Nizzolo wins tough Paris-Nice stage as big guns misfire

AFP

Châlette-sur-Loing (France) (AFP) - Italian sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo pounced late to win a rainy stage two of the Paris-Nice on Monday, as pre-race favourite Nairo Quintana suffered a damaging day.

Sunday's stage 1 winner Germany's Maximilian Schachmann of the Bora team remains in the overall leader's yellow jersey, while double Giro d'Italia points winner Nizzolo is second, 15 seconds adrift.

Stage two culminated in a small bunch sprint after a blustery 166.5km struggle from Chevreus to Chalette-Sur-Loing with Slovak star Peter Sagan and 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali notably keeping pace with a lead group of 12.

Sagan and Nibali, who finished three seconds behind Monday's winner, had both been slated to race in Italy, and only came to Paris-Nice when the Strade Bianchi and Tireno-Adriatico races were postponed due to the coronavirus.

In the final sprint Monday, Sagan's teammate Pascal Ackermann made a determined bid for the line from just inside the final kilometre, but was well beaten by a powerful surge from the 31-year-old Italian Nizzolo.

"I waited until as long as I could and then took his (Ackermann's) wheel as he came past. Then at the line, I managed to get past him."

Colombian Quintana, previously seen as a favourite, was caught in a fall 25km from home with the peloton rolling at full pace, he dropped 1min 25sec on the day.

-- Sagan splits the peloton --

Another man tipped as a potential winner, the French star Julian Alaphilippe, also suffered a costly puncture 30km from the finish line and rode home with Quintana.

The pair are could work together to claw back time in the coming stages.

"I was in the lead group and in the time it took to get a new bike we were in the fourth group," said Alaphilippe, describing the splits in the wind-lashed peloton as Bora set a fast pace across the final exposed plains.

French climber Thibaut Pinot also lost precious seconds when he was caught by Bora's sudden late surge led by powerhouse Sagan.

"Peter (Sagan) made such a huge effort to split up the front group. We had a great chance today," said yellow jersey Schachmann.

Schachmann identified one of the climbers who emerged unscathed Monday as a potential threat to his lead.

"EF Pro Cycling did a good job too as Sergio Higuita was there. In the mountain he will be one of the best competitors."

Higuita is 23 seconds behind Schachmann.

The stage's action was possibly best described as 'something like the battle of Trafalgar' by French climber Romain Bardet, who hung on to finish just behind winning bunch.

"There were jitters and wind and damaging attacks - welcome to Paris-Nice," said Bardet, who also signed up for the race at the last minute.

Tuesday's third stage of eight is a long 212.5km flat run through exposed wheat plains.

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