Vendôme, France, March 7, 2016 (AFP) – France’s Arnaud Demare won a sprint finish as snow fell on the first stage of the Paris-Nice race on Monday with Australia’s Michael Matthews holding the overall race lead.
FDJ rider Demare, junior world champion in 2011 and French champion in 2014, crossed ahead of Britain’s Ben Swift and France’s Nacer Bouhanni after the 198km stage of ‘The Race to the Sun’ between Conde-sur-Vesgre and Vendome, southwest of Paris.
Swift launched the sprint but was caught with 24-year-old Demare claiming his second success of the season after a stage in the Tour of the Mediterranean last month.
“It’s a victory that I’ve waited a long time for,” said Demare, whose dream remains success on the Paris-Roubaix on April 9.
“There were a lot of setbacks last season. I put a lot in last year and it didn’t pay off. I put in even more this winter. The legs are good, I’m ready to challenge.”
Riders had to tackle demanding conditions with freezing temperatures, snowfall and sections of dirt roads.
“It was important not be trapped by the cold during the stage. We knew there was a cross wind and we reacted straight away,” said Demare.
“On the final climb I chose to stay back and allow myself to be carried by the movement. My choice was rewarded, it was a great victory.
“This is going to give me and my teammates confidence.”
Prologue winner Matthews crossed in fifth to hold the leader’s yellow jersey.
The 25-year-old world championship silver medallist leads by three seconds thanks to two intermediate bonus seconds.
“It was a hard day all day,” said Matthews.
“But I’m not afraid of extreme conditions.
“It would be nice to win a stage but the jersey was the main focus.”
The Orica team leader added: “The final lap was tougher than I expected. I saw that some of the general classification guys were up there so I had to make the effort to chase them.
“Maybe it took away some of my energy for the sprint.
“My team worked all day and I found myself a bit isolated in the final lap.
I had to keep an eye on the general classification guys.”
Tuesday’s second stage will favour the sprinters, covering 213.5km from Contres to Commentry in central France.
1. Arnaud Démare (FRA/FDJ) 4hr 29min 53sec (average: 44.02 km/h),
2. Ben Swift (GBR/SKY) same time,
3. Nacer Bouhanni (FRA/COF) s.t.,
4. Adrien Petit(FRA/DEN) s.t.,
5. Michael Matthews (AUS/ORI) s.t.,
6. Tom Boonen (BEL/ETI) s.t.,
7. Sep Vanmarcke (BEL/LNL) s.t.,
8. Simon Geschke (GER/GIA) s.t.,
9. Jonas Van Genechten (BEL/IAM) s.t.,
10. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) s.t.
Selected: 12. Richie Porte (AUS/BMC) s.t. 22. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) s.t.
1. Michael Matthews (AUS/ORI) 4hr 37min 30sec,
2. Tom Dumoulin (NED/GIA) at 0:03sec,
3. Patrick Bevin (NZL/CAN) 0:04,
4. Ion Izagirre (ESP/MOV) 0:08,
5. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 0:08,
6. Lieuwe Westra (NED/AST) 0:09,
7. Dries Devenyns (BEL/IAM) 0:10,
8. Richie Porte (AUS/BMC) 0:12,
9. Arnaud Démare(FRA/FDJ) 0:14,
10. Wilco Kelderman (NED/LNL) 0:15
Selected: 17. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 0:18, 59. Nacer Bouhanni (FRA/COF) 0:56