Saint-Cyr-l'École (France) (AFP)

France succeeds to the Irishman Sam Bennett, the green jersey of the Tour last year who won Sunday the first stage of Paris-Nice, in Saint-Cyr-l'Ecole (Yvelines), ahead of Arnaud Démare.

In an uphill sprint, Bennett, winner of two stages of the Grande Boucle last summer, eclipsed his rivals to don the first yellow jersey of the event.

“The legs were a bit heavy in the last 25 kilometers but I was confident,” said the Irishman, already a two-time UAE Tour winner in late February.

Bennett, launched at full speed from behind, left Démare no chance, yet used to winning the opening of Paris-Nice (2016, 2017, 2018) but relegated this time to more than a length.

A fall at the entrance to the last mile disrupted the approach to the sprint without compromising the superiority of Bennett, the man in shape of the moment.

"We did not get angry," noted the winner, who especially thanked Dane Michael Morkov, pitcher and key player in the Deceuninck team.

Bennett, who is 30 years old, had won twice before in Paris-Nice, under the colors of his previous team (Bora).

In 2019, he won in Izeure (Allier) then in Brignoles (Var), ahead of Démare already.

Behind him, the Dane Mads Pedersen, the fastest the previous Sunday in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, competed with Démare who preceded him very little on the line.

But the French, the rider most often winning last year (14 victories), announced that he was still in perfectible condition.

- Entrance exit door -

"I was very reassured about my feelings," said the French champion, whose train of the Groupama-FDJ team showed up a lot in the final.

"Casually, it was going really fast over the last 50 kilometers. The legs responded well."

Absent from the finish sprint (17th), the Australian Michael Matthews, also ex-green jersey of the Tour, pocketed 5 seconds of bonus during the stage to find himself in third place in the general classification, at 5 seconds by Bennett.

On the other hand, the event lost from the outset one of its former winners.

The Australian Richie Porte, winner in 2013 and 2015, was caught in a crash 33 kilometers from the finish.

Left late, he then had to give up and leave all responsibilities within the Ineos team to Briton Tao Geoghegan Hart.

On Monday, the second stage promises to be favorable to sprinters again between Oinville-sur-Montcient (Yvelines) and Amilly (Loiret), on a plain course of 188 kilometers exposed to the wind.

For attackers, such as the Belgian Philippe Gilbert, who made efforts on Sunday at the front of the race for more than half an hour, until the approach of the last 25 kilometers, the weather will play a role. key.

© 2021 AFP