Steegmans battles to Paris-Nice first stage victory

Hushovd retains yellow after shortened stage

Belgian Gert Steegmans, racing for the Quick Step team, won a sprint finish for the first stage of the Paris-Nice cycling race in Nevers on Monday.

Prologue winner Thor Hushovd of Norway holds onto the overall leader's yellow jersey after a stage which was cut in half because of rainy and windy conditions. Instead of starting from Amilly the race was forced to get under way from the tiny village of La Chapelotte because of the adverse weather conditions, cutting the distance from 184.5km to 93km.

Sprinting up a steep finish 27-year-old Steegmans, winner of a stage of last year's Tour de France in Ghent, crossed two seconds ahead of a small group which included most of the favourites.

"When we saw the wind blowing so strongly on the route the team decided to take the initiative," Steegmans said. "First of all to launch an escape and then to try to win in a sprint. But that proved not so easy. Philippe Gilbert, who was stronger than me, moved out front a bit too early and once I made my effort there was no one on my wheel."

Hushovd of Credit Agricole said the wind made the going tough. "When we found the wind alongside in the final 40 kilometres I stayed vigilant. Everything went well except for the final sprint," said the Norwegian. "Steegmans set off so strongly he was impossible to follow."

France's Jerome Pineau nipped in ahead of Hushovd and Belgian Philippe Gilbert to finish second. Australian Cadel Evans, second in the 2007 Tour de France, finished in another group two minutes behind.

But the weather conditions did not prevent a toughly-fought race with Slovak Peter Velits, the reigning world junior champion, his Dutch teammate Niki Terpstra and Austrian Bernhard Eisel building up a lead of 4min 10sec before being caught ten kilometres from the line. The gusts of wind, however, resulted in the peloton being fractured and Italian Davide Rebellin and Scot David Millar found themselves trailing at one point, before managing to fight their way back among the leaders.

For full results, report and photos, see

© AFP 2008

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