PEZ Preview: Paris-Nice’17
Paris-Nice Race Preview: The ‘Race to the Sun’ is said to be the first pointer to who will perform in the Tour de France. The top men don’t always aim for the overall win on the road to Nice, but they like to show a bit of sparkle. Our 2017 Paris-Nice coverage starts with the PEZ Preview by Daniel Thévenon who will be roadside next week.
Paris-Nice, whose 75th edition runs from 5-12 March, is the first major stage race of the cycling season. Created in 1933 by a publisher who happened to own newspapers in Paris and Nice, it is sometimes called ‘the Race to the Sun’, because it starts out in the suburbs of Paris and finishes along the Côte d’Azur.
The road to the sun
Some of history’s greatest cyclists have won Paris-Nice, including Louison Bobet, Jacques Anquetil, Raymond Poulidor, Eddy Merckx, Sean Kelly, Miguel Indurain, Alberto Contador and Bradley Wiggins, to name but a few.
Indurain in Paris-Nice, on his way to another Tour win
On the whole, it is a race that rewards brilliant all-rounders rather than specialists, whether climbers or time trialists. Indeed, the man with the most victories to his name, Ireland’s Sean Kelly, perfectly embodies this balance of qualities. Four times a winner of the Tour de France’s famous green jersey while consistently placing in the upper reaches of the general classification, Kelly could do it all. Though a prestigious race in its own right, Paris-Nice will also constitute a test for those aiming for glory on the roads of the Tour de France, ahead of the grand départ in Düsseldorf on 1 July.
Not Strade Bianche, but the rough roads of stage 1 of the 2016 Paris-Nice
This year’s race will eschew the traditional short opening time trial in favor of a 148.5 kilometer-long first stage that will follow a criterium-style circuit around the small town of Bois d’Arcy, situated to the south-west of the French capital, close to the famous Château de Versailles. But for a third-category climb, the Côte de Senlisse (1.1 kilometers in length, with an average gradient of 5.5%), which the riders will crest twice, the course is flat and should suit the sprinters.
The sprinters will clash early in the race
Stages 2 and 3, similar in length at just under 200 kilometers apiece, are likewise likely to smile on Démare, Bouhanni and co., presenting a largely plane topography, as Paris-Nice progresses along the Paris Basin towards the vineyard hills of Burgundy. Stage 2, on Monday, departs from the rustic village of Rochefort-en-Yvelines and concludes in the canal town of Amilly, proposing just one ascent all day, the third-category Côtes-des-Granges-le-Roi (1.5 kilometers, average gradient 3.1%), which comes very early. Stage 3 takes the peloton from Chablis, known for its Grand Cru, to Chalon-sur-Saône, a frequent staging post in the Tour de France. Two côtes in the finale, the third-category Côte de Grandmont (2.4 kilometers, average gradient 4.9%) and the second-category Côte de Charrecey (2.1 kilometers, average gradient 6.7%) could complicate matters and give the baroudeurs a small chance of success.
The fourth day of racing should contribute to determining the final winner of the event: a 14.5 kilometer time trial that will take the contestants from Beaujeu, the ancient capital of the Beaujolais province, to the summit of Mont Brouilly via a second-category ascent boasting a length of 3 kilometers and an average gradient of just under 8%, it looks certain to sort the in-form contenders from the rest. Last year, however, the stage to Mont Brouilly was cancelled due to heavy snow, so all eyes will be on the weather forecasts ahead of this stage.
Keep an eye on the weather
There will follow two transition stages as the peloton heads for the southern Alps and its date with the Col de la Couillole. Stage 5 runs from Quincié-en-Beaujolais, a small village in Burgundy, to Bourg-de-Péage, on the banks of the Isère river, which hosted the departure of a stage of the Tour de France two years ago, while Stage 6 takes the race from Aubagne, home town of the Provençal author Marcel Pagnol, to Fayence, a village perched in the mountains above the Mediterranean. The first, peppered with a few modest climbs, could go either the way of the sprinters or the baroudeurs, but the second presents a far more uneven course, including two first-category climbs in the last fifty kilometers and a second-category ascent to the finish, and should play into the hands of a break-away.
The queen stage, Stage 7, offers the highest ever finish for a stage of Paris-Nice, taking the riders from Nice to the summit of the Col de la Couillole, at an altitude of 1, 678 meters, in the picturesque Mercantour mountain range. Here too the weather could play a role, but aficionados will be hoping for a major battle between the pretenders to the yellow jersey. The participants will reach the final climb having already hauled their carcasses over the Col de Vence (9.7 kilometers, average gradient 6.6%) and the Col Saint-Martin (7.5 kilometers, average gradient 7.1%), both classed in first category, and the Couillole will serve them up a dreadful 15.7 kilometers of agony with gradients averaging 7.1%.
Stage 8, while short (115.5 kilometers), will be more than a mere epilogue and could well generate the kind of rich suspense to which spectators were treated last year, when Sky’s Geraint Thomas preserved his race lead by a slender 4 seconds. The riders once again depart from Nice and escalate no less than five climbs, including the iconic Col d’Eze (7.7 kilometers, average gradient 5.7%), very much a fixture of Paris-Nice. The race will, as always, finish in Nice but it will avoid the Promenade des Anglais this year, out of respect for the victims of the Bastille Day terrorist attack, and conclude instead on the Quai des Etats-Unis, slightly farther down the coast, after a week-long total of 1233.5 kilometers.
Two top favorites – Porte and Contador fight it out in 2016
The defending champion, Welshman Geraint Thomas, will not return to defend his title in 2017, having chosen instead to participate in the Italian stage races as part of his preparation for the Giro d’Italia, which he will be riding for the first time.
Ten years since Contador won Paris-Nice
However, former champion Alberto Contador of Spain, who fell short by a mere 4 seconds in last year’s Paris-Nice, and has twice won the race in the past, will take part and looks like the man to beat. ‘El Pistolero’ showed promising form in the recent Ruta del Sol, finishing second behind his compatriot Alejandro ‘the Green Bullet’ Valverde, and will seek to pull on yellow in Nice ahead of what should be his final participation in the Tour de France this July.
Porte – Third Nice win?
Australia’s Richie Porte, winner of La Course au Soleil in 2013 and 2015, and third of the last edition, should stand in the Spaniard’s way. The leader of BMC, who topped the rankings of the Union Cycliste Internationale early in the season after triumphing spectacularly on home soil in the Tour Down Under, is aiming for the hat trick. He will be looking forward to the time trial on the slopes of Mont Brouilly, having won Paris-Nice two years ago courtesy of an uphill time trial at the Col d’Eze. Observers assure that the Tasmanian Devil is in the form of his life and could well be in for a fantastic season.
Home win by Bardet?
The home nation will be counting on Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale), emphatic runner-up to Chris Froome at the last Tour de France, to fly the Tricolore flag. Though the man from Auvergne, who always endeavors to reach peak form in July, has had a characteristically quiet start to the season, finishing a disappointing eleventh in the recent Tour of Abu Dhabi, he too is making progress every year and might this time make a mark on Paris-Nice, something he has failed to achieve in years past. He will particularly be relishing the summit finish at the Col de la Couillole, and can rely on a super domestique in the form of the young Pierre Latour.
Latour will back Bardet
Other riders to watch include Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), fourth of Paris-Nice in 2016 and victor of the queen stage at La Madone d’Utelle. The long-haired Tatar finished ahead of many of the world’s best stage race contenders in Abu Dhabi, running Portugal’s Rui Costa a close second, and with a team-mate of the caliber of Tony Martin to support him Zakarin looks well equipped to take the title in Nice. Many will be placing their bets on Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNl-Jumbo) of the Netherlands, who was deprived of what looked like certain victory in last year’s Giro d’Italia by a cruel crash in the snow of the Col Agnel. ‘The Eagle of Eindhoven’ has achieved nothing of note since then, and hardly set the world on fire at last week’s Tour of Abu Dhabi, but he will be looking to rediscover his best form before this year’s Grand Tours.
Big win for Julian Alaphilippe?
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), recent winner of the Ruta del Sol, will be missing from the start due to illness, but France’s wonderkid Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), the last winner of the Tour of California will be there. Argentina’s Eduardo Sepulveda will lead the charge for Fortuneo-Vital Concept, Italy’s Diego Ulissi will represent UAE Abu Dhabi, and Spain’s Omar Fraile, the best climber of the Vuelta a España in the last two years, lines up for Dimension Data. Many of the world’s finest sprinters will also be involved in the action. France’s top three fast men, Arnaud Démare (FDJ), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis, Solutions Crédit) and Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) all feature, as well as Australia’s Michael Matthews (Sunweb), who impressed here last year, Norway’s Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin), and the German titans André Greipel (Lotto Soudal), ‘the Gorilla of Rostock’, and Marcel ‘the Kaiser’ Kittel (Quick-Step Floors).
Will the Gorilla growl in the sprints?
# Keep tuned to PEZ for Paris-Nice roadside reports and results and video in EUROTRASH. Live action can be found on Steephill.TV HERE. #
The Stages of the 2017 edition of Paris-Nice:
Sunday 5th March, 1st stage : Bois-d’Arcy > Bois-d’Arcy, 148,5 km
Monday 6th March, 2nd stage : Rochefort-en-Yvelines > Amilly, 192,5 km
Tuesday 7th March, 3rd stage : Chablis > Chalon-sur-Saône, 190 km
Wednesday 8th March, 4th stage : Beaujeu >Mont-Brouilly, 14,5 km (ITT)
Thursday 9th March, 5th stage : Quincié-en-Beaujolais > Bourg-de-Péage, 199,5 km
Friday 10th March, 6th stage : Aubagne > Fayence, 192 km
Saturday 11th March, 7th stage : Nice > Col de la Couillole, 177 km
Sunday 12th March, 8th stage : Nice > Nice, 115,5 km.
The best of Paris-Nice 2016: