Dylan Groenewegen made the best of the great team work by his Jumbo-Visma team on a windy and eventful day around St Germain en Laye to take the first stage of Paris-Nice and put the yellow jersey on his back. Already winner of a stage in Vierzon a year ago, the Dutch sprint rocket was a little bit too fast for Australia’s Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), who had to settle for second place.
The day, animated by countless echelons, was tarnished by the absence in the finale of Australia’s Michael Matthews, forced out of the race by a crash with 50 km to go.
Three from the gun
The start was given at 11:40 to 23 teams of seven riders 161 riders. Almost on the gun, Romain Combaud (Delko Marseille Provence) broke clear, taking former Paris-Nice stage winners Damien Gaudin (Direct Energie) and Amael Moinard (Arkea-Samsic) along with him. Their lead went past the two minute mark after 10 km and kept growing. At the top of the 3rd category Cote de Beynes (km 20.5), on which Gaudin collected 4 points, the gap reached 3:20.
After a crash involving former race winner Sergio Henao (km 35), Groupama-FDJ raised the pace and the peloton split. Among the riders caught in the echelon were Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain Merida). The peloton regrouped after 47.5 km as the lead of the escapees had melted to 1:15.
Matthews out of the race
Another crash at the back of the pack involved Australia’s Michael Matthews, the Sunweb team leader and winner of three Paris-Nice stages, one of the favourites for the days’ stage, who was forced out of the race and taken to hospital. In the last 50 km, echelons and crashes took place again and the peloton was scattered in several little groups on the windswept course. Henao, Marcel Kittel (Katusha), Alexander Kristoff (UAE) and Mark Cavendish were among the riders dropped as the pack split repeatedly. The three escapees were caught with 25 km to go.
Echelons kept firming as the race tackled the second climb of the day, Cote de Beule (Km 112) which saw Damien Gaudin surge again to snatch four more points and secure the polka-dot jersey ahead of Evaldas Siskevicius (Delko-Marseille-Provence) and Warren Barguil (Arkea Samsic).
With 20 km to go, the peloton was still split in three groups as two intermediate sprints and bonus points were up for grabs. Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) went for the first ahead of Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski and Egan Bernal, who led the way in the finale on the heels of Luke Rowe, celebrating his 29th birthday the hard way.
Kwiatkowski collected more bonus seconds in the second, 3 km from the finish line.
Jumbo-Visma lead the way
In what was left of the bunch in the long last stretch, Jumbo-Visma were probably the stronger team and aftte a brave but vain attempt by Philippe Gilbert with 2 km to go, they perfectly set up Groenewegen for the final sprint. Italy’s Sonny Colbrelli tried to attack from far but he was quickly overtaken. Then there was no denying Groenewegen and even Ewan’s last ditch effort was not enough to prevent the Dutchman to become the first leader of this Paris-Nice.