Thomas De Gendt won the opening stage of Paris Nice today as a three-man break stole a march on the peloton in the last 40 kilometres to snatch the win.
De Gendt (Vacansoleil) escaped along with Jeremy Roy (FDJ) and Jens Voigt (Leopard-Trek) with just under 40km to go and held on by a few metres when he crossed the line. Roy held on for second but Voigt was swept up in the sprint, finishing sixth.
The trio raced clear after the early break had been caught and the sprinters teams failed to nullify the attacks. They stretched the lead out to roughly a minute and somehow managed to hold a 20 second gap from kilometre 10 to kilometre one, despite the peloton splintering under the speed of the chase.
In the last five kilometres HTC applied pressure that opened up gaps in the peloton but it managed to avoid snapping. Full of fresh legs, the bunch closed the gaps and came back together as they returned to Houdan in one long line at the end of the circuitous parcours to the west of Paris.
In the final kilometre they were breathing down the trio's neck. To their credit, and De Gendt's advantage, they carried on working together to the last few metres. It was De Gendt who made the first move and jumped to his left, opening his sprint up. It was perfectly timed as not only did he get away from both Roy and Voigt, he held off a flying peloton.
Heinrich Haussler proved fastest from the bunch, taking third spot, just ahead of Peter Sagan and Team Sky's Greg Henderson.
All the pre-race favourites finished in the bunch. Tomorrow's stage - 199km from Montfort l'Amaury to Amilly - starts the race's journey south to Nice, and should be one for the sprinters.
Paris-Nice stage one: Houdan-Houdan 154.5km
1 Thomas de Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil 4-05.06hrs
2 Jeremy Roy (FRA) FDJ at 1 sec
3 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin Cervelo
4 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas
5 Greg Henderson (NZl) team Sky
6 Jens Voigt (Ger) Leopard Trek
7 Wouter Weylandt (Bel) QuickStep
8 Danilo Wyss (Sui) BMC
9 Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil
10 Gert Steegmans (Bel) QuickStep all at same time
54 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky
58 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky
103 Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Garmin Cervelo
137 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Team Sky
24-year-old Thomas De Gendt wins Paris-Nice stage one
The race to the sun starts under clear blue skies, but the leg warmers are out
Paris-Nice 2011 stage one photo gallery
Paris-Nice 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
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