Team Sky's Gregory Henderson snatched an impressive victory in the first stage of Paris-Nice, between Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines and Contres.
The New Zealander stole a march on 17 riders in the final bunch to take the win, with Grega Bole (Lampre) and Jeremy Galland (Saur Sojasun) coming in second and third, David Millar (Garmin Transistions) was also handily placed in the final break and is now jumps to third placed overall 13 seconds down on overall race leader Lars Boom of Rabobank.
The finale was marked with a pair of spectacular crashes, leaving both RadioShack's Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador reeling. Tour de France winner Contador crashed with just 3km to go, and although he got back on he was never able to gain ground on the final group.
Overall, the stage proved a tricky one with several of the main contenders losing time on overall leader Lars Boom who retains the yellow jersey. Afterwards Boom told the official Paris Nice website:
"It was tough, nervous but it was OK, the team managed to keep the race under control. In the end, Valverde attacked and I was able to go with them. In the end, it was a hard day but a good day. In Holland, we have lots of classic like this with crosswinds, the team knows how to handle this."
175 riders set off this morning to tackle the 201.Km route between Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines and Contres the wind played a part throughout with the final sprint running straight in to a headwind – stage winner Greg Henderson described it afterwards as "sprinting in slow motion". Before that could happen though there was the matter of catching the two man break. Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano) followed hot on the heels of Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) when he jumped clear of the bunch a mere 3Km in. The duo quickly built up an impressive lead getting as much 6:20 ahead. Unfortunately that was after only 32Km and they were never able to stretch their advantage further leaving the bunch almost 170Km to reel them back in which they duly did in Santenay after 149Km.
The catch though merely set up another break as Timmer's Skil Shimano teamate Tom Veelers and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma Lotto) the pair got a minute down the road, but the sprinting teams were never going to let them get away and they were duly caught with 16KM to go. Again, the catch provided the chance for a break and this time 17 riders took advantage including Alejandro Valverde of Caisse D'Epargne and three teamates, Luis Leon Sanchez among them race leader Lars Boom was also there and a group fo 17 riders took shape, also including Jens Voigt, Tony Martin, Roman Kreuziger, Nicolas Roche, David Millar, Grega Bole, Serguei Ivanov, Alexandr Kolobnev, Greg Henderson, Marco Marcato, Jeremy Galland and Cyril Lemoine.
1) Greg Henderson (Team Sk) (4:22:17)
2) Grega Bole (Lampre) (same time)
3) Jérémie Galland (Saur-Sojasun) (same)
4) Alexandr Kolobnev (Katyusha) (same)
5) Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) (same)
6) Nicolas Roche (AG2R) (same)
7) Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) (same)
8) Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil) (same)
9) Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia) (same)
10) Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) (same)
1) Lars Boom (Rabobank) (4:33:11) 2) Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) (+5) 3) David Millar (Garmin Transistions) (+13) 4) Luis León Sánchez (Caisse D'Epargne) (+14) 5) Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) (+15) 6) Greg Henderson (Team Sky) (+20) 7) Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) (+25) 8) Alberto Contador (ESP) Astana (+25) 9) Peter Sagan (Liquigas) (+29) 10) Xavier Tondo (Cervélo) (+29)