared off the radar.
Here are the 16 riders out front
Nikias Arndt, Tiesj Benoot, Cees Bol, Soren Kragh Andersen (Sunweb)
Julian Alaphilippe, Kasper Asgreen, Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick Step)
Nairo Quintana, Connor Swift (Arkea-Samsic)
Olivier Le Gac, Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ)
Felix Grosschartner, Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis)
Krists Neilands (Israel-Start Up Nation)
Quentin Pacher (B&B Hotels)
Quintana is one of those riders who you wouldn't think is suited to this kind of racing but whose track record is actually pretty immaculate. He was strong in the crosswinds at last year's Paris-Nice and of course capitalised on early splits to practically win the 2016 Vuelta a España on that famous stage to Formigal.
40km to go
Into the final 40km and we have groups all over the road. The reduced second group is chasing 22 seconds behind the 16 leaders. We'll try and get you the names in that chase group as soon as possible but Higuita is there and Lotto and NTT are well represented. Peter Sagan is there, too. Stuyven and Gilbert, as well.
Bardet has teammates in one of the groups further down the road.
💥 @romainbardet et @WarrenBarguil sont tombés et ont perdu un temps précieux. Le peloton est scindé en plusieurs groupes.💥 @romainbardet and @WarrenBarguil went to the ground and lost time. The peloton split in several parts.#ParisNice pic.twitter.com/f0NsBYvAERMarch 8, 2020
EF continue to dominate the chase group but they're still 20 seconds back.
Nibali and Pinot are in this second group. There are around 30 riders there.
Stuyven raises the pace in the chase group. Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain) is on his wheel. QuickStep have Jungels and Lampaert there but Sam Bennett is absent.
The gap is holding at 20 seconds with 33km to go.
The gap is coming down now. Just 16 seconds between the first two groups.
We're 1km from the first of two intermediate sprints. There are bonus seconds on offer here, so Alaphilippe and Quintana may well have a go.
Benoot hits out as the road drags up towards the sprint point. Alaphilippe gets on the wheel and the pair are away.
It's a fair old gradient, and Alaphilippe comes around comfortably to cross the line first. That's a three-second bonus to the Frenchman in the overall standings. Benoot gets two seconds.
Alaphilippe and Benoot have opened up a decent gap here and they press on through the narrow twisting street and then back onto the open road as it heads downhill again.
29km to go
There has been a regrouping behind Alaphilippe and Benoot, as the chase group caught what was left of the lead group at the intermediate sprint.
The group containing the top sprinters - Ewan, Ackermann, Bennett, Viviani - is still further back.
The rain is really coming down now and the roads are slippery.
Alaphilippe and Benoot have 18 seconds on these undulating roads. We have a second intermediate sprint in around 11km time.
Alaphilippe and Benoot have somehow found 30 seconds, and it's still growing. This could well be worth committing fully to.
There's a big lull in that chase group. Mads Würtz Schmidt (Israel) attacks from it now.
Benoot takes on a gel. He and Alaphilippe are linking up well here. It's a tall order to stay away but it's been a punishing day and it depends how coordinated the chase is behind.
It looks to be ticking along a little better in that chase group now. Schmidt is caught as Ivan Garcia Cortina leads the chase ahead of three QuickStep blockers looking to make a nuisance of themselves.
Cortina pulls over and looks around. He sees only QuickStep blue, and they won't be helping out. No one else is contributing.
Alaphilippe and Benoot are the past two winners of Strade Bianche. That race was cancelled yesterday but the pair are lighting up Paris-Nice here.
20km to go
Into the final 20km and the leading duo have 33 seconds over the large chasing group.
The Bardet group is 1:30 down on the main chase group.
It's still Cortina doing all the work and the gap edges up to 35 seconds.
No Landa here for Bahrain but they have Teuns, Bilbao, and Caruso.
Benoot and Alphilippe approach the second intermediate sprint. More bonus seconds on offer.
Bora join the chase now, and the gap drops to 28 seconds.
Once again, it's an uphill drag to the sprint line, and once again it's Alaphilippe who's first over it, though there wasn't really a contest for it. They're more interested in trading turns to try and stay away.
The chase group hits the sprint line 30 seconds down. Pello Bilbao accelerates to grab the remaining bonus second and QuickStep jump to close him down.
Whatever happens, Alaphilippe will have an extra six seconds on the GC riders by the end of the day.
A moment of disorganisation in the chase after that acceleration but Bora come to the front again now.
15km to go
Into the final 15km and Alaphilippe and Benoot lead this race by 28 seconds over a chasing group of 50 riders. Bardet and a number of key sprinters are are a further 1:30 back.
Lotto Soudal have Gilbert and Degenkolb sitting near the front of the chase group, but they don't have anyone to do any of the work.
The gap rises again!
40 seconds now for Alaphilippe and Benoot. This is very much on.
12km to go
It's Grosschartner on the front, with Cortina doing another turn now but it's a half-hearted one. 42 seconds now, 43, 44....
Lotto do in fact have a domestique in the chase and they post him to the front now. On the face of it, it's two against three now.
10km to go
10 to go and the gap still stands at 41 seconds.
Just 4km to go until the late cobbled climb of Neauphle-le-Chateau.
It's Jasper De Buyst for Lotto and he's committing fully now, trading turns with Cortina and Bora. As a result, the gap comes down to 35 seconds with 8.5km to go.
28 seconds now! It's coming down.
7.5km to go and the gap hovers just under the 30-second mark. Alaphilippe and Benoot look good to stay away here but we can expect an acceleration from the key riders in that chase group on the late climb.
Bilbao comes forward and does a turn now.
Alaphilippe shakes his hand out - it looks like he's feeling the cold. He doesn't look comfortable there.
And the gap comes down to 23 seconds! 6.2km to go and the chase looks much stronger now.
Into the final 6km and we're about to hit the climb.
Alaphilippe takes a look around, sees the chasing pack, and the expression on his face changes. He looks up for this once more.
The gap comes down to 16 seconds on the lower slopes of the climb.
Cortina does one final turn and takes it down to 13 seconds.
The chase group is lined out and on the verge of fragmenting.
Alaphilippe finds time to whip off his rain cape ahead of the cobbled section
The leading duo hit the cobbles and they hunch over their bars, fighting with their bikes.
Teuns accelerates behind.
The gradient ramps up to almost double digits and Benoot leads Alaphilippe over the top
4km to go now and the pair's advantage is slim.
Teuns has managed to get away with Schachmann.
They're only a handful of seconds behind now and it looks like we'll have a quartet soon enough.
3km to go
Benoot and Alaphilippe continue to grit their teeth and trade turns. Schachmann and Teuns are slowly but surely making their way across.
Sagan dropped. The Slovak is distanced from the rest of the chase group.
Teuns and Schachmann are taking some time to do this, but they're almost on terms now with 2.5km to go.
2.4km to go and they join to make it four...and Schachmann immediately attacks!
The German has a gap as he hits 70km/h on the gentle downhill.
1.5km to go
Alaphilippe pegs Schachmann back
1km to go
Benoot attacks under the flamme rouge!
Victory will go to one of these four. The chase group is too far back.
Alaphilippe battles to get back to Benoot.
Into the home straight and Teuns takes it up
But here comes Schachmann...
Schachmann wins it!
Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) wins stage 1 of Paris-Nice
The German champion, having been at the back of the quartet during the chase of the Benoot attack, is a convincing winner in the four-up sprint.
Teuns, who opened the sprint, takes second place, with the final podium spot going to Benoot. A spent Alaphilippe settles for fourth.
Cees Bol leads the chase group across the line at 15 seconds.
Bardet crosses the line 2:42 behind the winner, in a group that contains Richie Porte.
"I planned to go to Italy but France has turned out pretty well," says Schachmann, having originally been down for Tirreno Adriatico.
"Actually, everything turned out a bit bad for me at first because just before the tailwind section there was an island in the middle of the road and I was on the left so in the crosswinds I was almost in last position. But I made it step by step, and I have to thank my team, because at one point Peter [Sagan] really saved me, and then Felix [Grosschartner] did a fantastic job.
"It was the first really hard race for me this year so I didn't know how I was. The legs were a bit painful but at the end I felt the others had more pain, so that gave me confidence. On the last climb I went with Dylan and we bridged across. It was a crazy last corner but somehow I managed it and I'm super happy to win this for Bora-Hansgrohe."
1 Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe 3:32:19
2 Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain McLaren 3:32:19
3 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Team Sunweb 3:32:19
4 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quickstep 3:32:22
5 Cees Bol (Ned) Team Sunweb 3:32:34
6 Nils Politt (Ger) Israel Start-Up Nation 3:32:34
7 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) NTT Pro Cycling 3:32:34
8 Sergio Andres Higuita Garcia (Col) EF Pro Cycling 3:32:34
9 Felix Grossschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe 3:32:34
10 Yves Lampaert (Bel) Deceuninck-Quickstep 3:32:34
With 10 bonus seconds for the stage win, Schachmann takes the first leader's jersey of the 2020 Paris-Nice.
With a three-second gap to Alaphilippe on the line, Benoot, (who took four seconds at the intermediate sprints compared to the Frenchman's six) ends the day second overall, two seconds down on Schachmann. Teuns, who collected six bonus seconds for second place, is third at four seconds, while Alaphilippe is fourth at seven seconds.
General Classification after stage 1
1. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe 3:32:09
2. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Team Sunweb 0:00:02
3. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain McLaren 0:00:04
4. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quickstep 0:00:07
5. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Bahrain McLaren 0:00:24
6. Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
7. Cees Bol (Ned) Team Sunweb 0:00:25
8. Nils Politt (Ger) Israel Start-Up Nation
9. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) NTT Pro Cycling
10. Sergio Andres Higuita Garcia (Col) EF Pro Cycling
Here's our report page
What a stage that was. Breathless almost from start to finish. Alaphilippe and Benoot may have missed out on the stage win, both beaten by the two riders who'd jumped from the chase group, but they helped to light up the stage. They're still rewarded with a lead of more than 17 seconds over the rest of the GC contenders.
Warren Barguil finished the stage. He did so 15 minutes down, but he finished the stage. That's quite an effort from the Frenchman. He lives to fight another day and, if his injuries aren't too bad, could play an important role for teammate Quintana, who finished 28th after a strong ride in that chase group.
Many of the GC contenders finished in that main group - Quintana, Pinot, Nibali, Higuita, Bilbao.
The main losers were Bardet, Porte, and Guillaume Martin, who all lost 2:42. Further back, Xandro Meurisse (Circus-Wanty) lost 3:16 and Pierre Latour (AG2R) lost 9:30.
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