MANTES-LA-JOLIE, France — Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni overcame a sore knee to win the first stage of the Paris-Nice race in a sprint finish on Sunday.
Bouhanni needed treatment from the race doctor several times for cuts to his left knee after falling during the stage, but this did not hinder him for speed as he won by more than a bike's length.
"What a day. I fell halfway through the stage. For an hour after the fall I kept feeling a strain on my knee every time I tried to accelerate," Bouhanni said. "I went to see the doctor two or three times. In the end I didn't feel anything because of the adrenaline."
German John Degenkolb led the pack in the final stretch as the riders prepared to go for the line. Belgian rider Gianni Meersman attacked with about 100 meters to go and Bouhanni responded immediately to surge past him. Degenkolb then overtook Meersman, who finished in third place.
The 162.5-kilometer (101-mile) stage started and finished in the Parisian suburb of Mantes-la-Jolie. The top three all clocked 3 hours, 53 minutes, 11 seconds.
Frenchman Christophe Laborie opened up a lead of nine minutes after an early solo breakaway but was caught with 50 kilometers (31 miles) remaining.
American rider Tejay van Garderen, one of the race favorites, dropped out during the stage after feeling unwell.
"At night, I had all these stomach cramps, and bad diarrhea all day yesterday and then a little bit of a fever and no appetite," he said. "It felt like my sickness was getting better and today, I woke up and I felt OK. But I was really just empty. I couldn't take in calories and just had nothing in the muscles."
Defending champion Richie Porte pulled out in the days leading up to the race, focusing instead on the Tirreno-Adriatico race, saying it is more suited to his strengths and prompting an angry response from Paris-Nice race director Christian Prudhomme.
Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali hopes to get his Tour de France preparations off to a good start with a strong performance here. He finished stage one tucked into the chasing pack in 35th place.
Monday's second stage is slightly longer, a 205-kilometer (127-mile) trek from Rambouillet to Saint-Georges-sur-Baulche.