Demare claims Paris-Nice stage and lead again
March 4 th 2018 - 17:07
Already winner and first leader of Paris-Nice a year ago, French champion Arnaud Demare repeated the feat in Meudon but in a rather different finale. The Groupama-FDJ team leader, who held the Race to the sun's Yellow Jersey for several days in 2017, was not among the real favorites before the start in Chatou, 135 km up the road, as the finale was steep and cobbled, but he finally upstaged Spain's Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) and compatriot Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) in nail-biting final sprint. Belgium's Tim Wellens was a close fourth.
Three in the lead
The start was given to 154 riders at 13h42 in the pouring rain. On the gun, Jurgen Roelandts (BMC), Pierre-Luc Perichon (Fortuneo) and Pierre Rolland (Education First-Drapac) moved ahead and their lead quickly grew (1:40 at kilometer 10). At the first intermediate sprint of the day in Les Mesnuls (km 33), the gap reached its maximum of 3:35. Roelandts snatched three points and three seconds ahead of Rolland and Perichon. After the sprint, as the pack gathered momentum under the guidance of Julian Alaphilippe's Quick Step and Groupama-FDJ's Arnaud Demare team-mates, the gap kept decreasing.
As they tackled the first climb of the day, the 3rd category Cote des 17 Tournants (Km 79), their lead had gone down to 1:05 as Perichon led the way, followed by Rolland and Roelandts. The result on Cote de Meridon (km 85) was exactly the same, handing Perichon the first KOM jersey in this edition of the Race to the sun. The gap went up a bit as the three reached the plaque dedicated to Jacques Anquetil at Chateaufort (km 96) for a sprint again won by Roelandts ahead of Rolland and Perichon.
Van Garderen out
As the pace raised, a crash at kilometer 100 involved four riders, including American pre-race favorite Tejay Van Garderen (BMC), who was forced to call it quits. With 20 km to go, the three seemed to give up the fight but the peloton took its time to close the gap and only caught the escapees at km 121. Mitchelton-Scott, Astana and Lotto-Soudal took turns in the final 10 km leading to the Meudon observatory. A crash, involving Ilnur Zakarin and Jakob Fuglsang, took place shortly before the last climb when France's Alexis Vuillermoz surged.
Demare in unusual fashion
The AG2R rider, winner of a similar stage in Mur de Bretagne on the Tour de France two years ago, seemed to have the upper hand but he faltered in the long cobbled last stretch and was overtaken by the front of the bunch, led by Gorka Izagirre, who battled it out with Demare, Laporte and Wellens. Demare threw his bike to the line in despair and the outcome was so close that the four top finishers had to wait for the photo-finish to discover who had actually won. The laurels went to an elated Demare.