Kittel wins stage as Viviani takes Paris-Nice lead

Cycling, France, Paris-Nice, Elia Viviani, Marcel Kittel, Argos-Shimano, Cannondale
Argos-Shimano's Marcel Kittel celebrates a clear victory on the second stage of Paris-Nice (AAP)

Argos-Shimano's Marcel Kittel claimed the 200.5km second stage of Paris-Nice in a sprint finish with Cannondale's Elia Viviani taking the race lead.

I've taken a look at the profile for the next stage and it's going to be difficult to retain the jersey but I have a good team and I'm going to try my best.

However, the overall lead changed hands after overnight leader, Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), crashed out of the race 58km from the finish in Cérilly.

"He has a split lip, and maybe a damaged tooth, he is also complaining of a sore arm," said team sporting director Frank Pineau. Bouhanni was taken to hospital in nearby Bourges for treatment.

The 24-year-old Kittel , who had missed the first bunch sprint in Nemours after a puncture, surged in the long final stretch to take the day's laurels ahead of Cannondale's Elia Viviani.

Viviani benefited from Bouhanni's misfortune, taking the general classification lead after finishing second on the stage. He also picked the green and white jerseys. Australia's Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) took the final place on the podium.

"I am very happy to have had this opportunity," said Kittel. "After the first stage, I was very disappointed not to have a chance to win because I had a puncture about 10km from the finish.

"It's important for me to win a race on the WorldTour and also to do it so early in the season but it is probably the last chance for me to win on this year's Paris-Nice," he added.

Viviani has a seven second lead to protect over Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) with Damien Gaudin (Europcar) third overall and a further second adrift.

"It gives me great satisfaction to have the yellow jersey which was my objective," said Viviani. "I didn't win the stage but Kittel was very strong, too strong for me today.

"I've taken a look at the profile for the next stage and it's going to be difficult to retain the jersey but I have a good team and I'm going to try my best."

Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Mads Christensen (Saxo-Yinkoff) broke clear from the first kilometre but strong headwinds saw the trio back in the peloton after 43km. 

Twenty kilometres later two Vacansoleil-DCM riders, Thomas de Gendt and Romain Feillu, attacked and were quickly joined by Maxime Bouet (AG2R) and Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi). The four riders built a 4min lead as the weather began to deteriorate.

Several crashes then marred the chase with race leader Bouhanni the biggest casualty. The tempo raised again after the crash and the four-man break fell to the peloton with 44km to go.

Omega Pharma Quick Step upped the tempo in the final lap in Cérilly, with Argos-Shimano, Lampre-Merida and Cannondale also contributing.

But there was no real opposition when Kittel made his move to win easily ahead of Viviani and Australia's Howard.

Stage three features a 170.5km ride from Chatel-Guyon to Brioude and includes a category two climb just 15km from the finish.

Belgian commentary

Stage 2: 200.5km, Vimory to Cérilly
1 Marcel Kittel (GER) Argos-Shimano 5hr 42min 18sec      
2 Elia Viviani (ITA) Cannondale            
3 Leigh Howard (AUS) Orica-GreenEDGE            
4 Borut Bozic (SLO) Astana             
5 Samuel Dumoulin (FRA) AG2R            
6 Gianni Meersman (BEL) Omega Pharma-QuickStep           
7 Romain Feillu (FRA) Vacansoleil-DCM     
8 Jens Debusschere (BEL) Lotto-Belisol            
9 Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) Movistar           
10 Tony Gallopin (FRA) RadioShack Leopard Trek       

General classification
1 Elia Viviani (ITA) Cannondale 10hr 33min 11sec      
2 Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 0:00:07      
3 Damien Gaudin (FRA) Europcar 0:00:08      
4 Lieuwe Westra (NED) Vacansoleil-DCM 0:00:09      
5 Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) Lampre-Merida 0:00:10      
6 Wilco Kelderman (NED) Blanco            
7 Geoffrey Soupe (FRA) FDJ            
8 Peter Velits (SVK) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 0:00:11      
9 Tony Gallopin (FRA) RadioShack Leopard Trek           
10 Borut Bozic (SLO) Astana       

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