10 March, 2014
Stage 1, 162.5km Mantes-la-Jolie - Mantes-la-Jolie
BOUHANNI, A STORY OF WINS AND CRASHES
Nacer Bouhanni has an eventful relationship with Paris-Nice. Last year, the FDJ ace sprinter crashed out of the race on the third day with the leader's jersey on his back after winning the first stage. On Sunday by the banks of the Seine, he crashed and spent some time with the race doctor along the 162-kms of the circuit stage of the day before surging to outsprint the rest of the field on the line in Mantes-la-Jolie ahead of Germany's John Degenkolb and Belgium's Gianni Meersman.
On sheer class, the former French champion claimed back the yellow jersey, hoping to be luckier this time and especially in Monday's 205-kms second stage between Rambouillet and St Georges-sur-Baulche in Burgundy.
Laborie from the gun
The start was given at 11:58 to 168 riders. France's Christophe Laborie (BSE) was the first in action, attacking on the gun to seek the first polka dot jersey in this edition. His lead grew steadily and reached 10:45 after 23 kms. The teams with sprinters - Giant Shimano, Orica Greenedge or FDJ - raised the tempo a bit and the lead kept going down (9:00 after 50 kms). While Laborie was effectively first at the top of the Cote de Vert (km 40.5), he also led the first intermediate sprint (km 63) ahead of Gianni Meersman (OPQ) and Geraint Thomas (SKY).
Van Garderen out
After 66 kms, Bouhanni crashed and had to be treated several times for a bruised left knee. A few kilometers later, pre-race favourite Tejay van Garderen called it quits, citing stomach problems, as several crashes took place within the bunch, none really serious. Laborie was again first on the second ascent of the Cote de Vert to secure the polka-dot jersey and then relaxed to let the peloton back. The junction took place with 50 kms to go. In the second sprint of the day, Meersman collected three more seconds, ahead of Greg van Avermaet (BMC) and Sylvain Chavanel (IAM).
Pile-up and splits
A pile-up after 136 kilometers involved several team leaders, including Romain Bardet (ALM) and Andy Schleck (TFR). The peloton split as a result and Simon Gerrans (OGE) or Thomas Voeckler (EUC) were also unable to remain in the front bunch. On the line, this group, including Bardet, Gerrans, Voeckler, Eduardo Sepulveda (BSE), Edvald Boasson-Hagen (SKY) and Lieuwe Westra (AST) had lost 1:09 on the leading pack and probably their chances to feature on the final podium in Nice. As for Andy Schleck, he was even further down, trailing Bouhanni by 1:50 on the line.
Bouhanni bruised but victorious
While the race for the GC was taking its first twist of the week, the sprint was taking shape and John Degenkolb looked ideally placed as his Giant Shimano team-mates led the way for most of the finale. Given his crash and bruises, Bouhanni was perhaps overlooked a bit but there was nothing his rivals could do when he surged in the last stretch to win with impressive authority and claim back the yellow jersey he so tragically lost a year ago.