Belgium’s Tom Boonen won the final sprint of a cold and wind-wracked second stage of the 2012 Paris-Nice cycling race, taking third in the general classification.
“I felt good,” Boonen told Sporze.be. “In the beginning of the race, we weren’t pushing that hard, but once it got going, it was really intense. Once I realized we would end up sprinting I felt good, because after such a tricky stage there would certainly be a hard sprint, and I had the power.
“The most important thing for the team now is to deliver Levi Leipheimer to the final time trial in the best shape possible. He must win Paris-Nice for the team; it is as simple as that.”
Stage Two was probably the only one for sprinters at this year’s Paris-Nice, and some of the best weren’t there at the end.
The 185-km (115-mile) ride from Mantes-la-Jolie to Orléans was dead flat; the only climb was a 1.5 km (.93 miles), 3 percent incline—so slight as to be unnoticeable to riders of this caliber. The real obstacle was the weather: 46 degrees with crosswinds upwards of 20 mph.
A group of 30 riders attacked just after the feeding zone 35 minutes into the race. Caught unaware and buffeted by strong winds that prevented large groups of riders from sheltering each other, the peloton split into several small groups, none of which could organize sufficiently to chase down the leaders.
The lead group contained four riders from the new Belgian superteam Omega Pharma-Quickstep, plus Tejay Van Garderen and Taylor Phinney from BMC, and British National Champion Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas from Sky. Missing were defending champion Tony Martin, also from Omega Pharma-Quickstep, and Andreas Klöden of RadioShack Nissan, both considered favorites.
A crash in the lead group dropped several riders back; 21 continued on with a two-minute advantage over the peloton.
With the peloton split, the race for the stage win was also the race for the lead in General Classification and likely the whole event; the chasing groups were losing too much time to make up in the remaining six stages.
Heading into the city of Orlèans, the leading 21 riders had 2:20 on the rest; all that was left was to see who would win the sprint. Omega’s Sylvain Chavanel kept the pace high all the way to the last kilometer to stifle any attacks; then teammate Nikolas Maes took over.
Jose Joaquin Rojas…