BOIS D’ARCY, France (AP) — Frenchman Arnaud Demare won the first stage of the Paris-Nice race on Sunday, while two-time champions Alberto Contador and Richie Porte lost ground in windy conditions.
The veterans fell behind the main pack when heavy crosswinds split the peloton early in the stage.
“I didn’t think the pack would be split the way it was so early on in the day. My team and I were lucky to be near the front at the time,” said the 25-year-old Demare, who won last year’s Milan-San Remo classic. “I really enjoyed racing today. It’s great to be able to take part in races such as these.”
Porte fared slightly better than Contador, and the Australian is just under one minute behind Demare in 16th place overall. Contador — a two-time Tour de France winner — is 1:14 back in 20th place. Both are good climbers, however, and will be confident of closing the gap when the race reaches the mountains.
Frenchman Romain Bardet, another of the pre-race favorites, was disqualified from the race after being helped back into the pack by his team car following a crash, which is against race rules.
Demare held off countryman Julian Alaphilippe in a sprint to the line at the end of the 148.5-kilometer (92-mile) trek around Bois d’Arcy in the leafy suburbs of Paris.
“When Julian attacked near the line, I made a huge effort to catch him up,” Demare said. “I knew that (if) I managed to catch him, I would be quicker (in the sprint).”
Norwegian Alexander Kristoff finished in third place.
Monday’s second stage is a flat 195-kilometer route from Rochefort-en-Yvelines to Amilly in the Loire valley.
The race ends Sunday in the southern city of Nice.