Paris - Nice: voices after stage 1

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11.03.2008/ Monday was an eventful day in Paris-Nice, when the peloton embarked on the first actual stage. A storm warning meant the route was shortened to less than half the original length, but once the stage got on its way it was the riders who kicked up a storm. The stage was won by Quicksteps's Gert Steegmans. Here some post race quotes.

© Sirotti
Gert Steegmans stormed to victory (© Sirotti)

CSC's Fränk Schleck was one of the GC riders who finished in the first group. His teammate Karsten Kroon finished fifth and is now third overall. Kroon said: "I feel in quite good shape right now. It was a perfect stage for me both with the weather and the route – it was a true classics sage," said Kroon, who was satisfied with the outcome, but whose main role is as a domestique.

"I'm gonna try and give Fränk as much help as I possibly can towards a good overall result, so it's not like I'm going for the overall win myself now or anything like that, even though I'm in a good position. My main goals are the big Northern European races in April, but I definitely wanna try and help Fränk as much as I can on the Mont Ventoux stage," determined Kroon.
US team Slipstream hopes for General Classification were preserved but it wasn't  easy. Team manager Jonathan Vaughters said: "With 4 km to go, Millar crashed hard on a slippery right hand corner. With the last kilometer an uphill, he had only 3 km to make it back to a fast charging group. But make it he did! Catching the group just 1.5 km before the finish, Millar recovered just enough to stay with the front group for the uphill finish."
Vaughters concled with: "Trent Lowe also pulled out an amazing ride for a guy that weighs just 120 lbs. Staying with the hard charging Quick-Step and Rabobank riders, little Trent showed today that he will contend for the overall victory."
Some of the overall favourites lost a lot of time. Damiano Cunego (Lampre) finished at 6' 32" in 113th position and Cadel Evans (Silence - Lotto) lost nearly three minutes. White jersey holder Andrey Grivko (Milram) came in 21th, the Ukranian rider finished in the first group and defended his lead in the young riders classification. Milram coloured yesterdays stage with two riders in a long breakaway of three riders. The third rider was High Road's Bernhard Eisel.
"Under these conditions it was clear that without a real sprinter, our only chance was in a breakaway," said Milram's sports director Raoul Liegbregts. "Our team did really well. Peter and Niki stayed in the lead for a long time despite the wind, rain and cold. The fact that Andrey was able to defend his white jersey just topped the day off."
Rabobank's Robert Gesink also finished in the first group. The winner of the young riders classification in the last two editions of the Tour of California is one of the remaining favourites for the overall win.  But Rabobank also suffered yesterday.
Just 3.5 kilometers from the finish there was a crash in which Bram Tankink (Rabobank) fell from his bike. Just when he managed to rejoin the leading group, he fell again. This time it happened because his derailleur got stuck between his spokes, a result from his first crash. Because of this, the Rabo ProTeam was only represented by three riders in the first group. Gesink had to make a stop at 3.5 kilometers from the finish, but Marc De Maar (rabobank) , who earlier on was involved in an attack, helped him come back. Tankink came in about two minutes  later, but this arrears was remitted.
Rabobank's sports director Erik Dekker was very relieved when Gesink, together with amongst others Gilbert, rejoined the front group. "Before that, I had no overview whatsoever, I didn't know where Robert was. Now, it has become a super day. If he didn't end up in the front group, we could've said goodbye to good classifications. Now, the opposite is going on, he has been granted several bonus minutes in comparison to the others." 

Dekker wasn't unhappy with the heavily shortened stage. "The boys had already rubbed in their legs and were packed and ready to go when the announcement reached us. On the way,  I haven't seen why they have decided this, but I didn't mind at all." During the first part, Dekker had not only seen Tankink fall, Koos Moerenhout also crashed. "He has many scrapes, but I predict, that Koos will start as planned tomorrow. Of course this isn't certain yet, because you never know what happens during the night."
With Steegmans winning the stage, the Quickstep team almost a perfect day. Almost: 20 kilometres into the race Belgian athlete Kevin Hulsmans fell grazing his left arm and leg. But Hulsmans will be able to start today. Hulsmans said: "I've got a few bumps and bruises but I’ll definitely be on the start line tomorrow."

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Picture gallery: Paris - Nice , Stage 1, March 10, 2008.

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