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Paris-Nice, the only WorldTour game in town, is off to a thrilling start

Woods and Duchesne labour in the echelons

The spectre of the coronavirus has postponed a lot of races in March, and right now Paris-Nice is the only WorldTour contest until Volta a Catalunya starts on March 23. Even with INEOS, Astana, Jumbo-Visma, UAE Emirates, Mitchelton-Scott and CCC absent, the first two stages have been thrilling due to the wind and rain, which have led to serious echelon action.

Sunday’s opening stage set the tone for Monday, although there was hardly any “racing to the sun” as the start and finish were both in Plaisir. Echelons formed in the crosswinds, and Julian Alaphilippe and Tiesj Benoot skipped away from the leading group in search of bonus seconds at the second intermediate sprint. They beat on looking for the win, but Max Schachmann (Germany/Bora-Hansgrohe) and Dylan Teuns joined them near the finish, with Schachmann taking the victory. Michael Woods was in 25-strong group that finished 15-seconds back.

On Monday, more echelons didn’t stop NTT’s Giacomo Nizzolo from earning his second WorldTour stage victory of the season. But the crucial action was behind: Woods’ Colombian teammate Sergio Higuita drove the front echelon to jump from 10th to 4th in the GC. Nairo Quintana, a pre-race favourite, crashed and couldn’t get back on, while Alaphilippe punctured with 30-km to go and had Wolfpack comrades help limit his losses. Woods and Antoine Duchesne finished in an 18-rider group +0:36.

With the time trial and mountains yet to come, Schachmann holds a 15-second lead over Nizzolo and 23-seconds over Higuita. French hopeful Thibaut Pinot is 43-seconds back and Woods is +1:01. But Bora-Hansgrohe has a tough squad and will resist EF Pro Cycling’s bid for a Higuita victory. A wildcard might be Vincenzo Nibali, 9th place at +0:28.

2020 Paris-Nice Stage 2
1) Giacomo Nizzolo (Italy/NTT) 3:49:57
2) Pascal Ackermann (Germany/Bora-Hansgrohe) s.t.
3) Jasper Stuyven (Belgium/Trek-Segafredo) s.t.
37) Antoine Duchesne (Canada/Groupama-FDJ) +0:36
45) Michael Woods (Canada/EF Pro Cycling) s.t.

2020 Paris-Nice GC
1) Max Schachmann (Germany/Bora-Hansgrohe) 7:22:06
2) Giacomo Nizzolo (Italy/NTT) +0:15
3) Jasper Stuyven (Belgium/Trek-Segafredo) +0:21
4) Sergio Higuita (Colombia/EF Pro Cycling) +0:23
22) Michael Woods (Canada/EF Pro Cycling) +1:01
49) Antoine Duchesne (Canada/Groupama-FDJ) +4:27