Crash marks Paris-Nice GC in opening stage

Barguil was kicked out of race for chasing too long behind a team car in aftermath of crash that trims GC field

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A crash with about 60km to go did more harm than the coronavirus in the opening stage of Paris-Nice on Sunday.

With organizers doing all they can to limit the impact of COVID-19, racing remains as treacherous as ever. A crash and subsequent split in the peloton late in Sunday’s thrilling opening stage paid consequences for GC hopes across the peloton at Paris-Nice.

Only 30 riders finished in the front group Sunday, with riders such as Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Tejay van Garderen (EF Pro Cycling) and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) among top names who ceded 1:44 or more on a fast, rainy stage. Several sprinters, including Elia Viviani (Cofidis) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), also missed out on a chance for the win as the peloton fractured under pressure from the crash and a high pace set at the front by Deceuninck-Quick-Step.

Worse off was Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic), who was disqualified after the race jury ruled he followed too long behind a team car trying to chase back to the bunch. Team captain Nairo Quintana, however, finished safely in the front group to keep alive his GC ambitions.

“I accept the decision of the commissioners to exclude me from Paris-Nice, even if it undermines all my preparation for the start of the season,” Barguil wrote on Instagram. “I didn’t want to do wrong, nor did my sports director. I was just groggy after my fall and taking shelter behind the car was [difference] between giving up or continuing the race.”

Arkea-Samsic sport director Arnaud Gérard was also fined by the UCI jury and the team sees its car relegated to last in the caravan for Monday’s second stage. Quintana, who has won two stage races so far early in 2020, retained his GC chances.

“It was a mixed day for us,” Gérard said. “We are happy that Nairo remains in the game at the end of a difficult day, but it’s a big disappointment with Warren’s fall.”

Bardet — who switched from Tirreno-Adriatico to Paris-Nice after the Italian race was canceled — finished 2:42 back, meaning his GC ambitions are all but finished.

“It was a difficult day,” said Ag2r-La Mondiale boss Vincent Lavenu. “Romain was caught up behind the crash, and the weather made things even more complicated. Of course things are complicated now for the GC, but the team is committed to racing to the maximum.”

EF Pro Cycling kept Sergio Higuita and Michael Woods safely in the front group in what everyone agreed was a chaotic day.

“There was a big split with the crash,” Woods said. “Sergio, who is our main guy for this week, was also caught behind it, but the benefit of having such a strong team and also having really good information from Andreas [Klier] meant that we were also able to stay calm and tie everything back together and animate the race.”

Paris-Nice continues Monday with the 166.5km from Chevreuse to Chalette-sur-Loing in a relatively flat stage, but crosswinds could put the peloton under pressure.

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