Boonen 6th on tough Paris-Nice stage
The wintry conditions and hard parcours made an important selection in the final 40 kilometers of the day.
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Thierry Hupond (Delko Marseille), Perrig Quemeneur (Direct Energie) and Steven Tronet (Fortuneo) were the four riders to make it into the day's break in stage 1 of Paris-Nice (Condé-sur-Vesgre – Vendôme, 198 kilometers). As the stage was long and the first part was flat, the peloton let the escapees take a gap which exceeded 10 minutes, before deciding to push the pedal on the metal and reduce that advantage, battling not only with the huge gap, but also with the snow flakes and the cold. Then, with 40 kilometers left, what was supposed to be a rather quiet day witnessed a change of scenario, due to the strong crosswinds.
Sensing an opportunity, Etixx – Quick-Step and Sky came to the forefront and rode hard, splitting the pack. Around 35 riders made the selection, among those to miss the move being Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Simon Spilak (Katusha). Inside the last 25 kilometers, after the breakaway was caught, the group in the lead entered on the first of the two laps of the final circuit, which included a climb and two gravel road sectors. On one of these, Chemin du Tertre de la Motte, Pierre-Luc Perichon (Fortuneo Vital Concept) accelerated and took a handful of seconds, but that action was a short-lived one.
As the small peloton was preparing to tackle the final 5 kilometers and the Etixx – Quick-Step riders were starting to make their way to the front, the team was struck by bad luck, as Niki Terpstra punctured, while Nikolas Maes and Marcel Kittel lost contact on the tricky dirt patch, and as a result, the German couldn't contest the sprint. Winner at the end of the day was Arnaud Démare (FDJ), who defeated Ben Swift (Sky) and fellow countryman Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), while Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) kept his yellow jersey.
From the Etixx – Quick-Step squad, Tom Boonen was the one to get involved in the sprint, finishing 6th in Vendôme. While cooling down, the seven-time Monument winner talked about Monday's stage: "We did 200 kilometers in really bad weather, so it wasn't easy at all. I don't like the cold, but I was happy to be at the front. When the peloton split, I worked to keep the break going. Then, after Marcel was dropped, I tried to do my own sprint, took the last corner in a good position, but it wasn't too much acceleration left in the legs. For me it was very important to finish safely and gain kilometers before the Classics. Now I'll try to recover after this hard stage and continue to improve in the following days."
Stage 2 of Paris-Nice (Contres – Commentry, 214 kilometers) will be the longest of this year's edition and will include just a third-category climb on the course. As this comes with 50 kilometers to go, the sprinters shouldn't have any problem to make it to the finish.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele