France’s Arnaud Demare won a sprint finish as snow fell on the first stage of the Paris-Nice race on Monday with Australia’s Michael Matthews holding the overall race lead.
FDJ rider Demare, junior world champion in 2011 and French champion in
2014, crossed ahead of Britain’s Ben Swift and France’s Nacer Bouhanni after
the 198km stage of ‘The Race to the Sun’ between Conde-sur-Vesgre and Vendome, southwest of Paris.
Swift launched the sprint but was caught with 24-year-old Demare claiming
his second success of the season after a stage in the Tour of the
Mediterranean last month.
“It’s a victory that I’ve waited a long time for,” said Demare, whose dream
remains success on the Paris-Roubaix on April 9. “There were a lot of setbacks last season. I put a lot in last year and it didn’t pay off. I put in even more this winter. The legs are good, I’m ready to challenge.”
Riders had to tackle demanding conditions with freezing temperatures,
snowfall and sections of dirt roads.
“It was important not be trapped by the cold during the stage. We knew
there was a cross wind and we reacted straight away,” said Demare. “On the final climb I chose to stay back and allow myself to be carried by the movement. My choice was rewarded, it was a great victory. This is going to give me and my teammates confidence.”
Prologue winner Matthews crossed in fifth to hold the leader’s yellow
jersey. The 25-year-old world championship silver medallist leads by three seconds thanks to two intermediate bonus seconds.
“It was a hard day all day,” said Matthews. “But I’m not afraid of extreme conditions. It would be nice to win a stage but the jersey was the main focus.”
The Orica team leader added: “The final lap was tougher than I expected. I
saw that some of the general classification guys were up there so I had to
make the effort to chase them. “Maybe it took away some of my energy for the sprint. My team worked all day and I found myself a bit isolated in the final lap.
I had to keep an eye on the general classification guys.”
Tuesday’s second stage will favor the sprinters, covering 213.5km from
Contres to Commentry in central France.
1. Arnaud Démare (FRA/FDJ) 4hr 29min 53sec (average: 44.02 km/h), 2. Ben
Swift (GBR/SKY) same time, 3. Nacer Bouhanni (FRA/COF) s.t., 4. Adrien Petit
(FRA/DEN) s.t., 5. Michael Matthews (AUS/ORI) s.t., 6. Tom Boonen (BEL/ETI)
s.t., 7. Sep Vanmarcke (BEL/LNL) s.t., 8. Simon Geschke (GER/GIA) s.t., 9.
Jonas Van Genechten (BEL/IAM) s.t., 10. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) s.t.