Arnaud Demare (FDJ) won the first road stage of the Paris-Nice, out-sprinting Ben Swift (Team Sky) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) to take the victory on a cold day in Vendome. Michael Matthews (Orica-Greenedge) retained the leader’s yellow jersey.
The day started off with snow greeting the riders on the start line in Conde-sur-Vesgre. As soon as the flag dropped for racing to get underway, 4 riders attacked and quickly started to pry open an advantage. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Fixall), Steven Tronet (Fortuneo), Thierry Hupond (Delko Marseille Provence KTM) and Perrig Quemeneur (Direct Energie) were the aggressors.
At one stage the 4 leaders had over 9 minutes on the peloton. With 90km to go, the peloton sprung to life and began chasing down the quartet. As the peloton was hit by a crosswind, the group started to splinter as the pace just kept increasing. As a group of about 40 riders went off the front, Tyler Farrar and Serge Pauwels were positioned in the 2nd group on the road with our other riders left chasing in group 3.
As Team Sky and Orica-Greenedge kept the pressure on in the front group, the gap to the breakaway tumbled and they were caught with 15km to go. The 2nd group never gave up on chasing the first group though and with 10km to go, Pauwels made it back to the head of the race thanks to some good team work by Tyler Farrar and Nathan Haas. The 4 gravel sections that came in the final 30km of the race certainly made things interesting, but it did not stop a mass sprint from deciding the stage.
Jean-Pierre Heynderickx – Sport Director
It was a hard day for the boys, with most of them coming from the dessert race’s like Qatar and Oman where it was 30 degrees. Today for the most part of the day it was cold, raining, snowing and windy. So it was a tough day for our team. We hope that the weather will be better in the next days and we remain positive to take a good result.