Hello there and welcome to live coverage from Paris-Nice. It's stage 2 today - a flat parcours but with a threat of crosswinds...
👋 Bonjour Oinville-sur-Montcient ! #ParisNice pic.twitter.com/5dzr3cq1KkMarch 8, 2021
The riders have all signed on for the stage and are making their way towards the start line. Not long now until we're underway.
We have 188km in the saddle today. It's pretty much pan-flat, with just one very minor climb that's almost not worth categorising. However, the wind could be the key factor today. Echelons have been a staple of the early stages of Paris-Nice and, after the circular opener, this stage starts to take us south, into the exposed countryside. We have a north easterly wind, meaning a cross-tail - perfect for splitting the race. The only question: is it blowing hard enough?
Here's the map for today's stage.
The 160 riders roll out of Oinville-sur-Montcient. We have a rather lengthy neutralised zone today, so a little while longer before the flag drops and the racing begins.
Here's race leader Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) in the yellow jersey. He won the opening stage with a mighty sprint, and you can catch up on all of yesterday's action here.
It's International Women's Day and we've got loads of great women's content lined up. Why not start with this interview with road race and time trial world champion Anna van der Breggen.
After all that time behind the race director's car, the riders are let off the leash. The flag has been waved and here come the first attacks.
160 riders have started today. One man down, and that's Richie Porte, who abandoned yesterday on his debut back at Ineos Grenadiers. More on that here.
It's a calm start today, with the peloton still together and not many attacks.
Still no breakaway as everyone in the bunch seems content to tick off these early kilometres at only a shade above 35km/h.
💛 Premiers coups de pédale avec le #MaillotJauneLCL pour @Sammmy_Be 💛#ParisNice pic.twitter.com/GXme14MdGhMarch 8, 2021
168km to go
Finally, after 20km, we have a breakaway. Sander Armée (Qhubeka Assos) and Dries de Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) have clipped off the front of the peloton.
Armée and De Bondt quickly take their advantage out towards the two-minute mark.
Images just in suggest why Belgian champion De Bondt decided to break away. Edward Theuns there with the 'bantz'.
Three minutes now for the leading duo.
Michael Matthews didn't really figure yesterday but here are his thoughts on getting back to racing at his former team BikeExchange.
155km to go
The gap rises to 4:20. It's Deceuninck-QuickStep, defending the leader's jersey of Sam Bennett and looking to set him up for another sprint victory, who are setting the pace in the peloton.
Here's a first shot of our breakaway duo
37.3km covered in the first hour of racing. That's for the lead duo, so even less for the peloton. The race give three predicted time schedules for each stage and today's slowest is 42km/h, so it's been a sleepy start.
More from International Women's Day: Here's Teniel Campbell's latest blog for us.
Teniel Campbell: Strong and empowering women
A nature break for the Armée and De Bondt brings their lead down to three minutes, where it has stabilised, with Deceuninck-QuickStep setting the tempo in the bunch.
It's very much been a day for catch-ups so far. Here's Primoz Roglic giving out ski jumping tips to Rohan Dennis.
116km to go
We're approaching the first and only climb of the day. It's the Côte des Granges-le-Roi, and it's 1.3km at 4%.
Armée leads De Bondt over the top of the short climb, while Fabien Doubey (Total Direct Energie) grabs the last remaining KOM point from the bunch.
The average speed after two hours has crept up to 37.9km/h, but we're still well behind schedule.
Here we go. It's been a sleepy start but there's an acceleration in the bunch. Crosswinds?
Trek-Segafredo have come to the front and are forcing the issue!
We have a front peloton that's rapidly baring down on the breakaway duo already. Plenty of riders caught out in groups behind.
Roglic is present and correct up front.
103km to go
Armée and De Bondt are caught by the first peloton, their breakaway adventure coming to a premature end as the race ignites.
The gap between the two pelotons is small at the moment.
100km to go
The second group makes it back to the front echelon and the race is all back together again with 100km to go. Things start to calm down but that proves things could light up at any moment here.
Intermediate sprint coming up now.
Matthews wins the intermediate sprint.
1. Michael Matthews (Bike Exchange) 3 points, 3 seconds
2. Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal) 2 points, 2 seconds
3. Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-Quick Step) 1 points, 1 seconds
Matthews was also active in the sprints yesterday and this latest haul of points and bonus seconds moves him up to 4th in the points classification and 2nd on GC. We've got another intermediate sprint coming up in Bellegarde later on, before a bigger haul of points and seconds on the finish line.
84km to go
No new breakaway or echelon attempts for the time being. The peloton is bunched as they make their way along.
A shot of the earlier split
The roads are massively exposed but the wind doesn't seem strong enough to really entice efforts to split the bunch.
More from International Women's Day, and Amy Jones has taken a look at some of the women who have defied odds and expectations to occupy important and influential positions in the sport.
Here we go again! QuickStep accelerate
A slight change in direction and the Belgian team hit it hard at the front.
It's taking a big effort, but it's splitting now!
Most of the field is still up with QuickStep, but we have a group of 25 and another of 15 who have been distanced.
The front peloton is still large as some trees begin to offer some protection. EF have been caught out.
Ineos have spent most of the time since the break was caught on the front of the bunch and they're now driving this on.
Kruijswijk is caught out for Jumbo-Visma but Roglic is up front.
AG2R have also been caught on the back foot and they're now leading the second group back.
66km to go
AG2R succeed in dragging the second group back to the main bunch as we head through a town. Soon back onto exposed roads, though.
DSM, Israel, and Bora are also making their presence felt at the front. A bit of looking around, rather than full-on accelerations, but the tension is high.
Geoghegan Hart is right up at the front with Amador. It's back together but hasn't settled down yet.
💨💨💨💨B E O C R H D E U L R O E N S S ! !#ParisNice pic.twitter.com/DTKB8TUPdKMarch 8, 2021
It's mostly back together but not entirely. That third group, with 12 riders, including Kruijswijk, is still off the back, and trying to scramble across.
Four-time TT world champ Tony Martin has appeared at the front of the bunch. He's doing the forearms-on-bars thing, which is fine for now. That dropped group is coming back but slowly and not without a fair amount of effort.
54km to go
Job done. That group of a dozen riders manages to attach onto the back of the peloton, and the race is all back together once more.
Analysis: Mathieu van der Poel's 1,300-watt Strade Bianche-winning power dataFinal attack in Siena peaks at 1,362 watts after averaging 318 watts for almost five hourshttps://t.co/nK8Chdxo9y pic.twitter.com/P5ARl2Qto2March 8, 2021
50 to go and the race has settled down a little. It's not slow anymore, with everyone wary of the potential for splits and the pace naturally lifting as we move closer to the finish, but it's one bunch spread across the road.
Will anyone give it another nudge or are we heading for a bunch sprint?
While we have a period of respite, here's a shot of that Kruijswijk group getting back on a little earlier.
Things really have calmed down again now. A much slower tempo.
We're approaching Bellegarde for the second intermediate sprint.
Here comes the sprint. Matthews interested again and gets a lead-out from his team.
Andre Greipel gives it a go as well, and gets the better of Matthews. Nils Politt was third.
George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) crashes.
Bennett's helmet is cracked. He's back on his feet but looks shaken.
Bennett gets a new helmet and is back on his way, just as a race doctor comes running over. Not sure if/how he was checked for concussion there, but hopefully that will be cleared up at some point and, more importantly, hopefully Bennett is ok.
Intermediate sprint 2 results
Km 154.1 – Bellegarde
1. Andre Greipel 3 points, 3 seconds
2. Michael Matthews 2 points, 2 seconds
3. Nils Politt 1 point, 1 second
The concussion debate is sure to explode on social media now. We'll do our best to get explanations from the team and those involved. It's also worth pointing out the crash occurred on a very narrow town street, which is perhaps questionable around the time of an intermediate sprint.
29km to go
Anyway, into the final 30 we go and the bunch remains calm for the time being.
Bennett is chasing alone, some way behind the peloton.
For those just joining, worth pointing out it's George Bennett chasing alone after a crash - not Sam, who's safely near the front of the peloton. He's in the leader's jersey but Matthews is now level on time provisionally after those intermediate sprints.
It's been the same image in the peloton for a while now: Ineos on the far right, Jumbo just inside.
Another crash. Total and Alpecin have riders down.
Alexis Vuillermoz is the Total Direct Energie rider down and he's clutching his left shoulder - a tell-tale sign of a broken collarbone.
Senne Leysen was the Alpecin rider but he's back on his way, along with AG2R's Damien Touzé, who was also caught up in that.
Vuillermoz has abandoned Paris-Nice
20km to go
Into the final 20 we go. It's still calm at the front of the peloton. George Bennett is chasing alone at 30 seconds.
Bennett is now back at the rear of the peloton. He has a quick chat with the race director before rejoining. 18.5km to go.
16.5km to go
Acceleration in the bunch now. Things will intensify from here as we ratchet up for the sprint finish.
Here's a look at the run-in. Not straight forward at all. Two really tight bends there ahead of the finishing straight.
This could be quite a messy sprint. Sam Bennett won on the opening day and has to be considered the favourite here, not because of the convincing nature of that win, but for the quality of his lead-out, specifically Michael Morkov. They've shown they can do a traditional lead-out but also that Morkov can put Bennett on another wheel.
Back onto open roads and still it's packed together. Israel are prominent in the centre as Ineos and Jumbo continue to hold fort on the right.
BikeExchange and Qhubeka Assos also have positions on the front, along with Movistar on the left. QuickStep are lurking in the second row.
Another crash at the back of the bunch. Gregor Muhlberger is down for Movistar, along with Daniel Arroyave for EF.
Muhlberger is back up and running but Arroyave looks a little worse for wear. He's back on his feet but is having a word with the doctor.
8km to go and still those same teams occupy the same formation at the head of the bunch. It's yet to really ramp up.
A reminder of yesterday's top 10
1 Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck-QuickStep
2 Arnaud Démare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
3 Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
4 Jasper Philipsen (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
5 Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM
6 Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
7 Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain Victorious
8 Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis
9 André Greipel (Ger) Israel Start-up Nation
10 Rudy Barbier (Fra) Israel Start-up Nation
Movistar are now sending men back for Muhlberger, who came into the race as a GC card.
And that allows Tim Declercq through to the front row of the peloton for QuickStep. Sam Bennett is right up there behind him.
There are plenty of fast finishers who didn't get near the top 10 yesterday. European champ Giacomo Nizzolo is among them and his Qhubeka Assos team are keeping him up near the front.
4.5km to go
Over a little bridge and now it starts to ramp up
It's bunched at the front but stretched at the back as the teams really lift the pace now.
A roundabout stretches things out even more
Trek accelerate to bring Pedersen up
3km to go
Trek have four men on the front. QuickStep then have a rider but Bennett looks alone several places back
Muhlberger is back on just in time.
Trek drill it on the front as FDJ take up a good position behind. Bora too. 2.5km to go
Arkea-Samsic are also prominent for Bouhanni, as Bennett and QuickStep do get organised now.
Here's the tight right-hander! Trek maintain a good position through it. but they're down to one rider in front of Pedersen.
DSM take it up now as Trek slip back. 1.5 to go
DSM have three on the front going into the final km
Crash! It’s a big one and it’s near the front
Pedersen and Bennett are through, but Ackermann is down
Stuyven takes the lead with Pedersen in the wheel
Through the final bend. Stuyven will lead this out!
Here we go! Bol opens up!
Bol wins it!
Cees Bol (Team DSM) wins stage 2 of Paris-Nice
Pedersen hung on for second, with Matthews and Coquard up there. Bennett started from too far back but Bol was full value for that - a really powerful sprint and a convincing win.
1 Cees Bol (Ned) Team DSM 04:27:59
2 Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
3 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team BikeExchange
4 Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM
5 Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck-QuickStep
6 John Degenkolb (Ger) Lotto Soudal
7 Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
8 Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain Victorious
9 Jasper Philipsen (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
10 Rudy Barbier (Fra) Israel Start-up Nation
Confirmed third place for Matthews, and with it four more bonus seconds. With those he picked up in the intermediate sprints today and yesterday, he takes the overall lead.
Let's hear from the stage winner
"It's the best feeling. I had a bit of a struggle at the start of the season - I wasn't so good until now - but we kept believing and today, with superb help from my teammates, we smashed it.
"We went well through the last corner. I was close to being boxed in by Nils Eekhoff recognised the moment and kept the door open for me. I found a good wheel. The guys from Trek did a strong lead-out but I started my sprint at the right moment and had the power to hold it to the line."
General Classification after stage 2
1 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team BikeExchange 08:19:23
2 Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo 00:00:04
3 Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck-QuickStep 00:00:04
4 Cees Bol (Ned) Team DSM 00:00:04
5 Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ 00:00:08
6 André Greipel (Ger) Israel Start-up Nation 00:00:11
7 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Team DSM 00:00:12
8 Florian Vermeersch (Bel) Lotto Soudal 00:00:12
9 Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo 00:00:13
10 Ben Swift (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers 00:00:13
Matthews pulls on the yellow jersey for the podium
Full report, results, photos can be found here.
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