A perfectly-executed sprint finish allowed Sam Bennett claim the opening stage of the week-long Paris-Nice race.

The Irish cyclist demonstrated why he is the sprinter to beat in 2021 when he got the better of Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), with former world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) in third. 

A crash in the closing kilometre added to the tense finish in Saint-Cyr-l'École for the 166km stage, but Bennett held his nerve and will wear the leader's jersey on stage two, the first Irishman to do so since Stephen Roche.

"It's hard all day in the European races. Today was a test to see how the legs were," Bennett, who won two stages in last year's Tour de France, said afterwards. 

"We couldn't come to the front until two kilometres to go, we started to panic but the whole team did a great job. I was pretty happy with the kick I had, I felt pretty strong." 

It continues a good start to the year for the 30-year-old, who also won two stages at the UAE Tour last month.

Last year, Bennett became just the second Irish man after Sean Kelly to claim the Tour de France green jersey. 

Australian Richie Porte, third in last year's Tour, abandoned after crashing with some 35 kilometres left. 

Porte, who won the race twice, in 2013 and 2015, was co-leading the team with Giro d'Italia champion Tao Geoghegan Hart. 

Monday's second stage is a 188-km ride from Oinville-sur-Montcient to Amilly.