In-form Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) sprinted to victory on stage one of Paris-Nice, as he continues to show his form ahead of Milan-San Remo.
The Norwegian outsprinted Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Bryan Coquard (Europcar) in Contres, on a day when Tom Boonen crashed out of the race with a dislocated shoulder, ruling one of Etixx-QuickStep’s key men out of the Spring Classics.
It was an exhilarating end to an otherwise slow stage, which saw Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) retain his yellow jersey overall.
A slow pace throughout, with little inclination on the part of the bunch to shut down a two-man break of Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne-Seche Environnement), meant there was little to shout about for much of the day.
Delaplace’s team-mate Jonathan Hivert had actually been first to earn a gap on the bunch, taking first place on the solitary King of the Mountains climb and at the first intermediate sprint.
It left a hanful of bonus seconds available for the bunch, with Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) kicking to take two and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) one, both strengthening their top ten place overall.
Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) hit the deck in the bunch to briefly cause a stir, but it was Boonen’s crash which caused most concern as he touched wheels with a rider at the back of the peloton and fell hard.
It was initially suspected Boonen had broken his collarbone but further medical examination revealed the seven-time Monument winner had in fact discolated his shoulder. Boonen’s team, Etixx-QuickStep, later ruled him out of the Spring Classics, with the Belgian requiring a recovery period of three to six weeks.
Back to Paris-Nice, and Voeckler finally seized the initiative up the road to inject some pace into the day’s proceedings with 25km remaining.
Team Sky and Etixx-QuickStep led the pace-setting behind, and the latter’s intentions soon became clear when the Belgian super team tried to lead Kwiatkowski out for the final bonus second on offer at the second intermediate sprint. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) pipped him to the prize, however, to cut one second from his overall deficit.
Voeckler and Delaplace remained up the road though, with Sir Bradley Wiggins growing frustrated at the lack of support Sky were receiving at the head of the bunch. Subtle flicks of the elbow were replaced by all-out indignation at the lack of assistance as he shouted and threw his arm out to make his point.
However, the break was finally shut down in time to set up the bunch sprint, with Degenkolb and Matthews opening their sprints out early.
Degenkolb suffered a mechanical at the crucial moment though, banging his bars in frustration, to leave Kristoff to claim his fifth win of the season.
Paris-Nice 2015: stage one – report
1) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha – 5.15.18hrs
2) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – Cofidis – ST
3) Bryan Coquard (FRA) – Team Europcar
4) Heinrich Haussler (AUS) – IAM Cycling
5) Giacomo Nizzolo (ITA) – Trek Factory Racing
6) Jose Joaquim Rojas (ESP) – Movistar
7) Moreno Hofland (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo
8) Nicola Bonifazio (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
9) Ben Swift (GBR) – Team Sky
10) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
1) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Etixx-QuickStep – 5.22.58hrs
2) Rohan Dennis (AUS) – BMC Racing – ST
3) Tony Martin (GER) – Etixx-QuickStep +7”
4) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Alpecin +9”
5) Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) – Astana +10”
6) Lars Boom (NED) – Astana – ST
7) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
8) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) – IAM Cycling
9) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Giant-Alpecin +13”
10) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky – ST