Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) took victory on the second stage of Paris-Nice as he timed his sprint to perfection on the uphill ramp to the line in Vierzon.
The Dutch rider bided his time as splits appeared on the long final straight with two of Quick-Step Floors lead out riders found themselves a few metres off the front of the peloton.
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With sprinter Elia Viviani back near the front of the peloton, those two riders sat up before Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) was the first to accelerate on the ramp towards the line.
However the Irishman’s legs faded, allowing Groenewegen to come off the wheel of Ramon Sinkeldam (FDJ) and power towards the line as Viviani and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) were unable to overhaul him.
The yellow jersey of Arnaud Démare (FDJ) finished in fifth place, but picking up time bonuses during the stage and splits in the peloton in the final kilometre saw him extend his lead at the top of the general classification to seven seconds over Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida).
How it happened
After a tough opening day in the cold and rain with numerous crashes, the peloton seemed content to give itself an easy day in the saddle on stage two of Paris-Nice, meaning the first half of the stage may even have delivered less excitement than was promised by the pan-flat stage profile.
With none of the races 153 riders apparently fancying a day in the wind, there was no sign of the typical early breakaway, with the peloton simply riding along en masse, allowing Arnaud Démare (FDJ) to pick up maximum points at the first intermediate sprint of the day.
However finally, after more than 90km of riding, a break did manage to establish itself with some pretty strong riders getting away: Manuele Boaro (Bahrain-Merida), Tiago Machado (Katusha-Alpecin), Olivier Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Anthony Delaplace (Fortuneo-Samsic), and Lars Boom (LottoNL-Jumbo).
After the first half of the stage had been run at just 32.5kmh, the pace raised significantly as FDJ led the chase on behalf of Démare, catching the majority of the break with 65km remaining, leaving just Boaro and Machado out front.
With only two riders left in the break, the gap was allowed to grow out, extending to a maximum of nearly three minutes with 40km remaining.
However FDJ were intent on bringing things back together for a bunch sprint, with Ignatas Konovalovas in particular working hard to reduce the gap although Alaphilippe jumped out of the peloton to pick up a bonus second at the intermediate sprint.
The break made the peloton work for thecatch, but they were finally brought back with four kilometres to go as Lotto-Soudal moved to the front for André Greipel to do battle with FDJ for Démare and Quick-Step Floors for Elia Viviani.
Quick-Step led under the flamme rouge, but found their lead out effort fall apart as the third rider in the train lost the wheel through a right-hand bend with 900m to go.
That left FDJ to take charge of the sprint, but Dutch champion Ramon Sinkledam’s final effort was completed with Groenewegen rather than Démare tucked in his wheel, and allowing the LottoNL-Jumbo sprinter to hit the front at exactly the right time to take his fifth win of the year.
Paris-Nice continues on Tuesday with a 210km hilly stage between Bourges and Châtel-Guyon.
Paris-Nice 2018, stage two: Orsonville to Vierzon, 187.5km
1. Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, in 4-51-31
2. Elia Viviani (Ita) Quick-Step Floors
3. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal
4. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Team Sunweb
5. Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ
6. Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team Sunweb
7. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
8. Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing
9. John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo
10. Ivan Garcia (Spa) Bahrain-Merida, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ, in 7-58-57 7:58:57
2. Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 7 secs
3. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, at 8 secs
4. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, at 10 secs
5. Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 13 secs
6. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal, at same time
7. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 15 secs
8. Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott
9. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida
10. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain-Merida, all at same time