Dylan Groenewegen won an action-packed opening stage of the 2019 Paris-Nice.
The Jumbo-Visma rider came out on top in a sprint from a bunch that had been reduced to just 60 riders after a day of crosswind induced chaos.
The biggest names to be caught out were defending champion Marc Soler (Movistar) and overall contender Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), who rolled over the line in a chasing group 1-03 adrift from the peloton.
In the sprint, Groenewegen burst out from behind his yellow Jumbo-Visma train to take the win, but was pushed all the way to the line by Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), who just fell short before the line.
The sprint had been instigated when Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) made his move early, but it was Groenewegen who timed his sprint the best to claim both the stage victory and the overall lead in the race.
How it happened
Weather-wise it was a mixed day, with strong winds accompanied by alternating sunshine and drizzly conditions reflected by the sight of a rainbow in the early afternoon.
An all-French trio went up the road at the very start of the day: Amaël Moinard (Arkea-Samsic), Romain Combaud (Delko Marseille Provence) and Damien Gaudin (Direct Energie).
Gaudin claimed maximum points on the first climb of the day, the third category Côte de Beynes.
They were granted little leeway from the peloton, with the gap barely surpassing three minutes.
The first crosswind action occurred when Groupama-FDJ increased the pace of the peloton. Echelons were formed and a small group fell adrift from the peloton, featuring lightweight climbers and outside GC candidates Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida).
Although everything came back together, the windy conditions and chance that the race could split at any moment created a nervous atmosphere in the bunch. At one point, with around 60km to go, both Ivan Sosa (Sky) and Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First) found themselves forced into a ditch at the side of the road – fortunately both managed to stay upright and unhurt.
Less fortunate was Michael Matthews (Sunweb), who crashed out in an incident serious enough for him to have to abandon the race altogether.
Ag2r La Mondiale applied the pressure at the front of the peloton with 45km to go, with Trek-Segafredo and again Groupama-FDJ also joining in. Again the race was stretched to breaking point, with the peloton divided into several small groups, and a small group peeling off the front managing to swallow up the breakaway trio.
Among the big names seen struggling in the trailing groups this time was defending champion Soler, while Meintjes and Pozzovivo were again among the first riders to be distanced.
Sprinters Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates), Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) were also caught out and taken out of contention.
With 35km the leading group had grown again, but a crash involving Jasper De Buyst (Lotto-Soudal) and a Sunweb rider prompted yet another split.
A lull in the action on the category three Côte de Beule allowed some of the distanced riders to bridge back up to the lead group, including Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), while Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic), Evaldas Šiškevičius (Delko Marseille Provence) and Gaudin took the opportunity to jump off the front.
Gaudin again claimed maximum points, meaning he ended the day leading the King of the Mountains classification, and will wear the polka-dot jersey tomorrow.
After they dropped back into the peloton, Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) was the next to make a move, in order to claim three bonus seconds at an intermediate sprint 19km from the finish. Michał Kwiatkowski and Egan Bernal (both) Sky both trailed him to gain two and one seconds respectively.
Just when it looked as though, with 13km to go, that a chasing group featuring Soler was about to bridge up to the peloton, Team Sky upped the pace with the dangerous trio of Bernal, Kwiatkowski and Luke Rowe, managing to drop some dangerous rivals including Miguel Angel Lopez.
There was another flurry of action at a second intermediate sprint 3km from the finish, where Kwiatkowski won a sprint ahead of Sanchez and Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ).
Philippe Gilbert capitalised on the lack of organisation from the depleted sprinter teams by attacking 2km from the line, and opened up a dangerous gap. But Jumbo-Visma got themselves organised in the final kilometre, bringing the Belgian back and setting up Groenewegen for the win.
As well as Lopez and Soler, Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), was among those to finish in the group 1-03 behind, while even further adrift were Meintjes, Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) and last year’s fourth-place finisher Ion Izagirre (Astana), who both finished 2-50 down.
Paris-Nice continues tomorrow with a stage from Les Breviaires to Bellegarde, which is again expected to favour the sprinters, and again holds the potential for crosswinds.
Paris-Nice 2019, stage one: Saint-Germain-en-Laye to Saint-Germain-en-Laye (138.5km)
1 Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, in 3-17-35
2 Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto Soudal
3 Fabio Jakobsen (Ned) Deceuninck-Quick-Step
4 Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe
5 John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo
6 Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott
7 Arnaud Démare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
8 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
9 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Vital Concept-B&B Hotel
10 Anthony Turgis (Fra) Direct Energie, all at same time
General classification after stage one
1 Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, in 3-17-25
2 Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto-Soudal, at 4s
3 Luis León Sanchez (Esp) Astana, at 5s
4 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky, at same time
5 Fabio Jakobsen (Ned) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 6s
6 Egan Bernal (Col) Team Sky, at 9s
7 Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at same time
8 Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 10s
9 John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo
10 Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott, all at same time