Britain?s David Millar had no problems retaining his yellow jersey in the first stage of Paris-Nice on Monday, staying out of trouble even in the complicated final kilometre where French fastman Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2R) took a disorganised bunch sprint
A former double stage winner in the Tour de France, including one on the Champs Elysées, Nazon shot out of the pack with some 200 metres to go, and maintained his lead of around two bike lengths all the way to the finish.
Run off in unseasonably warm weather, the 186 kilometre stage from Cloyes to Buzancais will not go down in history as one of the most memorable of Paris-Nice.
Four riders, Romain Feilu (Agritubel), Christophe Laurent (Credit Agricole), Ivan Velasco (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Herve Duclos-Lasalle (Cofidis) broke away almost before the riders had reached the end of the neutralised zone, gained over nine minutes and stayed away until three kilometres from the finish when the bunch, led by Milram and Lampre, reeled them in.
A sharp left turn shuffled the peloton in the final kilometre, leaving favourite Tom Boonen (Quick Step) out of the fray. Nazon then went clear on a slight rise, with Sebastian Siedler (Milram) taking second, and Australia?s Matt Hayman (Rabobank) third. Italian Danielle Bennati (Lampre) – the best-placed rival sprinter overall, just six seconds down on Millar before the stage start – took fourth, just outside the time bonuses.
?It all went as planned.? Millar?s team manager, Joxean Fernandez Matxin (Saunier Duval-Prodir) told CW. ?We let the break get to around nine minutes, then started working to pull them back in.?
?Then Lampre put a couple of guys on the front with 30 kilometres to go, Quick Step and Milram added a few more and then in the last 10 kilometres we let the sprinters take over completely.?
?The only problem came about when an Illes Balareas rider went in to the final corner ahead of the line and mixed up the sprint. But Dave was fine all the way through.?
Millar finished in the main peloton in 31st place, and still leads leads Roman Kreuzinger of (Liquigas) by one second. Third is Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse D?Epargne), two seconds down.
Tuesday?s stage from Vatan to Limoges is slightly tricker than stage one: 177 kilometres long, it has a hilly finale and the last two kilometres are all slightly uphill. ?It should be another one for the sprinters. ?Matxin said, ?so we?ll play it the same way.?