Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) moved into the yellow leader’s jersey after crosswinds wreaked havoc on stage two of Paris-Nice, with Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) sprinting to victory.
Wiggins predicted crosswinds after finishing second on the opening stage’s individual time trial and the Race to the Sun’s iconic echelons formed midway through the 185.5km stage.
A split in the peloton saw 21 riders form a strong leading group, with Wiggins, who had the protection of British team-mate Geraint Thomas, Levi Leipheimer, Alejandro Valverde, Sylvain Chavanel and Tejay van Garderen among the overall contenders to make the selection.
The group extended their advantage to more than two minutes and 20 seconds and Wiggins, who finished third in Paris-Nice last year, signalled his intention to win the 2012 race by picking up an extra three bonus seconds by winning the stage’s sole intermediate sprint.
With the group staying together until the finish, Boonen, who goes into the Classics season in fine form having won the Tour of Qatar in February, outsprinted Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and John Degenkolb (Project 1t4i) to claim victory.
Wiggins said: “They were pretty horrible conditions out there; it was cold, there was some sleet and rain around too but most importantly Geraint and myself stayed safe in that front group and managed to take the jersey.
“The weather plays a massive part because you are always a couple of seconds away from potentially losing everything – once you go down in a crash you are not going to come back to the front on a day like today because there were so many groups on the road. You’re just riding a tightrope all day really and the relief when you finish is incredible.”
“It’s probably going to be much the same [on stage three] – it will be a bit of a free-for-all but it does help having the jersey and we can hopefully control the race a bit more. We’re in a good position to do that and looking forward to the rest of the race.”
Paris-Nice stage two
1) Tom Boonen – Omega Pharma-QuickStep – 4:22.15 hours
2) Jose Joaquin Rojas – Movistar – same time
3) John Degenkolb – Project 1t4i
4) Sep Vanmarcke – Garmin-Barracuda
5) Francesco Gavazzi – Astana
6) Angel Vicioso – Katusha
7) Maxime Monfort – Radioshack-Nissan-Trek
8) Taylor Phinney – BMC Racing
9) Alejandro Valverde – Movistar
10) Geraint Thomas – Team Sky
11) Bradley Wiggins – Team Sky
1) Bradley Wiggins – Team Sky – 4:33.32 hours
2) Levi Leipheimer – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +6″
3) Tom Boonen – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +7″
4) Tejay Van Garderen – BMC Racing +11″
5) Sylvain Chavanel – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +14″
6) Maxime Monfort – Radioshack-Nissan-Trek +18″
7) Taylor Phinney – BMC Racing +21″
8) Lieuwe Westra – Vacansoleil-DCM +22″
9) Geraint Thomas – Team Sky +28″
10) Jose Joaquin Rojas – Movistar +29″