Jack Bauer, Tom Scully and George Bennett were back in action overnight in stage 1 of Paris-Nice. The ‘Race to the Sun’ as it’s affectionately known began in ideal fashion for Bennett’s teammate Dylan Groenewegen, who took the opening stage win in Saint-Germain-en-Laye ahead of Caleb Ewan and Fabio Jakobsen.
Also check out:
A bunch sprint and plenty of crosswinds were expected in equal measure for the opening stage of Paris-Nice 2019. The 77th edition of the race started and finished in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and took in a figure of eight circuit with two category 3 climbs. But although there was the expected bunch sprint, the race was far from predictable.
Racing began with a breakaway group of three riders going clear, courtesy of Damien Gaudin of Direct Energie, Amael Moinard of Arkea-Samsic and Romain Combaud of Delko Marseille Provence, but the exploits of the escapees at the front of the race seemed to pail in comparison to the effect that the race’s crosswinds had on some of the most prominent GC contenders in the gutter (literally). Both Egan Bernal of Team Sky and Rigoberto Uran of EF Education First found themselves off the side of the road as the extremely strong and blustery conditions took their toll on the riders.
At the front of the race as the day unfolded the likes of Deceuninck-Quick Step, Team Sky, EF Education First and Jumbo Visma rose up as the muscular teams dictating the race at the head of affairs, with Tom Scully playing a particularly prominent roll for EF Education First on behalf for teammate Rigoberto Uran; who overcame his early setback.
Scully, coming to Paris-Nice off the back of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, was sublime in his domestique role for Uran, shielding his Colombian teammate throughout the latter stages of the race as the winds bit, and chasing down a late move with 13km to go that saw the Team Sky trio of Luke Rowe, Egan Bernal and Michal Kwiatkowski.
Also very impressive was the presence of George Bennett and almost all of his Jumbo-Visma teammates at the head of the race when crunch point arrived. The stage was all about setting up Dylan Groenewegen, which the team did very effectively, but with 17km to go the climbing physique of George Bennett was seen commanding his Jumbo-Visma train at the very front of the race. Bennett wouldn’t stay there for long, settling at the back of the leading group of riders on the run in to the finish, but the strength of his team was evident, with 6 of the team’s seven riders in the front of the race for Groenewegen.
There were multiple motives present in the closing kilometres of the race. For Michal Kiwatkowski and Egan Bernal the ambition was to try and gain bonus seconds at the last intermediate sprint with 3km to go, and while Kwiatkowski was successful Bernal was denied by Luis Leon Sanchez of Astana and Rudy Molard of Groupama-FDJ. Their points would contribute to the GC campaign that they would be launching in earnest later on in the race, but from there attention turned to who would take the stage.
Philippe Gilbert of Deceuninck-Quick Step made a big attack that at one point looked like it might have done the job with 2km to go. However, with Jumbo-Visma desperate not to let this chance of victory – particularly in view of how visibly strong they were – slip away, Gilbert was caught with a kilometre remaining. The run in to the finish was dead straight and Jumbo-Visma were in control until Sonny Colbrelli of Bahrain-Merida launched his sprint from a long way out with Matteo Trentin of Mitchelton-SCOTT and John Degenkolb of Trek-Segafredo following.
Sam Bennett and Dylan Groenewegen were sat in 4th and 5th place when the Dutchman opened up his sprint, with Caleb Ewan following Groenewegen. In the mad dash for the line Ewan closed but was just denied as Groenewegen took the stage with Fabio Jakobsen of Deceuninck-Quick Step third and Sam Bennett fourth.
The damage in the GC battle from as early as day 1 was plain to see though. George Bennett was safe in the same group as teammate Groenewegen, but Marc Soler of Movistar – the defending champion – lost 1 minute along with Mikel Nieve of Mitchelton-SCOTT. Louis Meintjes of Dimension Data, Jack Bauer, Domenico Pozzovivo of Bahrain Merida, Simon Špilak of Katusha-Alpecin, Fabio Aru of UAE Team Emirates all finished together 2.42mins back.