Giacomo Nizzolo put in a perfect performance to take a breathless stage two of Paris-Nice 2020.
The Italian sprinter was one of just a handful of riders to survive the crosswinds and contest the finish, as he went head-to-head with German sprint star Pacal Ackermann in the sprint.
Ackermann had the upper hand in the final kilometre, with Peter Sagan working as his lead-out man, but Ackermann went too soon and faded at the line, slipping back as NTT Pro Cycling rider Nizzolo blasted past to take the stage.
Bora-Hansgrohe had ridden a near-flawless stage, but were still able to maintain the race lead with Max Schachmann finishing in the front group.
How it happened
Another alleged sprint stage was predicted on stage two of Paris-Nice, but nothing is guaranteed in northern France at this time of year.
The 166.5km stage from Chevreuse just outside Paris to Chalette-sur-Loing featured a lumpy opening section, with only two categorised climbs along the road – the 1.4km Côte de Bouville at 66km and the 1.1km Côte du Pressoir just after at 75km.
Then there were no major features on the course, before a pan-flat 120km to the line.
Early in the race, just two riders made the jump into the breakaway, as Jonathan Hivert (Total Direct Energie) and José Manuel Díaz (Nippo Delko One Provence) went clear and built up a two-minute advantage.
But the pair were caught early in the rain-drenched conditions, as the peloton was all together with 60km to race.
The cross tailwinds finally came into play with around 30km to race, as the peloton mashed its way through the French countryside at speed.
Cracks in the bunch quickly formed, with Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) being dropped early, Sam Bennett (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) missing out in the splits, while Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) made the front group but punctured and had to sat up, eventually joining most of his team-mates a long way back on the road.
Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) was caught in a crash and also dropped back.
The front group consisted of around 30 riders, but with around 10km to race Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) put in a huge surge and split up the group again, with his team-mate Pascal Ackermann making it in, as well as race leader Max Schachmann and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo).
Into the final kilometre and just 11 riders remained in contention, with Ackermann the strongest sprinter of the bunch, followed by Nizzolo and Stuyven.
Sagan hit the front and put in a blast for Ackermann, fading around 200 metres out as his team-mate then launched past him, but Ackermann had been left too far from the line to maintain his sprint after a tough day in the saddle.
As Ackermann sat back down, Nizzolo jumped onto the pedals and surged through to take the victory, while Ackermann took second and Stuyven finishing third.
Race leader Schachmann finished just three seconds behind the winner to hold onto the jersey, with 15 seconds to spare over Nizzolo who now sits second overall.
Paris-Nice stage two: Chevreuse to Chalette-sur-Loing (166.5km)
1.Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) NTT Pro Cycling, 3-49-57
2. Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
3. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
4. Nils Politt (Ger) Israel Start-Up Nation
5. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Pro Cycling, all at same time
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 3s
8. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
9. Felix Grossschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
10. Krists Neilands (Lat) Israel Start-Up Nation, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Max Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, 7-22-06
2. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) NTT Pro Cycling, at 15s
3. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo, at 21s
4. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Pro Cycling, at 23s
5. Nils Politt (Ger) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 25s
6. Mads Würtz Schmidt (Den) Israel Start-Up Nation, at same time
7. Felix Grossschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 28s
8. Krists Neilands (Lat) Israel Start-Up Nation
9. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, all at same time
10. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Sunweb, at 38s