Commentry, France, March 8, 2016 (AFP) – Race leader Michael Matthews took his second stage victory at this year’s Paris-Nice after Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni was disqualified from Tuesday’s sprint finish.
Australian Matthews was blocked in by Bouhanni, who swerved wildly towards the Orica GreenEdge rider just 20 yards from the line.
The 25-year-old Matthews, the race leader who also won Sunday’s opening prologue, looked set to storm past the Cofidis rider down the inside before Bouhanni leant into the Aussie, practically pushing him into the side railing.
“I think Bouhanni changed his line. I nearly crashed,” said Matthews, who was visibly upset with the Frenchman after crossing the finish line.
“It’s always difficult to sprint at the end of such a long stage.
“It’s unfortunate but either way I would have won because I was coming around him and I would have won if we hadn’t touched. Two out of three, it’s exceptional.”
His stage two victory allowed Matthews to extend his race lead as he took a 10-second bonus on the line.
Italy’s Niccolo Bonifazio was promoted to second with Bouhanni, 25, demoted to third on the stage, a 214km run from Contres to Commentry.
A furious Bouhanni refused to accept responsibility for his error.
“It’s nonsense! It was very tight at the end,” he said.
“I moved left and tried to get to the barriers. He (Matthews) was next to the barriers.
“We touched in the last 20 metres. He was the first one to initiate contact.”
Matthews now leads Dutchman Tom Dumoulin by 14sec in the overall standings with New Zealander Patrick Bevin third at 19sec, the same time as Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, one of the favorites for the final victory.
Reigning champion Richie Porte of Australia is 10th overall at 27sec with two-time former Tour de France winner Alberto Contador 18th at 33sec.
A four-man breakaway of Ethiopian Tsgabu Grmay, Matthias Brandle, Anthony Delaplace and Evaldas Siskevicius had spent almost 200km in the lead but the last two remnants, Brandle and Siskevicius, were finally caught 12km from the end.
That set up a sprint finish in which Matthews, racing in his first event of 2016, came up trumps after a review by the race commissionaires.
Wednesday’s third stage is a 168km run from Cusset to Mont Brouilly, north of Lyon, with its 3km finishing climb at an average 7.7 percent gradient that favors specialist punchers.
Matthews is expecting the challengers to come thick and fast on the uphill finish.
“Of course tomorrow (Wednesday) will be hard for everyone. We climbed Mont Brouilly in Paris-Nice two years ago but we finished at the bottom, not the top,” said the Orica man.
“It will definitely be interesting to see what I can do and how the other teams will react.”
Results following the 213.5km second stage of the Paris-Nice race between Contres and Commentry on Tuesday:
1. Michael Matthews (AUS/ORI) 5hr 04min 26sec,
2. Niccolo Bonifazio (ITA/TRE) same time,
3. Nacer Bouhanni (FRA/COF) s.t.,
4. Alexander Kristoff (NOR/KAT) at 1sec,
5. Arnaud Démare (FRA/FDJ) s.t.,
6. Ben Swift (GBR/SKY) s.t.,
7. Andre Greipel (GER/LOT) s.t.,
8. Wouter Wippert (NED/CAN) s.t.,
9. Adrien Petit (FRA/DE) s.t.,
10. Jonas Van Genechten (BEL/IAM) s.t.
15. Tom Dumoulin (NED/GIA) s.t., 17. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) s.t., 33.
Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 5, 39. Richie Porte (AUS/BMC) s.t.
1. Michael Matthews (AUS/ORI) 9hr 41min 46sec,
2. Tom Dumoulin (NED/GIA) 14,
3. Patrick Bevin (NZL/CAN) 19,
4. Ion Izagirre (ESP/MOV) s.t.,
5. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) s.t.,
6. Lieuwe Westra (NED/AST) 24,
7. Dries Devenyns (BEL/IAM) 25,
8. Arnaud Démare (FRA/FDJ) s.t.,
9. Rafal Majka (POL/TIN) 27,
10. Richie Porte (AUS/BMC) s.t.
18. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 33