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Gusty and cold first stage shakes up the Paris-Nice peloton

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Henderson wins by a wheel rim! Photo: Graham Watson - please visit his galleries.
Henderson wins by a wheel rim! Photo: Graham Watson. Please visit his galleries: http://photos.grahamwatson.com

Greg Henderson of Team Sky took the gusty, cold first stage of Paris-Nice yesterday. But the wind, narrow roads and sharp corners caused a number of crashes in the 203.5km stage from Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines to Contres.

Alberto Contador was the biggest name involved, crashing with Heinrich Haussler within the last 3km. He now fears the blow to his muscle might affect his race chances, but hopes to continue. The crashes, notably at 65km, 43km and 30km to go, fractured the race, leaving Contador, Levi Leipheimer and many others in a chasing second group. Despite a lot of effort expended, they were unable to reach the main peloton. Caisse d’Epargne did a good job for last year’s winner, Luis Léon Sanchez, of keeping the race broken up by driving the pace at the front.

In the final stretches, young Tony Martin (Columbia-HTC) sprinted off the front group along the finishing straight, but flagged in the headwind, leaving Lampre’s Gregor Bole to overtake and to be pipped, on the line, by Greg Henderson, whom he had unwittingly led out.

Official best-named man in the peloton, Lars Boom (Rabobank), had surprisingly taken the prologue time-trial on Sunday, leaving Saxobank’s Jens Voigt and Garmin’s David Millar in his wake. He was in a chasing group for most of the first stage, but bravely bridged the gap solo to join the fifteen-or-so leaders with less than 20km to go. With that effort, he secured his lead in the overall standings. Jens Voigt is second, five seconds behind, with a strong Millar moves up to third place.

Sky, meanwhile, must be pleased with Henderson’s stage win and sixth place in the GC. After Juan Antonio Flecha’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad win and Ian Stannard’s heroic third place finish at the KBK last weekend, their case for being invited to the Tour de France grows ever more compelling.

Overall standings going into today’s stage to Limoges:

1. Lars Boom (RAB)

2. Jens Voigt (SAX)

3. David Millar (GAR)

4. Luis Léon Sanchez (GCE)

5. Roman Kreuziger (LIQ)

6. Greg Henderson (SKY)

7. Levi Leipheimer (RSH)

8. Alberto Contador (AST)

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