As is so common in no sport but cycling, Paris-Nice was started by a man who owned a newspaper, or in this case, two newspapers, Le Petit Journal and Le Petit Niçois, one based in Paris, and one based in, well, Nice. The man was Albert Lejeune, and in 1933, Paris-Nice was run for the first time, along the Rhône. It was won by the Belgian Alphonse Schepers. It was halted in 1939, fulfilling a prerequisite for being a big race, and was slow to get going again, especially since its creator was executed for collaboration.
However, it was rejuvenated in the 1950s under the care of Jean Leulliot and grew until the biggest names in the sport were riding it, Tour champions like Bobet won it, as well as classics riders like Raymond Impanis, as more and more riders and fame flocked to the race, as everyone who was anyone in the 1960s rode it. Anquetil in 1961, '63, '65, and finally in 1966, when a rival was born.
Or not that it knew it at the time. In 1966, not a newspaper started Tirreno-Adriatico, originally intended to be a warm-up for La Classicissima, Milan-San Remo, and started as a three-day race, won by Tour of Flanders winner Dino Zandégu, and continued in the same vein for years, with classic riders, Italians, stage winners and baroudeurs, the most impressive of which being Roger de Vlaeminck, who won it six times in a row, from 1972 to 1977.
Meanwhile, in France, Tom Simpson won in his last year on Earth, before Merckx became dominant and won three times from 1969, it was still truly the domain of the Tour favourites, with Ocaña routinely finishing on the podium, and Poulidor and Zoetemelk routinely winning. In 1977 Freddy Maertens won five stages en route to the overall.
Saronni and the excellently named Norwegian time-triallist Knut Knudsen won Tirreno in 1978 and '79, as the GT winners began to come, Giro winner Francesco Moser a dual winner, followed by fellow Maglia Rosa Visentini. But by now, in France, three colours shone throughout the 1980s. Green. White. And orange.
Following Gilbert Duclos-Lassale's win in 1980, Irish riders held the then white jersey for 8 years, winning the traditional Col d'Eze time trial 9 times. It was started by Stephen Roche in 1981, making the break on the crucial stage and becoming team leader of Peugeot. This was followed by a period of Seán Kelly dominance, for the details read chapter 13 of his autobiography or this great article by FMK. Kelly, like most of his contemporaries, "considered Paris-Nice to be more demanding, more appealing and more prestigious than Tirreno-Adriatico." Kelly, in this period won numerous stages, and five of the Col d'Eze TTs. Roche won four. There were many battles between the two Irishmen, such as 1987, when on a stage like this year's stage 6, Roche punctured in white, and Kelly took the win. After Kelly's 7th victory in 1988, he "wanted to plot out his escape route unbeaten," and joined the PDM team who were riding Tirreno. The streak was broken by Miguel Indurain, but Roche was 2nd, and won on the Col d'Eze.
One of the uglier facets of this decade of Paris-Nice was a shipyard workers' strike during the 1984 race, during which Bernard Hinault, on the way to a third place finish, rode into the strikers and started throwing punches. "They were stopping me from doing my job," he would say of the incident.
During this time, the GT favourites still rode P-N, with victories at Tirreno from Tommy Prim, and a 38-year-old Joop Zoetemelk, raging against the dying of the light. By the end of the 1980s the race added a lot of time trials, and the first big GC riders arrived, with Tony Rominger winning twice. During the early '90s, it was won by several Italians, Fondriest, Furlan, Colage, Casagrande and Petito.
Indurain won Paris-Nice again in 1990, when it became the domain of French and Swiss for seven years, going to Rominger twice, Bernard, Zülle and Jalabert three consecutive times, starting when Fignon bought it. But financial trouble and ASO pressure curtailed his tenure as organiser, and it was sold. It was the last big stage race to be surrendered to ASO, which is surely worth the doff of a cap.
Tirreno continued in the form of classics preparation, with guys like Pozzato and Friere managing wins. However, finally, in 2007, those magical, race-transforming, things we know as mountains were added, with Macerata and Montelupone giving J-Rod the chance to win a stage every year.
Paris-Nice kept its formula, giving two wins to Vino, and seeing Contador win his first big stage race in 2007, the year of his first Tour win. By this point, it still had a lot of GC favourites. But Tirreno was starting to pull. The previous years 2nd place, Kloden, and big name Vinokourov, moved to Italy that year.
Paris-Nice held the sway until 2010, when Contador won a second time, but in 2011 there was a big swing: That was the first year in which the Tour de France winner rode and won Tirreno-Adriatico. Wiggins did win P-N in 2012, but he was the only big there, and in 2013, all focus switched to the race of the two seas, with Nibali winning, followed by Froome, Rodríguez and Contador.
There was much the same spiel last year, in which the GC guys rode Tirreno, apart from an unfit Nibali, who rode Paris-Nice, and a sick Froome.
Paris-Nice was where the sprinters, Ardennes guys and cobbles riders went, with the unusual parcours leading to uphill sprints, not suiting the bigs.
But this year is different. There is a respectable summit finish on the Col de la Croix du Chaubouret, the Col d'Eze is back, and there is an incredibly interesting stage over 6 categorised climbs, as opposed to Tirreno's respectable mountain stage to Monte Terminillo, a TTT, a short ITT, and a "Sagan" stage.
I'd like to see tradition out, and for the big riders to do Paris-Nice next year.
(Eric Feferberg, AFP/Getty)