Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) battled his way to victory on stage one of the Critérium du Dauphiné in Saint-Vulbas, sprinting past Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) for the win.
The final kilometre of the race was a running battle between Bouhanni’s Cofidis team and Alexander Kristoff’s Katusha, with heads butted as both squads vied for prime real estate on the straight road to the finish.
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It was Bennett who opened his sprint first, but Bouhanni bided his time and sped past the Irishman in the final 50 metres to notch his third Dauphiné win.
Just two riders got themselves out in the breakaway early in the day – Mitch Docker (Orica-GreenEdge) and Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) had a lead of over five minutes at one stage.
Docker dropped off with around 25 to go and Backaert was caught 10km later as the sprint teams got into position, desperate not to miss the only real bunch sprint opportunity of the week.
Crosswinds forced the overall contenders to hit the front, making the front of the peloton a nervy place, with the back of the bunch very strung out.
Chris Froome (Team Sky), wearing the polka dot jersey after the prologue, averted crisis twice in a matter of seconds, nearly clashing with riders either side of him as his team tried to keep him safe at the end.
Froome’s wobbles were just the start of the action as Katusha and Cofidis butted heads in the final kilometre as the two sprint trains tangled at the front of the bunch. Bouhanni spent much of his time with his head on Kristoff’s shoulder before Bennett launched his sprint.
Following the Irishman, Bouhanni blocked Kristoff’s route around his final Katusha lead-out man meaning the Norwegian couldn’t contest the sprint.
Crossing the line first, Bouhanni threw a few air punches in celebration – not in homage to the handbags that preceded the sprint, but in memory of boxer Muhammad Ali who died at the weekend.
Tuesday’s stage two is one for the puncheurs, with a modest uphill finish in Chalmazel.
Critérium du Dauphiné 2016 stage one, Cluses – Saint-Vulbas (186km)
1. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis, in 4-27-53
2. Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
3. Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Argon18
4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data
5. Jonas Vangenechten (Bel) IAM Cycling
6. Moreno Hofland (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
7. Tony Hurel (Fra) Direct Energie
8. Sondre Holst Enger (Nor) IAM Cycling
9. Daryl Imprey (RSA) Orica-GreenEdge
10. Edward Theuns (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert, all same time
Critérium du Dauphiné 2016, overall standings after stage one
1. Alberto Contador (Esp) Tinkoff, in 4-39-29
2. Richie Porte (Aus) BMC, at 6s
3. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, at 13s
4. Daniel Martin (Irl) Etixx-Quick Step, at 21s
5. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx-Quick Step, at 24s
6. Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky, at 25s
7. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 29s
8. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge, at 31s
9. Diego Rosa (Ita) Astana, at 37s
10. José Herrada (Esp) Movistar, at 39s