Sam Bennett provided more evidence that he’s the sprinter to beat in 2021 after outclassing his rivals on Paris-Nice stage one.
The Irishman timed his sprint well, crossing the line with his hands aloft, having beaten Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) into second and former world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) into third.
Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) took fourth ahead of Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels p/b KTM), while Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) had to settle for sixth after an exemplary lead-out, the German just lacking the watts to finish the job off. André Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation) continues his age-defying start to 2021, finishing inside the top 10 in ninth place.
Bennett will wear the leader’s jersey on stage two, the first Irishman to do so since Sean Kelly.
As well as a crash in the closing kilometre that took out a member of Démare’s sprint train, an earlier touch of wheels in the peloton brought down Richie Porte with 35km to go. The 36-year-old got off his bike to receive medical attention but soldiered on for another 20km before abandoning his debut race for Ineos Grenadiers.
How it happened
Stage one saw the 165km-long route split into two laps, starting and finishing in Saint-Cyr-L’École. Fabien Doubey was the first instigator, getting himself up the road but with no-one else keen to follow the Total Direct Energie rider was left to plough on solo.
The Frenchman’s advantage was out to more than five minutes after 40km of racing, taking the KOM points atop the first two climbs of the day, the Côte de Senlisse and Côte de Méridon, which would both be climbed again on the second lap.
Tim Declerq was marshalling proceedings for Deceuninck – Quick-Step, keen to put Sam Bennett in the yellow jersey at the end of the day, as Doubey’s lead was down to around three minutes at the end of the first lap with 80km remaining.
Doubey also picked up three bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint, while Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) took two ahead of Ineos’ Ben Swift, who took the final one second on offer.
With help from Trek-Segafredo and Groupama-FDJ Doubey was slowly being reeled in, under two minutes with 70km to go, as a crash brought down Ineos’ Laurens De Plus.
As the race ticked along quietly, Philippe Gilbert decided to spice things up, taking off with 57km to go, Lotto-Soudal team-mate Stefano Oldani on his wheel and followed by Chris Lawless (Total Direct Energie) and Anthony Perez (Cofidis). Much to Gilbert’s frustration, Lawless refused to work with his team-mate up the road, as the quartet caught up to Doubey after 5km.
Not willing to carry passengers, Gilbert attacked again, dropping Lawless, and the peloton only 20 seconds behind. The former world champion persevered with the move, just being left to dangle off the front by the bunch over the next 10km, as Richie Porte then hit the deck, Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana) and Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic) also held up. Grimacing, Porte returned to his feet, remounting before getting back off his bike and leaning over the bonnet of the medical car.
Eventually, the Tasmanian clipped back in once more, but having been left behind by team-mate Rohan Dennis, Porte’s GC hopes were over.
Doubey led over the second ascent of the Senlisse to secure himself the mountain’s jersey, and it was on the next final climb that the race came back together with 25km to go.
Lotto-Soudal weren’t done just yet, however, as Kobe Goosens shot off the front of the bunch, as Kaden Groves (BikeExchange) and Ben Swift (Ineos Grenadiers) were held up in another crash.
Goosens was left off the front for the next 10km, before Michael Matthews surged forward to take the three bonus seconds on offer in the second intermediate sprint of the day, Tiesj Benoot (DSM) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) taking the other time bonifications.
Pierre Latour (Total Direct Energie) then took off, dragging other riders with him, including Benoot and Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo). Soon taking out an advantage of 10 seconds, Vlasov and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) sensed an opportunity and tried to bridge across the gap.
Just as the Astana duo were about to make the juncture the race was back together, Cyril Gautier (B&B Hotels) the last man to be brought back into the fold.
The news then filtered through that behind Richie Porte had abandoned the race, as the sprinter’s teams began to get organised for the finale.
Trek-Segafredo led the peloton past the Palace of Versailles, before Groupama-FDJ moved their man Arnaud Démare up.
The French team led into the final 2km, before Deceuninck – Quick-Step finally arrived, Démare in fourth wheel under the flamme rouge.
A crash erupted behind as Bora-Hansgrohe brought Ackermann up, Bennett and Démare latching on to his wheel.
Waiting and waiting, Ackermann finally opened up his sprint, as Bennett and Démare came around either side, but Démare was no match for the Irishman, Bennett surging ahead to take the stage win and overall lead.
Paris-Nice, stage one: Saint-Cyr-L’École to Saint-Cyr-L’École (165.8km)
1. Sam Bennett (Ire) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, in 3-51-38
2. Arnaud Démare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at same time
3. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
4. Jasper Philipsen (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
5. Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM
6. Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
7. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain-Victorious
8. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis
9. André Greipel (Ger) Israel Start-Up Nation
10. Rudy Barbier (Fra) Israel Start-Up Nation, all at same time
General classification after stage one
1. Sam Bennett (Ire) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, in 3-51-28
2. Arnaud Démare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at four seconds
3. Michael Matthews (Aus) BikeExchange, at 5s
4. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo, at 6s
5. Ben Swift (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 9s
6. Jasper Philipsen (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix, at 10s
7. Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM, at same time
8. Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
9. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain-Victorious
10. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, all at same time