Vaconsoleil-DCM got a chance to briefly forget their problems this afternoon as Thomas de Gendt won the opening stage of Paris-Nice, the young Belgian one of three riders to jump off the front of the peloton with a little under 40km and doing just enough to cross the finish line in Houdan with the peloton almost breathing down his neck.
The 24-year-old, familiar to British fans after taking the mountains and sprint classifications in the 2009 Tour of Britain, raced off the front of the main bunch with Leopard Trek’s Jens Voigt to chase down an attack by FDJ’s Jeremy Roy less than a kilometre after an earlier two-man breakaway had been swept up.
The peloton seemed happy to let the trio go, and they quickly established a lead of nearly a minute. With 20km left to race, that had been halved to around 30 seconds and the break seemed doomed to failure.
However, with no one team managing to impose itself at the front of the peloton and windy conditions causing problems, the escapees still had a lead of 10 seconds or so as they passed under the flamme rouge and into the closing kilometre.
It was de Gendt who seized his chance as the chasing bunch, towed by a massive turn from Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, belatedly closed the gap, and the former Topsport Vlanderen-Mercator rider held on to win by several bike lengths, Roy also keeping just ahead of the peloton to claim second. Garmin-Cervelo’s Heinrich Haussler was the first of the pursuing riders over the line in third place.
Today’s victory by one of Vancansoleil-DCM’s lest heralded close-season signings will provide welcome respite for the team as it waits to hear whether it has secured a place in the year’s first Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia, the teams for which will be announced tomorrow.
Having moved up from Professional Continental status in 2010 to secure a ProTeam license for the current season, Vacansoleil-DCM should have been an automatic invitee to the Giro, which begins in Turin on Saturday 7 May.
However, the sacking of Riccardo Riccò last month and the ongoing uncertainty regarding the future of another high-profile signing, 2010 Vuelta runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera, have given rise to speculation that the team will not receive an invitation from Giro organisers RCS Sport.
Riccò was fired by the team in the wake of his hospitalisation as a result of what appears to be a botched attempt at a self-administered blood transfusion, while Mosquera is awaiting the results of a B sample analysis after testing positive during the Vuelta for hydroxyethyl starch, sometimes used to mask EPO.
Whatever the decision over his team’s participation in the Giro, tomorrow will see de Gendt don the race leader’s yellow jersey for the 199km Stage 2 from Montfort l’Amaury, southwest of Paris, to Amilly as it begins its week-long journey to the Cote d’Azur.
Paris Nice: Overall standing after Stage 1*
1 DE GENDT Thomas VACANSOLEIL-DCM 4h 04' 53" 2 ROY Jérémy FDJ + 00' 06" 3 HAUSSLER Heinrich TEAM GARMIN - CERVELO + 00' 09" 4 GAUDIN Damien TEAM EUROPCAR + 00' 10" 5 VOIGT Jens TEAM LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 11" 6 FEILLU Romain VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 00' 12" 7 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 00' 13" 8 HENDERSON Greg SKY PROCYCLING (all others s.t.) 9 WEYLANDT Wouter TEAM LEOPARD-TREK 10 WYSS Danilo BMC RACING TEAM 11 STEEGMANS Gert QUICK STEP CYCLING TEAM 12 DUMOULIN Samuel COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE 13 HUNTER Robert TEAM RADIOSHACK 14 GOSS Matthew HTC - HIGHROAD 15 ROELANDTS Jurgen OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO 16 VACHON Florian BRETAGNE - SCHULLER 17 JEANNESSON Arnold FDJ 18 GAVAZZI Francesco LAMPRE - ISD 19 DELPECH Jean Luc BRETAGNE - SCHULLER 20 RUIJGH Rob VACANSOLEIL-DCM
55 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 59 THOMAS Geraint SKY PROCYCLING 104 LLOYD Daniel TEAM GARMIN - CERVELO 137 HUNT Jeremy SKY PROCYCLING * All riders listed were given the same finishing time for the stage of 4h 05' 06", gaps in overall classification are due to time bonuses
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.