Bouhanni bounces back to take Paris-Nice opener

cycling, France, Paris-Nice, Nacer Bouhanni,
Nacer Bouhanni bounced back from a mid-stage crash to win the first stage of Paris-Nice (AAP)

Nacer Bouhanni picked himself up off the tarmac following a crash during the opening stage of the Paris-Nice race around the Parisian suburbs to take the victory and race lead.

The 23-year-old, whose left knee was covered in blood as he crossed the line, triumphed in a bunch sprint at Mantes-la-Jolie following the 162.5km stage that was disrupted by several crashes.

John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) took second on the stage ahead of Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).

Due to time bonuses along the course, Bouhanni has a one second general classification lead over Meersman, who leads the points classification going into the second stage.

It was the second year in a row the 2012 French champion had won a stage in this race, having claimed the second stage last year before crashing out the very next day.

The rider was again reacquainted with the tarmac on Stage 1 but after receiving on-road treatment by the race doctor, said he put it out of his mind

"It reminded me of the French championship two seasons ago when I crashed and still won it,” said Bouhanni. “

“I told myself I would win today in spite of the crash and I made it. It's unbelievable. My team-mates did a great job, they lifted my morale and told me I was going to win.

“In the following hour it hurt a lot, it ached in the knee and I went to see the doctor two or three times.

“In the finale I didn't think about the pain anymore, I only thought about the sprint. Last year I won the first stage and crashed the next day. This time I crashed and won. Paris-Nice and me is already a long story.”

It was a mixed for some of the overall favourites as Tejay van Garderen (BMC) abandoned mid-race with stomach problems while Australia's Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) and French hopes Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Romain Bardet (AG2R) all lost more than a minute after being caught up in a crash 20km from the finish which split the peloton into three groups.

In a race where seconds rather than minutes are expected to decide the winner, losing more than a minute can be terminal to a rider's chances.

Two riders stayed in front of the split were Sky's Geraint Thomas and IAM's Sylvain Chavanel, who both gained a single second on intermediate sprints and will both be hoping to be in contention when the race arrives in Nice.

One rider who is now completely out of contention is 2010 Tour de France winner Andy Schleck who finished almost two minutes back in the third group.

Christophe Laborie (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) was the lone breakaway of the day but his effort ended with just over 50km left to race. After riding out to a lead of over 10 minutes he collect the first intermediate sprint and the mountain classification points lead.

"My goal was obviously to seek the polka-dot jersey for I knew I had great chances to hold it tomorrow morning and keep it tomorrow evening,” said Laborie.

“It was very important for us as a team because the jersey is sponsored by Jean Floch, who are also the sponsors who saved us. It was the plan and I was one of the riders picked to do it because I'm pretty fast.

“I was hoping for a small group to join me but I found myself on my own. It was a long day. For the rest of the race, we'll see. I'm a pretty god climber. We'll see how I feel at the end of the week."

The second stage takes the peloton over 205km from Rambouillet to Saint-Georges-sur-Baulche.

Stage 1: 162.5km, Mantes to la-Jolie
1 Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) 3hr 53min 11sec      
2 John Degenkolb (GER) Giant-Shimano            
3 Gianni Meersman (BEL) OmegaPharma-QuickStep            
4 Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) Movistar           
5 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Sharp            
6 Bryan Coquard (FRA) Team Europcar            
7 Luca Wackermann (ITA) Lampre-Merida            
8 Fabio Felline (ITA) Trek Factory Racing            
9 Fabio Sabatini (ITA) Cannondale            
10 Francesco Gavazzi (ITA) Astana   

General classification
1 Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) 3hr 53min 01sec      
2 Gianni Meersman (BEL) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 0:00:01      
3 John Degenkolb (GER) Giant-Shimano 0:00:04      
4 Greg Van Avermaet (BEL) BMC 0:00:08      
5 Geraint Thomas (GBR) Sky 0:00:09      
6 Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) IAM             
7 Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) Movistar 0:00:10      
8 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Sharp            
9 Bryan Coquard (FRA) Europcar            
10 Luca Wackermann (ITA) Lampre-Merida     

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