Basque 12th in grueling crosswinds stage in Paris-Nice: finishes 19" off winner Démare (FDJ), takes good position in view for a GC result
The sudden, unfortunate DNS by Alejandro Valverde in Paris-Nice seemed to ruin the Arrieta / Laguía-led group's chances to chase a good GC result. Yet, Gorka Izagirre (Movistar Team) stepped up and kept those hopes alive with a good performance in a hellish opening stage in the 'Course to the Sun'. The 148km around Bois d'Arcy, just next to the French capital, were soon hit hard by the gusty winds, which split the peloton into three and left only about thirty riders at the front of the race, including the man from Ormaiztegi.
Boosted by cooperation from teams FDJ and Quick Step, Izagirre's group constantly kept a minute's gap over a second echelon -including Imanol Erviti, always focused on not losing the front and drop back- that included many GC contenders. Despite a final push from Katusha to reduce the margins, the first group was able to contest the stage, exploding as the final slope near the finish saw Arnaud Démare (FDJ, 1st) and Julian Alaphilippe (QST, 2nd) going on the attack for the win. The duo put nine seconds on an eight-man group including Daniel Martin (QST), Gallopin (LTS) and Henao (SKY), and 19" on Gorka, who suffered all over the three-and-a-half race to finish in a respectable 12th, 28" ahead of Richie Porte (BMC) and 45" before Alberto Contador (TFS) or even brother Ion Izagirre (TBM).
Stage two, a longer (195km) journey finishing with a circuit in Amilly, will put the top guns again into alert after the gaps created today, even bigger than those expected for Wednesday's Mont Brouilly TT – initially the first point of reference for them.