Paris-Nice: Gilbert on the attack in dantesque day
The Belgian Champion stayed clear until the final six kilometers, and despite being caught by the bunch, he moved to the GC podium.
There's a good chance that if you look up the dictionary, you'll find a new definition of craziness: Paris-Nice! For the second day in a row, the so-called "Race to the Sun" got flipped on its head just a couple of kilometers after the start of stage 2 (Rochefort-en-Yvelines – Amilly, 195 km), when rain turned into snow and the strong winds blowing on the flat and open countryside of France shattered the peloton into six groups.
White jersey and stage 1 runner-up Julian Alaphilippe, Marcel Kittel and Dan Martin made it into the main echelon, together with some 20-odd riders, including yellow jersey Arnaud Démare (FDJ), and built a sizeable advantage to the first chasing group, which included Alberto Contador and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) among others. The gap reached the one-minute mark with more than 100 kilometers to go, and as the weather and racing conditions became more and more attritional, several riders called it a day.
Eventually, a regrouping took place behind, and the peloton chased hard the 13 riders remaining at the front, managing to bridge across with 50 kilometers to go. Things didn't calm down, other attacks followed and six riders took off. Philippe Gilbert decided to go after the sextet and made the catch just as Marc Sarreau (FDJ) punctured out of the front group.
With around 20 kilometers left, the Belgian Champion left his breakaway companions behind and went solo; virtual leader of the general classification, Gilbert got the other teams concerned, as his determined effort saw the gap stretch out from 30 to 50 seconds. It took a strong chase to get the 34-year-old back, and this happened only inside the final six kilometers.
The reduced bunch sprint was won by Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), who got the better of John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Démare. Julian Alaphilippe concluded the stage safely in the pack and kept the lead in the youth standings as well as his second place in the GC, where Philippe Gilbert, winner of the second intermediate sprint, jumped to third, just behind his French teammate.
Sport director Brian Holm shared his thoughts on the crunching second stage of Paris-Nice, at the end of which Quick-Step Floors retained first place in the team rankings: "It was a bit like yesterday. A lot of crosswinds split the peloton to 10-15 groups I think at one point and had the riders race full speed ahead for 190 kilometers. Gilbert was unbelievable, very strong, despite the tough headwind and the effort he made to come back from the third group. Ok, the peloton reabsorbed him in the closing kilometers, but his ride was really impressive and he deserves to be on the podium."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele