Bradley Wiggins produced a fine ride in wet conditions to finish second on the opening stage of Paris-Nice, a 9.4km time trial, with Vacansoleil-DCM’s Gustav Erik Larsson securing victory.
Swedish national time trial champion Larsson clocked 11:19 minutes on dry roads on the course from Dampierre-en-Yvelines to Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, which included the category three climb of the Côte des 17 Tournants, to overhaul early leader Thomas De Gendt.
With Wiggins, world time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Richie Porte (Team Sky) and Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) among the stage contenders still to roll off the start ramp, Larsson’s time was expected to fall but rain then set in, leaving the rest of the field to ride cautiously on slippery roads.
But British national time trial champion Wiggins, who claimed his first win of the season against the clock at the Volta ao Algarve last month, defied the conditions to finish just one second adrift of Larsson, while Levi Leipheimer finished a further three seconds back to complete the podium. Martin could only finish in 28th place, 25 seconds down.
Wiggins finished third overall in Paris-Nice in 2011, kick-starting a season which saw the three-time Olympic track gold medallist win the Criterium du Dauphine and finish third at the Vuelta a Espana, but the 31-year-old remains cautious ahead of the rest of the eight-day race, with crosswinds expected on the the 185km second stage from Mantes-la-Jolie to Orléans.
“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in and I’ve had a great winter. Algarve was a great start so I’m raring to go,” said Wiggins. “Now it’s about staying safe really. This race is known in the next few days for having a lot of crashes, potentially in the cross-winds. The weather might be a bit dodgy tomorrow too.
“There’s a lot to contend with but this is the first one out of the way – a tricky little prologue in cold weather with a bit of rain is never easy.
“I didn’t take any risks in the corners but I knew in a straight line I was flying. I wasn’t willing to find out whether it was slippery so I never really pushed it as hard as I could have done in the corners. I’d already slipped on the ramp coming off the start, so straight away I had one mind on safety in the corners. Fortunately there weren’t so many corners so it wasn’t as decisive.”
Andy Schleck (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek), one of Wiggins’ rivals for the Tour de France title in July, lost more than a minute in 142nd place but insists it’s too early to judge his time trial form.
“I didn’t have such a good feeling in my legs but don’t take this as a reference,” said Schleck. “This is my first big competition of the season. On the top of the climb I had same time as Maxime [Monfort] but then I didn’t have the forces to push the big gear. This was a TT for the big engines. This is not a real test for me. The distance was too short and it’s too too early.”
Elsewhere, Russell Downing (Endura Racing) won the Grand Prix de la Ville de Lillers on Sunday just 24 hours after winning the traditional curtain raiser to the British domestic season, the Eddie Soens Memorial road race, in Liverpool.
Meanwhile, Downing’s Endura team-mate Jonathan Tiernan-Locke continued his superb start to the season with second overall in the Tour of Murcia after finishing 14th in Sunday’s 12.3km time-trial, while Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) won the Strade Bianche on Saturday.
Paris-Nice stage one
1) Gustav Larsson (SWE) Vacansoleil-DCM – 11:19 minutes
2) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Sky Procycling +1″
3) Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step +4″
4) Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team +9″
5) Thomas De Gendt (BEL) Vacansoleil-DCM +12″
6) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
7) Rein Taaramae (EST) Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne +13″
8) Markel Irizar Aranburu (SPA) RadioShack-Nissan
9) Rémi Pauriol (FRA) FDJ-Bigmat +15″
10) Jerome Coppel (FRA) Saur-Sojasun