French rider Nacer Bouhanni overtook Italian veteran Alessandro Petacchi in a sprint to the line to win the first stage of the Paris-Nice on Monday.
Bouhanni overtook Petacchi in the final 100m and clocked a time of 4 hours, 47 minutes, 24 seconds over the flat 195km trek from Saint-Germain-en-Laye to Nemours.
Italian sprinter Elia Viviani finished third in the same time.
Bouhanni took the race leader’s yellow jersey from countryman Damien Gaudin, winner of Sunday’s short prologue. Gaudin remains second overall ahead of another Frenchman, Sylvain Chavanel.
“To be able to wear the yellow jersey on the Paris-Nice is huge,” Bouhanni said. “A lot of people spoke to me about Paris-Nice. I was very much in demand and I knew people were expecting a lot from me. Winning the first stage will be liberating for me.”
German rider Marcel Kittel and Tom Boonen of Belgium were among the pre-stage favorites, but got left behind when the peloton split with 20km to go and could not catch up.
Race contender Rui Costa of Portugal, winner of last year’s Tour de Suisse, pulled out after hurting his left wrist following a crash.
French cyclist Pierrick Fedrigo also withdrew during the stage after failing to shake off a bout of flu.
Lance Armstrong faces the prospect of losing his Legion of Honor medal after French officials announced on Monday that an inquiry will be opened following his admission that he doped during his Tour de France wins.
Armstrong was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur in 2005 in recognition of his seven consecutive Tour victories. The American admitted to doping during all of those wins and has been stripped of the titles.
“An inquiry will be opened to see if there is cause or not to take his Legion of Honor away from him,” Francois Sourd, top aide to the head of the Legion of Honor, said by telephone. “Mr Armstrong will shortly be made aware of the procedure,” at which point he can “present his defense” if he chooses.
Armstrong always denied using drugs throughout his career, but owned up to doping in a television interview with Oprah Winfrey in January.
“When the newspapers started talking about this, we started to gather information,” Sourd said, adding that it is only “the initial stage” of the inquiry and that Armstrong could keep his medal if there is no recommendation to strip him following the investigation.
In October last year, the US Anti-Doping Agency released a report that included affidavits from 11 of Armstrong’s former teammates.
The affidavits detailed how Armstrong’s teammates were pressured to dope and supplied with EPO — a banned hormone that increases oxygen-carrying red blood cells — by Armstrong and then-team manager Johan Bruyneel.
They also said they saw Armstrong inject drugs himself.
The Legion of Honor is France’s highest award and is often awarded for military service. It was begun by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1820.