New Zealand’s Greg Henderson overpowered his rivals to win the Paris to Nice second leg on Monday, almost one year after claiming his maiden stage victory in the race.
The sprinters held sway after a windy 199km ride through the flat plains of the Beauce, a 5 hour journey in northern France marred by several minor crashes.
After a long break by Frenchmen Yoann Offredo, Maxime Bouet and Tony Gallopin, the peloton regrouped 30km from the line and Henderson edged out Australian Matthew Goss and Russian Denis Galimzyanov, who was celebrating his 24th birthday, for a carbon copy of his win last year in nearby Contres.
“It’s always fantastic here. It’s an amazing race, it’s the biggest race for me, it’s the Everest,” the New Zealander told reporters. “I was just sitting there waiting. It was a really long sprint and I was lucky to hold my speed to the line.”
Second-placed Henderson trails overall leader Thomas De Gendt of Belgium by 4 seconds heading into yesterday’s 202.5km stage to the Burgundy wine city of Nuits St Georges.
“I’m not too sure, I’ll have a go tomorrow. It will be full support for [Sky teammates] Brad Wiggins and Mick Rogers from now on,” Henderson said.
The 34-year-old Kiwi, who is married to 2005 pursuit world champion Katie Mactier, said his victory was in honor of the -victims of the recent Christchurch earthquake.
“I asked all my teammates to sign my [overall points] green jersey and we’ll auction it for the victims,” Henderson added.
Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck and German Tony Martin were involved in minor crashes on Monday, while Australian Heinrich Haussler fell in a roadside ditch but clawed his way back into the bunch and eventually finished fourth in the same time as the stage winner.
“It was crazy today, so nervy,” Henderson said. “Everyone was scared of the wind breaking the peloton to pieces. There were like 10 crashes ... and it was just a matter of staying at the front as much as possible.”
Forty kilometers from the finish at Amilly, escapees Bouet and Gallopin were stopped at a railway crossing and caught by the peloton.
They were allowed to restart with the same gap they had when the race was halted, only to be reined in a few kilometers down the road.