Paris-Nice: Viviani takes second in scrappy sprint
Julian Alaphilippe moves up to fourth overall after grabbing three bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint.
Stage 2 of Paris-Nice rolled out under a cloudy sky from Orsonville, a rural village at the southern tip of the Yvelines department, and traveled over 187.5 kilometers to Vierzon, which hosted a finish at the "Course au Soleil" for the first time in nearly a half a century, after the one of 1972, when the small town situated at the confluence of the Cher and Yèvre rivers witnessed the victory of Eric Leman.
Right from the start, the peloton decided to take it very easy, the average speed over the first two hours being 33km/h. Not even the intermediate sprint in Patay, where Julian Alaphilippe grabbed two bonus seconds, changed the status quo, and the riders continued to ride before schedule. A breakaway formed with 77 kilometers remaining, but the bunch wasn't happy with the composition and chased down the move, easing off only when two riders – Manuele Boaro (Bahrain-Merida) and Tiago Machado (Katusha-Alpecin) – were left in the front from the original breakaway.
Despite opening a three-minute gap, it was pretty obvious the duo didn't stand a chance, as the peloton meant business on Monday afternoon, and began a fierce chase behind the attackers, Tim Declercq being one of the riders who contributed to the pace setting and scratching off half a minute of their lead. It was in the closing five kilometers of the stage that Boaro and Machado got caught, prompting the sprint trains to form.
A tricky roundabout forced riders to lose position before entering the final two kilometers, where Quick-Step Floors took control, bringing three riders to the front for Elia Viviani. The last 500 meters were much complicated than on the roadbook, as the road went up after a right-hand corner at a 4% average gradient which seriously stretched out the pack, thus making for a chaotic finish.
Viviani, a winner of five races in 2018, was one of the few to contest the complicated sprint, which he finished in second place, behind Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo), but ahead of Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), for his eighth top-3 finish of the year, a feat which underlines – if it was necessary – the excellent start of the season and the remarkable form that the Italian is enjoying in the Quick-Step Floors jersey.
"We knew it was going to be a tricky finish from five kilometers to go, but the Wolfpack did a great job once again. Being an uphill finish meant that it was paramount to bide your time and make sure you're not at the front when the sprint started, which I did. The condition is good, the team continues to do a perfect job, but today I just met an opponent who was faster than me. We'll see what this race has in store for us, we will just take it day by day and see how things unfold", Elia Viviani said after stage 2.
Julian Alaphilippe was one of the most active riders on Monday, and that paid dividends in Vierzon, where the 25-year-old Frenchman – who'll race tomorrow on his home roads – jumped two positions in the general classification, up to fourth place, thanks to three bonus seconds.
Photo credit: ©Bryn Lennon/ Getty Images