FDJ.fr sprinter triumphs on opening day of Race to the Sun for second year running

Nacer Bouhanni of FDJ.fr has won the opening stage of Paris-Nice for the second year in a row. The 23-year-old, who had crashed earlier in the stage, beat Giant-Shimano’s John Degenkolb and Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Gianni Meersman to win the sprint in Montes-la-Jolie. Meanwhile, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde won the second edition of Roma Maxima in Italy.

Bouhanni’s crash, which left him with a bloodied knee, was one of several during today’s first stage of the ‘Race to the Sun,’ while BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen abandoned through illness.

Last year Bouhanni crashed heavily on Stage 2 while in the leader’s jersey, landing on his face and having to be taken to hospital, but today’s chute was thankfully less severe, although he did have to drop back to the doctor’s car for treatment.

Today’s 162.5km stage took in four laps of a circuit based around Mantes-la-Jolie, and always looked likely to end in a bunch sprint, but it was contested by a smaller than expected group after a crash split the field with a little under 20km left, causing a number of riders to lose time.

Earlier, the day’s sole breakaway rider, Christophe Laborie of Bretagne-Séché Environnement, had been caught by the bunch having already amassed enough points on today’s climbs to ensure he will keep the mountains jersey for a couple of days.

BMC Racing said that van Garderen’s abandonment after around 80km was due to “Intestinal problems.” The American rider believes he could have caught a stomach bug while flying from Nice to Paris on Friday.

"It felt like my sickness was getting better,” he said. “Today, I woke up and I felt OK. But I was really just empty. I couldn't take in calories and just had nothing in the muscles."

The team’s director, Max Sciandri, told race radio that the team’s efforts will now be focused on British rider Steve Cummings.

Missing from the start of the race was last year’s winner, Richie Porte of Team Sky who changed his plans at the 11th hour and will ride Tirreno-Adriatico instead after Chris Froome pulled out of that race due to a back injury.

The late withdrawal didn’t impress race director Christian Prudhomme, who told AFP: “We find it cavalier to have the reigning champion pull out just before the start,” he said.

“We were told that to win points for the world rankings, the Tirreno was more favourable [for Porte] due to its technical characteristics and the presence of an time trial.”

In the Italian capital, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde just held off a rapidly closing peloton in the shadow of the Coliseum to win the second edition of Roma Maxima.

The Spaniard had got away from the lead group with AG2R’s Domenico Pozzovivo with 37km left, but their advantage tumbled in the closing three kilometres or so.

Pozzovivo was overhauled metres short of the line, second place going to his team mate Davide Appollonio, with Bardiani-CSF’s Sonny Colbrelli third.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.