The Race to the Sun!
On Sunday begins the 64th edition of Paris-Nice, the Race to the Sun. The eight stage race begins in... No, not Paris. You thought I was going to say Paris, didn't you. But no, not Paris. I'm not going to say Paris. The race starts outside Paris in Amilly. Tricky, that ASO. No tricks when it comes to the finish, though, the final stage begins and ends in Nice on the traditional Promenade des Anglais and includes the trademark Col d'Eze climb. A race called Paris-Nice that doesn't even begin in Paris. Whatever happened to truth in advertising?
What sort of race is this Paris-Nice? One for the climbers, mostly. There is only one day of racing against the watch, which comes during Stage 1. The opening stage is too long to be a prologue, coming in at 9.3 kilometers, and is totally flat. One for the specialists. Look for Bradley Wiggins (though he claims he's not yet on form), David Millar (ditto), Marco Pinotti (bit of a longshot there), Gustav Larsson (showed good form in Cali), Jens Voigt (because he's Jens!), Christophe Riblon (just won something), Roman Kreuziger (a tad early for him, but he's fast), and Alberto Contador (wins lots) to show themselves in the opening stage. Otherwise, well, this race is mostly about going up.
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So polite, this preview.
Before we get to the climbs, there are two stages for the sprinters. The startlist isn't showing too many sprinters this time around. Maybe because of all those climbs? Yes, I'm here to state the obvious for you. Sprinters to watch include: Romain Feillu of Agritubel (won the bunch sprint for 20th at Omloop het Niewhatsit), José Joaquin Rojas Gil of Caisse d'Épargne (he's Spanish, sometimes he wins), Heinrich Haussler of Cervélo TestTeam (won in Portugal, placed second a lot in Qatar), Tony Martin of Team Columbia-High Road (or is he leading out Mark Renshaw of Team Columbia-High Road? Really, this is a very confusing business), Francesco Gavazzi of Team Lampre-NGC (won something in Italy recently), Francesco Chicchi of Team Liquigas (he's cute, that's all I got), Christian Knees of Milram (is he even a sprinter?), and Gert Steegmans of Katyusha (yes, he is definitely a sprinter.) To review, Stages 2 and 3 are flat. A sprinter will win. Unless, someone like Philippe Gilbert gets cheeky and dashes off the front. But let's keep things simple, shall we?
Beginning with stage 4, the course turns bumpy. These roads are not the high mountains of a major tour, but instead the middle mountains. Not like that makes things easy or anything.
Stage 4. Hors d'oeuvres. Several category 3 climbs decorate this bumpy stage designed for the breakaways. One for the chancers. Riders like Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis, Thomas Voeckler of Bbox Bouygues, Nicholas Roche of AG2R-La Mondiale, or well, just about anyone who wants to go on the escape, suffer ridiculously all day in the wind in the almost certainly misguided hope of winning. Really, why bother? Because it's a race, stoopid. And someone has to win. Profile for Stage 4.
Stage 5. From Vallon to Pont d'Arc, the fourth stage includes five categorized climbs. Never a flat moment. It's a fabulous stage for the breakaways or for a classics rider like Philippe Gilbert (yes, I have Gilbert on the brain) of Silence-Lotto, Sebastian Langeveld of Rabobank (but only if his team doesn't chase him), Nick Nuyens of Rabobank (who may chase him), Nikki Terpstra of Milram (I have nothing to say about Terpstra, sorry), Marcus Burghardt (last seen showing off his yellow shoes on the front at the Omloop thingy), or Thomas Voeckler of Bbox Bouygues (always up for anything). The course includes the category one Col de Benas (no, not Benna, Benas, silly girls), but the summit lies a long way from the finish. How long? Trust me, long. Nobody said there would be math. Profile for Stage 4.
Stage 6. Friday the 13th! And, it's the queen stage. This one could be epic. (Got that Steph?) Or, at least, as epic as one can expect in March. Stage 6 finishes on the Montagne de Lur in haute-Provence. Along the way, the course also takes in 3 category 3 climbs (coincidence? I think not), 2 category 2 climbs (no kidding), and one category 5 (um...). New, never before seen roads! In a major bike race, I mean. The finishing climb is 13.8 kilometers with an average gradient of 6.6%. Yo climbers, this one's all about you.
Watch for David Moncoutié of Cofidis (back from endless injuries with a win on Mont Faron), Dan Martin of Garmin (suffered on Mont Faron, but finished third overall at the Tour Med), Alberto Contador of Astana (duh), Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto (no sense in waiting until July), Frank Schleck of Saxo Bank (won in Cali, fears Italy like a hairpin turn), Juan Manuel Garate of Rabobank (likes to go up), Sylvain Chavanel of Quick-Step (team leader), Roman Kreuziger (how motivated are ya, kid?), a basque rider of Euskaltel-Euskadi (you actually expect me to know which one?), Iñigo Cuesta of Cervélo TestTeam, or Luis Leon Sanchez Gil of Caisse d'Épargne (en fuego this season). Profile for Stage 6.
Stage 7. Almost there! It climbs, it descends, it's Superstage! There are pretty much no flat roads on this stage 7, but the major obstacle of the day (say that again, using your best British announcer voice) comes round about (get that voice going again) 40 kilometers from the finish. The col de Bourigaille is rated at category 1 and climbs for 10.3 kilometers at 5.1%. Just a little something to make the legs go. A lengthy descent (careful there, Frank) follows the col. The finish kicks up for a quick climb of the sort that Giro organizers and climbers who can sprint love the most. This finish has Damiano Cunego's name on it. Too bad for Cunego, you must be present to win. Look for the teams for the general classification to keep this one on lock down, though the finale may open up a few small time gaps. Here's your profile for Stage 7. I'll let you pick your own winners. Generous, aren't I?
Stage 8. This stage runs from Nice to, um, Nice. No kidding. At only 119 kilometers, this one is a quicky. (Oh, puleeze. Get your minds out of the gutter already. Kids these days.) As I was saying, this is a short, hard stage with three category one climbs: Col de la Porte, La Turbin, and Col d'Eze. From the Col d'Eze, the riders descend back down to the sea and end the race with a flat sprint.
This stage can change the overall, though it doesn't always. Much depends on the strength of the team defending the leader's jersey. Strong team? No change. Weak team? All sorts of silliness could ensue over three category 1 climbs. I'm hoping for silliness, myself. C’est l’apothéose! That sounds so cheesy in English. What they mean is, it's over today. After this, you can go home. Here is your profile: Stage 8.
Phew. I'm tired now. And I didn't even ride the thing.
Some kids come to Paris-Nice to win. Some kids just want to train. (And girls just wanna have fun. But that's a whole 'nother story.) Spain looks hot this year. Alberto Contador of Astana won the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal already this season. And he wasn't even trying! Or, so he said beforehand. Anyway, Contador, like so the favorite for Paris-Nice, even with its shortage of crono-ing. Also from Spain, Luis Leon Sanchez of Caisse d'Épargne appears to have some form on him this early season. The tricky course with its many ups and downs could give Sanchez an opportunity to play the escape artist. He climbs well, descends well (eat your heart out Frank Schleck) and can crono. Sanchez has been touted as stage racer in the making. No time like the present. Speaking of Frank Schleck, the Saxo Bank rider is climbing well and on form. The shortage of time trialing gives him a better chance than usual for success. He should also have good team support, which is nothing to sneeze at (gesundheit!) on this year's course.
Cadel Evans, training or racing? Really, only he knows the answer to that. I'll take training for 500, and call him a rider for a stage win at best. But don't bet the house or anything, mmkay? Roman Kreuziger, could be racing, could be training. Not really enough kilometers against the watch to make him smile and his objectives come much later in the season. Good rider, never say never. Sylvain Chavanel is the team leader at Quick-Step. This course seems too hilly for his talents, but who am I to second guess the all-knowing Patrick Lefèvre? Over at Team Garmin, David Millar claims he hasn't looked at the course. Maybe he'll try to win a stage or the opening time trial, but really, he hasn't decided. Bluff or truth? We'll see soon enough. Reportedly, Christian Vandevelde will also ride Paris-Nice, though he does not yet appear on any startlists. Ricardo Van der Velde, who won a stage of last year's Tour de l'Avenir, does appear on the start list, but I would not bet on him as team leader just yet. For me, Dan Martin is the best bet at Garmin, after his nice showing at Tour Med.
Trivia alert! Milram is fielding two sets of brothers in this race: Markus and Thomas Fothen and Martin and Peter Velits. Markus Fothen is good for a short stage race, but better against the watch than in the climbs. Not his course, this time. At Rabobank, Juan Manuel Garate should place well, but probably not win. Good pick for a stage, less so for the overall.
That's all I got. Enjoy the Race to the Sun. (Not sure I said that enough times. Race to the Sun. Race to the Sun. Race to the Sun. There, that should do it.)
Clip and SaveSteephill.tv Paris-Nice, the go-to, all-in-one, everything you need to know spot.
Official Course Information. Straight from the source. With profiles! Because we heart the profiles.
Your live stream options. Will it appear? I dare not speculate.
Most Reliable Startlist. No back numbers yet, alas.