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Paris-Nice stage 1: Sam Bennett muscles to win in hectic sprint

Richie Porte abandons after heavy fall while Bennett continues his strong start to the season.

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Sam Bennett won the opening stage of Paris-Nice on Sunday.

The Deceuninck-Quick-Step fastman launched a long, powerful sprint on the hoods of his handlebars to beat Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Mads Pedersen (Trek Segafredo).

“The guys did a fantastic job again,” Bennett said shortly after taking his third win of the season. “We were a little blocked in, and with the straight roads, it was chaotic. The narrowing in the last 500 meters made it very tricky. They put me on the wheel with one kilometer to go. I was happy to finish the job off, really happy.”

There was a fierce battle between the sprint teams on the final stretch into Saint-Cyr-L’École, with Trek-Segafredo, Team DSM, Cofidis and Groupama-FDJ among those elbowing at the front in a field stacked with sprint talent.

Groupama-FDJ led out the sprint before Bora-Hansgrohe overhauled them to position Pascal Ackermann, while Bennett and his teammates came up late. Démare and Ackermann launched first, but Bennett came off of the German’s wheel to punch away with a hard, aggressive sprint.

Bennett had taken two wins at the UAE Tour last month among a strong sprinter field, and the 30-year-old’s win Sunday showed his form in the Emirates was no fluke.

“I was a bit worried coming back here, the whole day thinking maybe the legs wouldn’t be there in the sprints,” Bennett said. “I am happy the shape is good now.”

Philippe Gilbert on the attack

Fabien Doubey (Total Direct Energie) went out on a long breakaway after an hour of racing and was alone for some 100-kilometers.

As Doubey’s advantage began to tumble as the race entered its final hour, Philippe Gilbert and Stefano Oldani (both Lotto-Soudal) attacked out of the peloton, with Anthony Perez (Cofidis) bridging across to them. The trio soon linked up with Doubey to make a foursome out front with a 30-second gap on the bunch.

Gilbert put the pace into the breakaway, but with a number of sprinter’s teams cranking the pace behind, the race all came back together with 30km remaining.

Richie Porte caught in crash

Richie Porte suffered a disaster start to his Ineos Grenadiers career.

The Aussie veteran was caught in a crash in the bunch in the final 35km of racing and was pictured holding his hip in pain. Porte was attended to by race medics before gingerly climbing back onto his bike. The tw0-time Paris-Nice champ rode on for another 20km before pulling the plug to abandon. There has been no update on his condition as yet.

Strong group threatens the sprinters in final 15km

A powerful septet dashed off the front at 15km to go, with Pierre Latour (Total Direct Energie) and Søren Kragh Andersen (DSM) among those in the move. Aleksandr Vlasov and Luis León Sánchez tried to bridge for Astana-Premier Tech, but as the break started to look like it could get out of hand, the sprint teams snuffed it out at 10km to go to set up the bunch kick.

What’s next

Monday’s 188km second stage from Oinville-sur-Montcient to Amilly is nearly pan-flat and is all but guaranteed to see the other sprinters to bounce back after losing out to Bennett on the opening stage. Crosswinds can be a danger across the flat farmland south of Paris.

Results will be available once stage has completed.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.