Moreno Hofland (Belkin) earned the first WorldTour victory of his career by out-sprinting John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) to win stage two of Paris-Nice.
Hofland led out the sprint amid a chaotic finale, with several crashes again causing problems throughout the stage, attacking long to seal the win and continue his fine start to the season.
The Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne runner-up proved too quick for Degenkolb, who appeared to fade just short of the line, while Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) came in third to stay in the yellow jersey.
Bretagne-Seche Environnement were once again represented in the day’s break, with Anthony Delaplace showing the team’s colours up the road.
He was joined by IAM Cycling’s Aleksejs Saramotins and the two worked well together to maintain a healthy lead over the bunch for much of the stage, which the advantage peaking at more than 11 minutes.
A puncture for Saramotins briefly halted their escape, but Delaplace waited for his companion to ensure they stayed well out in front.
Delaplace led the way through the first intermediate sprint, with Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) kicking from the bunch to collect another time bonus – as he had the previous day – which took him level overall with Bouhanni.
Meersman and his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team-mates were among the riders pulling hard on the front of the bunch to ensure Delaplace and Saramotins’ sizable lead never became too much of a threat.
Saramotins led over the day’s sole climb, with King of the Mountains leader Christophe Laborie leading the bunch over the top to add another point to those he earned from his lone escape in stage one.
The narrow roads once again caused problems, with riders forced to unclip at the back after one momentary pause. The bunch upped the pace again, however, with FDJ.fr and Team Sky among those bringing riders forward, to gradually cut the deficit to the two leaders.
Saramotins and Delaplace still led over the first passing of the finishing line, with an advantage of 2’30” as the former picked up the three-second time bonus.
Boonen led Meersman out to pick up another second’s bonus from the bunch, with Omega Pharma-Quickstep drawing first blood as the final lap began.
But Meersman, along with Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky), was among the riders brought down in a crash on the final lap. Meersman used his team car in an attempt to draft back to the peloton, while Garmin-Sharp hit the front, despite their lead sprinter being out of contention, as they instigated a quick change of tactics.
Further up the road Saramotins attacked Delaplace to keep his lead up front, but his day was eventually brought to an end inside the final few kilometres.
Meersman, meanwhile, incited the fury of the race commissaires by continuing to draft behind the team car with Julien Simon (Cofidis) for company. Meersman even used a Madison-style hand sling in a desperate bid to latch back on but failed to regain contact with the peloton despite another crash in the bunch in the final kilometre.
That left Hofland to take up the sprint, attacking long with Degenkolb pushing hard, but the Dutchman held on for the win, with Bouhanni third.
Paris-Nice 2014: stage two – result
1) Moreno Hofland (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling – 4.53.46
2) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Shimano – ST
3) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – FDJ.fr
4) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha
5) Thor Hushovd (NOR) – BMC Racing
6) Bryan Coquard (FRA) – Team Europcar
7) Armindo Fonseca (FRA) – Bretagne-Seche Environnement
8) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Belisol
9) Jens Keukeleire (GER) – Orica-GreenEDGE
10) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar
1) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – FDJ.fr – 8.46.43
2) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Shimano +2”
3) Moreno Hofland (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +4”
4) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +13”
5) Bryan Coquard (FRA) – Team Europcar +14”
6) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar – ST
7) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha
8) Nikolay Trusov (RUS) – Tinkoff-Saxo
9) Samuel Dumoulin (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
10) Jens Keukeleire (GER) – Orica-GreenEDGE