Merlier sprints to victory on the opening stage of Paris-Nice

Belgian national champion tops Bennett and Pedersen in a bunch kick

Tim Merlier wins stage 1 of Paris-Nice
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tim Merlier (Soudal-QuickStep) sprinted to victory on the opening stage of the 2023 edition of Paris-Nice on Sunday, taking his fourth win of the young season in La Verrière to the southwest of Paris.

The 30-year-old Belgian out-kicked Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) at the end of a stage that did see at least a glimmer of GC action, as the likes of Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) and Tadej Pogačar himself (UAE-Team Emirates) tried their luck with big surges on the rolling climbs on the run-in to the finish.

Although none of the GC contenders were able to make their attacks stick for long, Pogačar was able to pick up six bonus seconds on the final climb, gaining an early advantage over rivals like Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) in the overall battle.

With his stage 1 victory, Merlier now sits atop the general classification with a four-second advantage over both Bennett and Pogačar heading into Monday's stage 2.

"It's a strong team and they believed in me today. It was a great lead out," Merlier said.

"It was a hard day definitely because a there was a lot of stress in the peloton. There was a steep climb 19 kilometres from the finish that was also big tactically. We had two men in there, and then we came back on the last climb. I survived well. Then Kasper Asgreen brought me to the front. From there on, the team kept working together, and I can't say how great it was to be in this train."

How it happened

The opening stage of Paris-Nice started and finished in La Verrière with 169.5 km of racing on what was essentially a large circuit of rolling hills. Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies) and Jonas Gregaard (Uno-X) were the main animators of the early goings, forming a two-rider break that spent much of the chilly day off the front.

The pack gave the move some breathing room at first, with the gap going up and over three minutes before it settled there or thereabouts for a while. With a handful of short but appetizing climbs before the finish, however, the peloton picked up the pace in the last 100km of racing and gradually started to pull the move back.

With some 50km left, the advantage was down to around one minute. With 30km to go, the move was caught.

Tension mounted as the pack approached the third-category Côte de Milon-la-Chapelle, a short climb whose gradients nonetheless hit double digits. With 25km to go, a crash saw several riders hit the deck but none of the major race favorites were involved. With 20km to go, Powless put in a big surge that forced splits in the bunch, with Pogačar looking strong in response as others scrambled to cover the move.

Things came back together before long, but then Powless fired off the front solo. This time, he was given a bit of space, taking a lead into the last 10km.

He was caught on the run-in to the day's final climb, the Côte de Dis-sept Tournants, where it was Pogačar's turn to fire a salvo. The two-time Tour de France winner managed to work his way clear of his rivals near the top of the climb, where he was the first to cross the intermediate sprint line for six bonus seconds ahead of Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies) and Dorian Godon (Ag2r Citroën). Pogačar pressed on, drawing Latour and Vingegaard with him briefly, but with little impetus in the move to keep pushing, the peloton reached them before long.

From there, things settled down again briefly as the sprinters' teams worked their way into place. Soudal-QuickStep took control at the front in the closing kilometers, putting Merlier in a strong position for the expected sprint, with Trek-Segafredo also near the head of the pack as riders went under the flamme rouge.

Bora-Hansgrohe made a well-timed surge to the front on the finishing straight, allowing Bennett to open the proceedings as he launched to his right. Merlier initially tucked in behind Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma) before exploding past on the Dutchman's left. Within moments, Merlier had pulled into the lead, and he maintained a healthy advantage all the way to the line.

Bennett settled for second, with Pedersen nabbing third ahead of Kooij. Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny) rounded out the top five.

Paris-Nice 2023 stage one: La Verrière to La Verrière (169.4km)

1. Tim Merlier (Bel) Soudal Quick-Step, in 3-50-52
2. Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe
3. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
4. Olav Kooij (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
5. Arnaud De Lie (Bel) Lotto Dstny
6. Michael Matthews (Aus) Jayco-AlUla
7. Bryan Coquard (Fra) Cofidis
8. Iván García Cortina (Spa) Movistar
9. Kaden Groves (Aus) Alpecin-Deceuninck
10. Arnaud Démare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, all at same time

General classification after stage 1

1. Tim Merlier (Bel) Soudal Quick-Step, in 3-50-42
2. Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 4s
3. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE-Team Emirates, at same time
4. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo, at 6s
5. Pierre Latour (Fra) TotalEnergies, at same time
6. Dorian Godon (Fra) Ag2r Citroën, at 8s
7. Olav Kooij (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 10s
8. Arnaud De Lie (Bel) Lotto Dstny
9. Michael Matthews (Aus) Jayco-AlUla
10. Bryan Coquard (Fra) Cofidis, all at same time

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