Lost in all the acrimony is the fact that Paris-Nice is actually a bike race, not merely some sort of three-ringed circus of freaks, wild animals, and people on wheels. And even further obscured have been some of the finer details which could yet make this one of the more exciting episodes in the race's long history. Granted, it would be hard to top Alberto Contador's dashing escape to steal the race from Davide Rebellin at the very end of last year, one of the season's truly palpitating sights. But that hasn't stopped the route planners from trying:
- Stage 4, next Thursday, climbs a good deal of the way up Mont Ventoux. Only to a station at the 1400 meter mark, 500 meters short of the summit -- definitely pulling the full punch here. But Ventoux is Ventoux, a hors-categoire event no matter how you slice it.
- The previous two stages will feature no less than 8 rated climbs, including the climactic ascent of the Col de la Croix du Chabouret, a cat-1 affair of some 700 meters which will surely blow up much of the field.
- There will still be two stages in the Maritime Alpes, including a bumpy ride into Cannes on stage six featuring 7 (!) rated climbs in succession. The final day will be the traditional Nice-Nice circuit over the triplet of cat-1 climbs: Col de la Porte, La Turbie, and Col d'Eze before the nosedive to the line.
Davide Rebellin, an annual protagonist, has already stated that this edition might be a tad too vertical for his abilities. Had Contador not been blacklisted by ASO he would be a natural pick to defend his crown. Instead, CN rates Damiano Cunego, Luis Leon Sanchez, Jens! Voigt, David Millar, Cadel Evans, Christophe Moreau and Fränk Schleck among the favorites. My personal picks are Gilbert, Gesink, Millar and an unforeseen Bweeg rider (Pineau?).
No picks yet from VN. Ditto for Pez, which reminds me it's time to start openly challenging our good friends from Pez to announce race picks ahead of time. Unless they're too chicken! Happy 6th Anniversary Pez, BTW. [buck buck... brawk!] Race starts Sunday and will be on Cycling.TV all week. Enjoy!