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Paris-Nice stage 2: Henderson escapes crashes, dedicates win to earthquake victims

Stage 2: Montfort l’Amaury to Amilly, 199km

On a day marred by several crashes, Sky‘s Greg Henderson outsprinted his rivals to take victory on stage two of Paris-Nice. It was the New Zealand rider’s first win of 2011 and his second overall at this race, where he won stage one last year. He immediately dedicated his win to the victims of the recent earthquake in Christchurch.

The racing on an otherwise flat and featureless day was enlivened by crashes galore as the peloton battled both windy conditions and their own nervousness. A three-man move containing Maxime Bouet (AG2R La Mondiale), Tony Gallopin (Cofidis) and Yoann Offredo (FDJ) went away after the starting gun, quickly building a five-minute lead. Gallopin was motivated by the route passing through both his birthplace of Dourdan and Pussay – near his family’s home – where he was allowed to claim the first intermediate sprint.

Greg Henderson celebrates victory on stage two (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

The pace proved to be too much for Cofidis team leader David Moncoutié, who abandoned with a knee injury. Offredo was called back to the peloton by his team bosses, leaving Bouet and Gallopin to push on, building a maximum advantage of 6:15. The gap fluctuated as the pace of the bunch fluctuated, hampered at times by headwinds. During this period of stalemate, Saxo Bank-Sungard‘s Lucas Haedo crashed into a police outrider and abandoned.

As the peloton finally started to reel in the leaders, without any great sense of urgency, the accidents continued. Several crashes occurred in the space of 12 kilometres or so, two of them sending Saxo Bank’s Fränk Schleck and Garmin-Cervélo sprinter Heinrich Haussler tumbling to the ground, with both having to be paced back to the peloton by their teammates.

Bouet and Gallopin were even briefly caught by the pack with 40km to go when they were forced to wait at a level crossing before being allowed to proceed on ahead of the peloton. The reprieve was short-lived however, as first Gallopin and then Bouet sat up, ending the chase with 31km still remaining.

Henderson took advantage of Thomas's blistering lead out to win (image courtesy of Wikimedia)

With no major counter-attacks forthcoming, the peloton was largely happy to ride tempo to the finish, although a brief push at the front by Astana‘s Alexandre Vinokourov did briefly rip the bunch apart in the wind. But the sprinters’ teams were never likely to relinquish control, having missed out the previous day, and with three kilometres to go HTC-Highroad took up the pace at the front, working for the in-form Matt Goss.

There was to be one final twist, however. At 1.5km out the yellow jersey of race leader Thomas de Gendt launched a speculative flier off the front – a move doomed to failure as HTC closed him down, but thrilling to see nonetheless. The effort may have cost Goss, however, as Sky’s Geraint Thomas launched himself to the front inside the final 500 metres, providing the perfect springboard for Henderson to time his sprint and hold off both the HTC man and Katusha‘s Denis Galimzyanov by more than a bike length. Haussler, sapped by his chase back to the pack, could only finish fourth.

Henderson told reporters afterwards that it had been a tricky day in the saddle:

I think everyone was a bit scared of the wind breaking the peloton to pieces. There were so many crashes in the space of about ten kilometres, it was crazy. We just tried to stay near the front and out of trouble in the closing stages.

My last man Geraint Thomas led me out beside the [HTC-Highroad] team. He went full with 500 metres to go and took me to 250. I won the sprint comfortably. I’m very happy to win, I’m very happy for the team. We’re all mates. When we win, we’re all wrecked.

Victory gave Henderson the lead in the points competition, and he promised to auction the green jersey to raise money for the victims and survivors of the recent Christchurch earthquake:

I have a lot of family and friends who have been victims of the earthquake. I dedicate today’s win to them. I wanted to do something for them, so I’ll get my green jersey signed by my teammates and we’ll raise some money for the victims.

With his time bonus, Henderson moved to within four seconds of overall leader de Gendt. He is now also targeting the yellow jersey in today’s (Tuesday’s) third stage:

I’ll have a go, absolutely. I’ll talk to our directeurs sportifs Sean Yates and Nicolas Portal to see what this climb [the category 2 Côte de Bécoup with 23.5km to go] is like. Hopefully, I’ll still be up there for the sprint.

Stage three takes the riders 202 kilometres through the Burgundy wine-producing region from Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire to Nuits-Saint-Georges on a lumpy course culminating in the aforementioned Côte de Bécoup. If Henderson can stay in touch over the summit, he will stand a strong chance of a second win in what could be a depleted bunch sprint in Nuits-Saint-Georges 23 kilometres later. We have already had two exciting and eventful stages so far in Paris-Nice – hopefully stage three will be similar.

Stage 2 result:

1. Greg Henderson (Sky) 5:00:56

2. Matthew Goss (HTC-Highroad) same time

3. Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) s/t

4. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) s/t

5. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

General classification:

1. Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) 9:05:48

2. Greg Henderson (Sky) +0:04

3. Jérémy Roy (FDJ) +0:07

4. Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad) +0:08

5. Tony Gallopin (Cofidis) +0:08

Daily live coverage and highlights of Paris-Nice are being broadcast by British Eurosport.

Links: Paris-Nice official website, Steephill.tv

Paris-Nice posts

Stage 1: De Gendt wins cat-and-mouse finish

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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