France’s Arnaud Demare won a sprint finish as snow fell on the first stage of the Paris-Nice race on Monday, with Australia’s Michael Matthews holding the overall race lead.
FDJ rider Demare, junior world champion in 2011 and French champion in 2014, crossed ahead of Britain’s Ben Swift and France’s Nacer Bouhanni after the 198km stage of the “Race to the Sun” between Conde-sur-Vesgre and Vendome, southwest of Paris.
Swift launched the sprint, but was caught, with 24-year-old Demare claiming his second success of the season after a stage in the Tour of the Mediterranean last month.
“It is a victory that I have waited a long time for,” Demare said. “There were a lot of setbacks last season. I put a lot in last year and it did not pay off. I put in even more this winter. The legs are good, I am ready to challenge.”
Riders had to tackle demanding conditions, with freezing temperatures, snowfall and sections of dirt roads.
“It was important not be trapped by the cold during the stage. We knew there was a cross wind and we reacted straight away,” Demare said. “On the final climb, I chose to stay back and allow myself to be carried by the movement. My choice was rewarded, it was a great victory.”
“This is going to give me and my teammates confidence,” he added.
Prologue winner Matthews crossed in fifth to hold the leader’s yellow jersey.
The 25-year-old World Championship silver medalist leads by three seconds thanks to two intermediate bonus seconds.
“It was a hard day all day, but I am not afraid of extreme conditions,” Matthews said. “It would be nice to win a stage, but the jersey was the main focus.”
“The final lap was tougher than I expected. I saw that some of the general classification guys were up there, so I had to make the effort to chase them. Maybe it took away some of my energy for the sprint,” the Orica-GreenEdge team leader added. “My team worked all day and I found myself a bit isolated in the final lap. I had to keep an eye on the general classification guys.”
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