The Spin: Paris-Nice Stage 3

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Up, up and away. It’s tempting to see today’s stage getting progressively hilly before a final climb with third category “summit” finish at 700 metres above sea level in the Massif Central range but it’s not so simple.

Instead note the organisers of Paris-Nice only have three categories of climb. So don’t confuse today’s finish with previous talk of third category climbs in the Tour de France, for example the ski station finish of Superbesse last summer was a third category climb. To jog your memory Movistar’s Rui Costa won and behind Contador and Evans duelled and everyone marvelled at Hushovd’s ability to hold the yellow jersey. There’s more on today’s finish further down but there’s the matter of the first 185km.

In order to assess today’s stage let’s first look back to yesterday’s stage. As predicted crosswinds ravaged the bunch and a select group of 21 riders make it to the finish. Many teams will be frustrated to have missed the move, worse a few team managers will be angry. As such I suspect there will be orders to get in the early breakaway in a bid to make amends (or as punishment). By contrast today should be more relaxing for Bradley Wiggins and his team and the same for Omega Pharma-Quickstep who both gained plenty from yesterday’s stage.

The day’s terrain is suited to a breakaway but the finish should be enough to incentive the sprinters to chase any move down, especially because each successive day gets more awkward for the heavier rider.

The start is in Vierzon, a town that was once prosperous with the arrival of the railway in the mid 19th century but is now on the slide although it retains a scenic river-front. But that’s about it, there’s not much going on and the race has a flat first half. On the way they skirt Châteauroux, often the site of Mark Cavendish’s July sprint wins and also where in 2002 Fränk Schleck found refuge with UC Châteauroux after his first experience in the pro ranks ended and he returned to the amateurs before Bjarne Riis restarted his career.

The terrain changes when they enter the Limousin region after the feed zone. Normally this region is full of traps, the Tour du Limousin takes many tortuous roads that constantly change direction and gradient. But this time the route sticks to the main roads. The terrain can suit a breakaway as it still twists and turns but the roads are wide and there’s nothing steep to surprise. The Côte de Bourganeuf is a 4% for 1.2km and regular.

Paris Nice Stage 3 final climb

The finish: yes it’s uphill but the sprinters and their teams will fancy their chances. Once again the third category finish is the lowest category climb in this race. But it is not flat. By my reckoning the road climbs for 7km before the finish at an average of 3.6%. But like all averages, it can mask the truth and the climb instead goes up in irregular fashion with small ramps of 6% alongside 2% false flats. This should mean bulkier sprinters are in trouble but a sprinter in top form, especially one with ambitions for Milan-Sanremo, could enjoy this. Otherwise look to more complete riders with a fast finish to do damage, think of the likes of Simon Gerrans or Alejandro Valverde.

Wild guesses: Tom Boonen is in great shape whilst J-J Rojas might like the uphill finish but they spent half of yesterday in the breakaway. Heinrich Haussler crashed yesterday but if he’s ok, he’ll like this one. Watch out for others like Samuel Dumoulin and local rider Romain Feillu. Keep an eye on Thor Hushovd who has been relatively quiet so far this season.

The weather: the good news is a tailwind. But it’s a very light 10km/h and the more wooded route means few will notice. The bad news is that temperatures will range from 0°C to 5°C, a day for the thermals and extra food during the race. Luckily it should be dry, with early rain clearing.

TV: 3pm to 4.30pm Euro time.

Poulidor

Celebrity spotting: the finish is near to where France’s living legend Raymound Poulidor has spent his life. Known under the equally unflattering terms as “Poupou” and “The Eternal Second” Poulidor won the 1966 Paris-Nice but found his career sandwiched between Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx. Cycling has long rewarded heroic losers and moral winners and Poulidor carved out a long and profitable career here, even if the legend probably exceeded the reality of a very strong rider with many wins to his name.

Hungry? The start area is famous for its goats cheese and the finish is more orientated to basic carbohydrates. Once upon a time the locals ate chestnuts but the regional dish is a potato pie and much of the economy is dependent on the rust-coloured Limousin cattle celebrated by many French butchers.

936ADL March 6, 2012 at 8:05 am

This is becoming an essential early morning read. Keep up the good work!

Ankush March 6, 2012 at 8:38 am

You’ve really stepped it up a notch in 2012, awesome preview.

I think OPQS will be happy to send Chavanel in the break and to make Sky chase the breakaway. I don’t see Valverde prevailing today as many are touting. This a stage custom-built for riders like Sagan, EBH (who are absent) and whisper slowly…Thor, would be lovely to see him put the hammer down today (no pun intended). Also, I would keep an eye on Matty Wilson and Sulzberger who are again breakaway specialists

Graeme March 6, 2012 at 9:35 am

@Ankush: presumably Sky could do exactly the same thing. Try to get Geraint Thomas in the break and then let OPQ chase it all day.

neil March 6, 2012 at 9:53 am

Absolutely… essential first thing / coffee imbibing reading. These are terrific previews… well written, well thought out… and, dare one whisper the word… intelligent. I’m sure I’m not the only one reading who is hoping that these’ll become a regular event throughout the whole season. Chapeau.

As to today – I’m thinking (hoping) it’ll be another day’s racing that’ll further shake GC up again…

David Gorton March 6, 2012 at 10:00 am

Great preview INRNG. It would be great if the race was just as aggressive as yesterday but from the sound of the conditions, I doubt it somewhat. Perhaps if the sprinters teams don’t really control it then it could become fractured at the end of the race.

Despite his dispassionate (or, rather, deadpan) style of interview, I’m really enjoying the emergence of Brad Wiggins – road racer. As opposed to just TT rider and climber. Mad respect for anyone smashing it on the front of the first echelon. In a way, I’m disappointed Cav is going to take away some of Wiggo’s support in July.

Roly March 6, 2012 at 10:53 am

The quality of your comment is immense. Much better than any of the “proper” websites out there.

Nice sponser too!!

bikecellar March 6, 2012 at 11:26 am

Sky are gonna have their work cut out keeping OPQS under control perhaps a day for BMC to profit, they need to get a win. At least today I shall see the live coverage, yesterday and to-morrow and the next day I am on duty picking up grandchildren from school at exactly the stage finish time :( ……… @ David Gorton, checkout the interview with Wiggo on Cycling Fans, he even cracks a joke.

Ablindeye March 6, 2012 at 11:36 am

My wildy inaccurate pick for today is the run in to be just demanding enough for Gerrans to take the win. Sprinters teams to expend too much energy chasing a break over the undulating finale and Gerrans in shape and motivated, given a good TT in the wet followed by frustration yesterday, to get the gap and relieve the pressure at Green Edge…maybe…

daniel alpin March 6, 2012 at 12:17 pm

fantastic write up, keep up the good work

Peleton Boy March 6, 2012 at 1:21 pm

This blog is simply wonderbaa. You make me so happy inrng.

Ablindeye March 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Too tough for the sprinters then but Gerrans will be kicking himself after making up 10+ bike lengths in the last 100m to lose by half a wheel. Decent position before (easier said then done I know) would have had him smoking a cigar while crossing the line.

Martin March 6, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Adding my thanks. Still instructive, even if i’m in the wrong timezone to read it before the start!

CAT4Fodder March 6, 2012 at 7:35 pm

I gained a lot of respect for Wiggens watching a replay of a recent Volta a Algarve. Wiggens played the part of lead out, and just drilled it. I am likely wrong, but I just to not recall seeing other team leader play lieutenant as well as Wiggens did on that stage last month.

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