Despite not being the first rider to cross the line, Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) took his second victory in three days at Paris-Nice after Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was relegated for deviating from his line on the stage 2 sprint.
Bouhanni opened up the sprint at the end of the 213.5km flat stage and, as Mattthews came up on the left, the Frenchman gradually moved over before leaning in and bumping shoulders with the race leader. It was a miracle that the two riders managed to stay upright, and the Australian waved his arm in remonstration as he crossed the line.
Instead of celebrating with his teammates and readying himself for the podium ceremony, Bouhanni faced a nervy wait as the UCI comissaires studied the replays and he shook his head in anger when he received the news. Since it was a clear trio contesting the sprint, Bouhanni was relegated to third, with Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek-Segafredo) bumped up to second.
Matthews picked up 10 bonus seconds for his win, which sees his lead in the general classification grow to 14 seconds over Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin). There was a small split in the bunch at the end of the race, causing Alberto Contador (TInkoff), Richie Porte), and Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) lose five seconds to other GC contenders like Dumoulin, Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Ion Izaguirre (Movistar).
The adrenaline-fuelled final seconds and dramatic post-stage intrigue stood in stark contrast to what was otherwise an uneventful day in the saddle. On the longest stage of this year’s race, a four-man break went from the flag but, with just one third-category pimple lining the route from Contres to Commentry, it was always going to be a day for the sprinters.
Etixx-QuickStep did the lion’s share of the work on the front of the bunch to control the gap to the leaders, but as the race entered its crucial phases they were nowhere to be seen, with Marcel Kittel finishing way back in 65th. Along with Bouhanni’s Cofidis team, Katusha were prominent towards the end but Alexander Kristoff could only finish behind the front three, along with stage 1 winner Arnaud Démare (FDJ), Ben Swift (Team Sky) and André Greipel (Lotto Soudal).
— daniel mcmahon (@cyclingreporter) March 8, 2016
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