Complicated finish in Paris-Nice
Stage 2 of "The Race to the Sun" took the peloton from Contres to Commentry, in the Allier department.
The day started out with a much better weather than the one on Monday, when the peloton had to endure snow flakes and below zero temperatures. This time, the riders got to see the sun during the stage, the longest one at this year's edition – 213.5 kilometers – and four of them decided to go into the escape: Matthias Brändle (IAM Cycling), Anthony Delaplace (Fortuneo Vital Concept), Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida) and Evaldas Siskevicius (Delko Marseille). After the gap went over the ten-minute barrier, Etixx – Quick-Step, Katusha and Orica-GreenEdge came to the forefront and controlled the four, whose adventure came to an end on the final circuit, with 12 kilometers to go.
In the last kilometers, made up of straight roads and a couple of roundabouts, things became hectic as the sprinters' teams pushed hard to come to the head of the bunch, especially as the road was narrow and in a slight uphill. The tricky finale led to the pack splitting up, so in the end a group of just three fought for the win. Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) crossed the line first, but he was relegated to third because of irregular sprinting, as he veered to the left, changing his line. As consequence, the victory went to Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), the overall leader of the race, who was followed by Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek-Segafredo).
Unfortunately, Marcel Kittel – winner of five races this year – couldn't contest the sprint, and he explained at the finish what happened: "It was a long day, which became crazy in the final 40 kilometers. The final was difficult and it was pretty hard to stay in the right position. We tried to come to the front, as that was the plan, but we couldn't move up anymore in the last 5 kilometers. I am a bit disappointed, also because I didn't feel good today, but that's cycling: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Despite this, I remain upbeat, because there's one more chance for sprinters on Thursday."
The fourth day of Paris-Nice will be one for the overall classification contenders, but also for the ones who are going for the polka dot jersey, as the 168-km long course between Cusset and Mount Brouilly has seven categorized climbs, including the one at the finish, a steep and technical one, with a maximum gradient of 9.3%.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele