Arnaud Démare (FDJ) won the first stage of this year's Paris-Nice ahead of Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) in a chaotic day in northern France.

Arnaud Démare (FDJ) beat Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) in a two-man sprint on a frenetic stage one of Paris-Nice.

Despite a mass sprint being expected in northern France, no such thing materialised as rain and crosswinds affected the opening stage of this year’s race from the start.

André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) were both dropped in the final two kilometres from the lead group of 20 riders, and when Alaphilippe launched his move in the final 1,500m on an uphill section, only Démare was able to follow.

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Démare led out the sprint against his compatriot and maintained his position on the left of the barriers to hold off Alaphilippe’s challenge, taking his third win of the season and showing he is in fine form ahead of the defence of his Milan-San Remo title in a fortnight’s time.

A chaotic day in northern France

Paris-Nice is billed as “The Race to the Sun” and when riders converged in a wet and windy Bois-d’Arcy this morning, the moniker took on a literal meaning.

Four riders – Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Romain Hardy (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Gatis Smukulis (Delko Marseille Provence KTM) and Kristijan Koren (Cannondale-Drapac) – teamed up for the day’s breakaway, stretching an advantage of six minutes with 40km covered.

But at that point, FDJ decided to exploit the crosswinds, the consequence being that the race split into several groups, with the first group of 22 chasers containing sprinters such as Greipel, Kittel and Alexandre Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) but also GC riders like Sergio Henao (Team Sky) and Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors).

Further back were pre-race favourites, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Richie Porte (BMC), Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale).

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The lead chasers caught the breakaway and together the 26 riders drove an unrelenting pace, while despite the efforts of Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) and Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo) specifically, the second group on the road were unable to mount a strong enough response to bridge the gap.

As the distance to go marker read five kilometres, the advantage for the lead group – by which point had distanced a few riders, owning to the speed and conditions – was 45 seconds.

But the expected sprint began to unravel when Kittel was dropped on the final rise inside the last two kilometres, and then Greipel suffered the same fate. As the road continued to incline, Alaphilippe attacked and it was left to he and Démare to contest the finale. Kristoff took the sprint for third place ahead of Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors).

Henao and Martin both finished in the Kristoff group, nine seconds behind the race winners, but crucially 38 seconds ahead of Porte, Bardet and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin). Contador and Yates were a further 17 seconds in arrears.

The eight-stage race, Europe’s first WorldTour stage race of the season, continues tomorrow with a flat parcours from Rochefort-en-Yvelines to Amilly.

Results

Paris-Nice 2017, stage one: Bois d’Arcy to Bois d’Arcy, 148.5km

1. Arnaud Démare (Fra) FDJ in 3-22-43.
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors at same time
3. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin) at 9secs
4. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
5. Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo-Vital Concept
6. Dan Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors
7. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal
8. Marco Haller (Aus) Katusha-Alpecin
9. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky
10. Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJ at same time.

General classification after stage one

1. Arnaud Démare (Fra) FDJ in 3-22-43.
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors at 4secs
3. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin) at 15secs
4. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors at 16secs
5. ony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal at 17secs
6. Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo-Vital Concept at 18secs
7. Dan Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors at 19 secs
8. Marco Haller (Aus) Katusha-Alpecin
9. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky
10. Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJ at same time.