At 1.94 metres, Gustav Larsson is the tallest man in the peloton. He was also the fastest today in the 9.4-kms opener of the 70th Paris-Nice, beating the rain and the rest of the field in 11 minutes and 19 seconds. The Olympic silver-medallist made the right choice of starting in the middle of the field, before rain started to pour, and beat Bradley Wiggins by one second. The runner-up spot is however a sign of the Briton’s current form and makes him a clear favourite on the strength of his Team Sky alone. Third place went to American Levi Leipheimer (OPQ), who also made his ambitions clear by finishing four seconds behind Larsson. While American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) also emerged as a contender by finishing fourth and taking the best young rider’s white jersey, several pre-race favourites faltered. Spain’s Alejandro Valverde (MOV) lost 30 seconds while the Schleck brothers were never in contention, Andy finishing 1:02 off the pace.
De Gendt shows the way
The first rider under 12 minutes was Thomas Dekker (GRM) in 11:56. But the lead quickly changed hands and briefly belonged to French champion Sylvain Chavanel (11:32) one of the team leaders to have chosen an early start to avoid potential rain.Belgium’s Thomas De Gendt (VAC), winner of the first stage last year, improved Chavanel’s time by one second and held top spot for a long time. But the longest rider in the lead was Olympic silver-medallist Gustav Larsson of Sweden, who left De Gendt 12 seconds adrift. The Belgian however retained the fastest time on the hill and took the first polka-dot jersey in this edition.
Only American Levi Leipheimer, the pre-race favourite of many, managed to come any close, finishing four seconds off the Swede’s pace.Several other big names were disappointing. American Taylor Phinney (BMC) found the Cote des Dix-Sept Tournants too hard and clocked a disappointing 11:38. Spain’s Alejandro Valverde (MOV) was 30 seconds slower than Larsson. Ivan Basso (LIQ), who suffers from flu, was also average in 12:03. Andy Schleck fared even worse, trailing Larsson by 1:02 on the line. The Luxembourg rider is obviously seeking his best form. His brother Frank fared a little better in 12:13.
Here comes the rain
As forecast, rain started pouring for the last 40 starters and possibly affected their performances. It sent some like Jean-Christophe Peraud on the canvas.Briton Bradley Wiggins still managed to finish just one second behind Larsson and signal an excellent form at the start of a race he finished third last year. American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) also staked his claims to a great Race to the Sun by finishing fourth, nine seconds off the pace. The final disappointment came from title-holder Tony Martin (OPQ), who struggled to find the right pace on the slippery course or opted for caution and finished 28th.
"We made the right choice by starting in the middle of the field. It was much better than for the guys at the end.
I wasn’t really sure of myself because it was only my second race this season. My legs were very hard, but as good as they were, it did it.
Prologues are the best wins because you get to wear the yellow jersey. It’s a great start to the season for me. I hope to continue that good start.
It’s a really good moment, it’s not the Olympics, it’s not the worlds, the Giro stage was pretty good. But Paris-Nice is a great race to be in the lead of.
We will see how it goes for the jersey. It’s very hard when you get to the big mountains but we will try to hang on to it as long as possible."
Top five placings in the 1st stage of Paris-Nice, a 9.4-kms individual time trial between Dampierre-en-Yvelines and St Remy-les-Chevreuse:
1. Gustav Larsson (VCD) 11 minutes and 19 seconds
2. Bradley Wiggins (SKY) one second behind
3. Levi Leipheimer (OPQ) four secs behind
4. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) nine secs behind
5. Thomas De Gendt (VCD) 12 secs behind
Sweden’s Gustav Larsson (VCD) won the 9.4-kms 1st stage of Paris-Nice in 11:19. Briton Bradley Wiggins was second, one second behind and American Levi Leipheimer was third, four seconds adrift.
Disappointment for Tony Martin, who clocks 11:41.
Bradley Wiggins (SKY) clocks second fastest time, one second behind Larsson. Would Brad have won without the rain?
Rain is falling more steadily now and some pay the price. Jean-Christophe Peraud, for instance, crashed after missing a turn.