Monday, 7 March 2011

Henderson take the win on stage 2 ahead of race leader De Gent

Once again the weather was on the side of the peloton as they began their 199km route to Amilly on this crisp spring day. The sun may have been shinning in a cloudless sky but it did little to warm the riders as they made their way out of the Yvelines department and headed south into the Loiret department town of Amilly. Slovakia’s Martin Velits (THR) was the only rider not to start, having been injured in a crash during yesterdays opening stage.

Following his victory, Vacansoleil rider De Gent leads Jeremy Roy (FDJ) by six seconds and Heinrich Haussler (Garmin) by nine seconds. Toping the board in the young rider classification and the sprint competition he wears the GC leaders yellow jersey while the green jersey is worn by Roy and Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Liquigas), wears the white jersey. Europcar’s Damien Gaudin wears the polka dot jersey and with no registered climbs on this stage, he is set to continue into stage 3 wearing it.

At the gun an attack by Yoann Offredo (FDJ), Maxime Bouet (AG2R) and Tony Gallopin (Cofidis), all under 25, confirmed that this 69th edition of Paris-Nice is an ideal showcase for the up-and-coming generation, following yesterday’s first break by two under-25 riders, Damien Gaudin and Gorka Izagirre; the stage being won by Thomas de Gendt aged just 24.

Ratcheting up a lead of 5 minutes over the peloton, Vacansoleil came to the fore to bring the time gap down to secure their man in his standing as race leader. Stabilizing the lead to around 4:50 minutes by the first sprint it was Gallopin who took the maximum points as the race headed towards Pithiviers where in 2004, a "bordure", led by the CSC team, took shape allowing 30 riders to break from the main pack and reach Montargis with a five-minute lead. Franck Schleck, Michael Rogers, Jens Voigt, Christophe Le Mevel, Sylvain Cahavanel and Geoffroy Lequatre were among the riders who then took advantage of the echelon and the ensuing split.

At the 83km mark Yoann Offredo was swallowed up by the pack as they worked hard to bring the escaping group back, but without Offredo, the breakaway seemed to gain momentum and by the feeding station the gap had increased to just over 6 minutes.

Eager to prove their worth in the opening of their second season, team Sky came to the head of the peloton to drive the tempo up. With panic starting to set in riders began to get dropped, as the peloton risked fracturing under the pressure.

As the gap fell to around a minute the group of riders unable to keep to the hammering pace being set by Sky trailed behind the main bunch 40 seconds back. Up in front and sensing the panicked efforts of the chasing peloton the escaping duo worked together to bring their lead back up. With Vacansoleil fearing a second victory for a breakaway group and the yellow jersey slipping from their man, they took the reigns from Sky to drive the tempo again to reel the duo in.

With the gap coming down to around a minute, the pressure began to take its toll with a crash in the main field involving Andriy Grivko (Astana), Johan van Summeren (Garmin) and Simone Ponzi (Liquigas) saw the peloton splinter even further. The gap falling to around 45' a second crash saw Frank Schleck hit the deck along with many others as Maxime Bouet and Tony Gallopin were stopped by a railway crossing; the peloton stopped in turn.

The duo allowed to start again with their 45 seconds lead over the bunch, it wasn't long before Gallopin slowed allowing Bouet to continue a solo effort leaving himself to be caught by the ever chasing pack. Holding his own and a lead that had now diminished to 20 seconds, Bouet continued to evade the hungry peloton as Australia’s Heinrich Haussler (Garmin) crashed into the roadside ditch. But with only a 20 second lead it wasn't long before Bouet was caught, as the peloton breathed a sigh of relief.

With just 30km left Tony Martin (THR)was the next casualty from within the bunch as he crashed to the ground, his team mates bringing him back by the 25km mark. The peloton regrouping, Rabobank and Movistar came to the fore looking for an opportunity to break it up once more. With 18 kms to go, the mass sprint scenario seemed more and more likely, with Greg Henderson looking to repeat his victory in similar conditions two years ago.

A nervous peloton fractured into three groups headed into the final 13km, the leading group being headed by Astana's Tomas Vaitkus and Alexandre Vinokourov with some 20 riders including Jakob Fuglsang, who crashed earlier, former escapees Yoann Offredo and Maxime Bouet, Christophe Riblon and Sergio Paulinho struggling to maintain the high tempo. With just 2.5km remaining, Luis-Leon Sanchez punctured. Sensing a golden opportunity, race leader De Gent attacked but his solo effort was quickly shut down as HTC Columbia took control of the sprint, bringing their man Matt Goss into contention for a win however it was Sky's Greg Henderson who crossed the line first snatching the victory from his rivals.

Tomorrow the riders will tackle the 202km from Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire to Nuits-Saint-Georges as the race visits the Morvan Natural Park, whose undulating roads should favour a lively stage. Following the pelotons arrival in Côte-d’Or, the riders will follow the Bourgogne canal and then ride among vineyards for over 25 kilometres before reaching one of its most prestigious towns: Nuits-Saint-Georges. It remains to be seen whether there will be a repeat of 1977, when a sprinter took the stage in the home of the Nuitons.

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