Race followers thought the Paris-Nice Prologue results had been partly dictated by the weather. But that was nothing compared to stage one. Crosswinds and rain blew the race to Nevers apart. CW explains what happened, and why.
While most race followers had expected a quiet stage, especially once the race was cut to 90 kilometres, the Quick Step team had other ideas, ambushing the peloton and causing havoc among the overall contenders.
HOW DID THE RACE SPLIT UP?
At Baugy, with 40 kilometres to go, the race turned east. Before this, the riders had ridden south into a block headwind, but after a 90-degree turn, Quick Step immediately put the hammer down at the front in a pre-planned move. In a strong crosswind, riders at the back of the line essentially have no shelter, forcing them to work harder to ride at the same speed. While Quick Step fanned across the road, only 20 or so riders were awake enough to make the split. Frantic chasing allowed 35 riders in total to join the front group, but the main junction was only made inside the final 10 kilometres.
HOW DID STEEGMANS WIN THE SPRINT?
The final five kilometres made it difficult to control the final sprint. There was a slithery descent into Nevers at five to go and two very tight corners at the bottom of the descent. And the final 700 metres were steeply uphill, with a gradient of seven per cent.
Sylvain Chavanel?s attack was way too early, and left him with 800 very exposed metres to the last turn. By the time he turned up the final hill, he was wasted.
Crédit Agricole led until 400 metres to go, then Steegmans launched his sprint. He knew he wouldn?t win an equal race against Philippe Gilbert, who he acknowledged was the faster climber, but he gained over 10 metres with his attack, which caught Gilbert by surprise. Pineau and Hushovd gained on him over the final 150 metres, but not enough.
WHAT HAPPENED TO CADEL EVANS?
Photographer Graham Watson, who covered the stage from a motorbike, told CW that Quick Step?s initial acceleration split the race up into at least 10 echelons. With most groups initially consisting of 15 or so riders, it was harder work chasing behind than it was for the riders at the front.
Evans had crashed a few kilometres before the turn at Baugy, and had only just joined the back of the field when the race split up. Bad luck cost him, and several other contenders, the race.
|STAGE ONE WINNERS ?|
His Quick Step team controlled the race superbly and he made the finishing sprint look easy.
Bossed the race the moment the race hit the crosswinds. Quick Step didn?t just win the stage, they changed the whole complexion of the race.
The Norwegian defended his yellow jersey by staying at the front of the race and ensuring he made the final split. Wasn?t far behind Steegmans on the line.
David Millar, Robert Gesink, Frank Schleck, Luis Leon Sanchez, Davide Rebellin and Yaroslav Popovych
These climbers all made the split. If they aren?t all in the top 10 by the end of the race, we?re not the best cycling website in the world.
Crashed and got caught at the back when Quick Step went to the front, losing over two minutes. Paris-Nice may have to turn into a training race for him.
The hot favourite on a finish which was so well suited to him he might as well have designed it himself. Mistimed his sprint and struggled to finish fourth.
The French champion lost over six minutes. Game over. Again.
50km to go Three escapees, Bernhard Eisel (High Road), Niki Terpstra and Peter Velits (both Milram) lead peloton by four minutes. Quick Step, FranÁaise des Jeux and CrÈdit Agricole lead the peloton, but the chase is not on yet.
45km to go Cadel Evans crashes. Paced back by his Silence-Lotto team mates.
42km to go The three leaders pass through Baugy, where the course turns from south to east. The strong headwind becomes a strong crosswind.
39km to go Quick Step and Rabobank put the hammer down in the crosswinds, and echelons start to form, spitting riders out the back.
35km to go The peloton splits, with 30 riders, including race leader Thor Hushovd forcing a 20-second gap on the rest of the field. The three leaders have 2:35 on Hushovd?s group.
25km to go Eisel, Terpstra and Velits lead by 1:30. The peloton is smashed to pieces in the crosswinds.
20km to go Cadel Evans is in a group 40 seconds behind Hushovd and company.
15km to go Evans has lost a minute to Hushovd. The leading trio are caught by the first echelon.
10km to go The front group swells to 35 riders. There are several attacks, but each is brought to heel by Quick Step or Crédit Agricole.
2km to go Sylvain Chavanel attacks. Caught with 500 metres to go.
350m to go Gert Steegmans attacks and holds on to win