Kittel Wins Stage 2 of Paris-Nice 2013
Elia Viviani (Cannondale) took the runnerup spot, and Leigh Howard (GreenEdge) finished third. Viviani took the overall lead on a day that saw overnight race leader Nacer Bouhanni (Francaise des Jeux) crash and abandon.
Today, the field tackled a headwind. In the first km, Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil-DCM), and Mads Christensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) sallied off of the front. The trio ran up a 4:05 lead before Boeckmans's team summoned him back to the peloton. The other two stayed in the lead until the peloton rode them down at 43 km.
Twenty km later, Thomas De Gendt and Romain Feillu (both from Vacansoleil-DCM) attacked, and Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) joined them. Because of the headwind, the quartet did not carve out much of a lead, and the bunch did not chase very hard. The escapees' lead maxed out at about 4:00.
As the race entered its last 70 km, rain began to fall and crashes occurred. Prologue winner Damien Gaudin (Europcar) hit the deck, but the Frenchman chased and eventually got back on.
Bouhanni was less fortunate. With 60 km remaining, the French road race champion slid out on a left-hand turn and suffered a cut on his lip and a hand trauma. An ambulance took Bouhanni to a hospital, and his Paris-Nice was over. Bouhanni suffered two broken teeth in the crash and received eight stitches in hospital for cuts to his upper lip. "X-rays revealed no fractures or even a cracked rib, as we had feared. He will be back on his bike this weekend," FDJ team doctor Gérard Guillaume later explained.
Argos-Shimano took over at the front. With 44 km left, the bunch reeled in the break. A number of teams joined the German squad at the front with no team dominating and with the pace not picking up.
As the race reached the day's second intermediate sprint, which began a finishing circuit, Viviani bolted into the lead to take three seconds. Those seconds put him into the overall lead.
On the finishing circuit, the pace picked up. A number of riders attempted sallies, but the peloton reeled them all in. At the one-km banner, the field was together. Francaise des Jeux went to the front, and Lampre-Merida joined the French squad. Alessandro Petacchi, Lampre-Merida's Italian veteran, jumped into the lead, but he made his move too soon. On the other side of the road, Kittel drove into the lead to take the win.
In the overall, Viviani leads Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) by 0:07 and Gaudin by 0:08. Stage 3 will probably change this state of affairs. The rolling, 170.5-km ride from Chatel-Guyon to Brioude will feature two Category 3 climbs and a Category 2 ascent 15 km from the finish. The stage seems tailor-made for a late race escape or at least a breakup of the field. Who will win? Who will snare the yellow jersey? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!