Is Paris-Nice Over? [Hint: Maybe]

Doug Pensinger

Richie Porte's performance today put the Sky stage-racer into yellow by 32 seconds over surprising American wunderkind Andrew Talansky of Garmin-Sharp. With one decisive stage remaining, that sounds like a lot. But is it enough?

A few preambulatories...

  • It's been a very nicely arranged Paris-Nice, has it not? The prologue was a failure considering what the point of prologues is, but from there we had a couple sprints, followed by a mini-climbing stage, then a catch-your-breath transitional affair, followed by the MTF. Tomorrow's an intriguing day, and the finale atop the Col d'Èze should be spectacular. That, plus a close GC, has made for a fun week. Oh and the weather hasn't completely sucked, which is a change from the norm.
  • The premise of this column is that tomorrow nothing will change. The stage is a 220km forced march from Manosque to Nice, with bushels of KOM points for the taking, which should assure a sizeable or at least a determined break gets up the road. It will be interesting to see who is allowed to get away, given the tight time gaps, but Tschopp holds the Maillot a Pois (world's coolest jersey) now with Hupond closest, and neither of them is within 20 minutes of yellow.
  • Could an adventurous sort get away? Sure, it's cycling, there is always a chance.The Côte de Cabris and the Col du Ferrier are the primary obstacles, a total of 12km of climbing in the 6% range or so. Is that enough road? Maybe but it's hardly clear that one of the favorites could put the wood to the peloton on this sort of track. Moreover, from the top of the Ferrier it's 70km to the line, including maybe 30km of so of flats. Worse still, the guy in yellow is for Sky, whose beaters have done much to control things this week.

So assuming no major shocks tomorrow -- and in fact, barring a major shock, we can assume the contenders will all finish in a tight group -- that leaves us with the current GC heading into the Col d'Èze:

  1. Porte
  2. Talansky, at 0.32
  3. Westra, at 0.42
  4. Peraud, at 0.49
  5. Van Garderen, at 0.52
  6. Chavanel, at 0.53
  7. Spilak, s.t.
  8. Ulissi, at 0.54
  9. Scarponi, s.t.
  10. Velits, at 0.56

As far as I can tell, last year's finale on the Col d'Èze was essentially identical: 9.6km, summit at 501 meters. There's a four-meter delta in the start, but that sounds like nothing (start ramp?). The otherwise awesome ASO official site has a poor profile of the stage, but I found this from 2012:

Paris-nice_2012_profile_stage_8_medium

via upload.wikimedia.org

Having run the exact same stage one year ago makes for about the single best data point you can hope for in cycling. And even then so much is different: weather, people's condition, etc. Still, we know this:

  • Judging by his 1.44 deficit on the stage, Porte got crushed on this course last year... or did he? His captain Bradley Wiggins was in yellow, while Porte was playing helper all week and sitting 22 minutes down. So on this final day, he almost certainly wasn't racing for anything more than pride. Which ... do cyclists do that? In the Tour de France, sure, but that's about it. Porte was undoubtedly looking at a job well done delivering Wiggins to the line in yellow, and a week to rest up for Catalunya. Thus, I think you can toss out this data point, as much as I wish we wouldn't.
  • Here's an interesting data point: the 2012 Tour de Romandie 16km time trial around Crans Montana. The race included a cat-1 climb gaining 450 meters, putting it within shouting range of Sunday's climb. That's about it for similarities, but the results sure are interesting: 1. Wiggins; 2. Talansky, at 0.01; 3. Porte, at 0.16. So Richie's time trialing prowess seems to include stuff with a climb attached. Talansky's may be superior, but 33 seconds superior? Probably not. Maybe though.
  • The next person of interest is Lieuwe Westra. Westra was the only bloke who could hang with Wiggins in last year's finale, losing to Mr Pottymouth by two seconds. He came in as the logical favorite (subtract last year's winner and presto!) and has done little to either confirm or deny that status. As for his relative strengths against the watch vis-a-vis Talansky and Porte, it's hard to see where he's decisively better. In fact, in their history of matchups, that Col d'Èze beating of 1.42 is the only data point that suggests Westra is superior to Porte against the watch. Yeah, if you had to pick one data point, that would be it, but nothing about cycling is so simplistic as that. Moreover, I wouldn't assume Westra is a better cronoman than Talansky at this point. See previous paragraph.
  • Is there anyone else worth discussing? Probably not. Only Westra's awesome history gets him into the conversation. He beat JC Peraud by 31 seconds on this stage last year, so for Peraud to reverse his 7 seconds to Westra and his 49 seconds to Porte (with Talansky in between) seems unlikely. Overall, tenth-placed Rigoberto Uran was 1.06 back last year, with only Peraud and Westra within 40 seconds of Wiggins. That gives you an idea of how much time is available on this stage. If Porte gives back a full minute, then it'll be a wide-open affair, but does anyone see that happening?
Then there's what our eyes tell us: that Porte was clearly the strongest rider on the course today. Talansky looks like a clear #2, and you can't rule out a change of places, but my guess is that the GC holds straight through to the podium.
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