The Spin: Paris-Nice Stage 5

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Five climbs and then the vicious uphill finish above Mende. Today should see a big change in the overall classification with the heavier riders from the prologue and Monday’s 21 rider group dropping out of the top places thanks to the selective climb.

But it’s not just about the final climb. It’s could be windy, one climb listed as 4.5km long is actually twice as long and the race uses roads described in Tim Krabbé’s novel The Rider.

The start is in Onet-le-Chateau, just outside Rodez where yesterday’s stage finish happened. The uphill start is an ideal launch ramp for breakaways. It’s possible a move stays away all day, this might suit Team Sky who will be worried about Alejandro Valverde grabbing time bonuses at the intermediate sprint point and especially the finish line. But any escape depends on the composition of riders, they will all need to be well down on the general classification.

Just before the feed zone the race heads along the Tarn valley. We’re in the territory belonging to The Rider, the novel by Tim Krabbé. I’ve reviewed the book before but should return to it again because it’s probably the single best piece of literature about cycling I’ve read. The English translation is superb. However, the route today only glances by the roads described by Krabbé and goes in the other direction.

Talking of fiction the race climbs away from the Tarn on the Côte de La Malène. This is a first category climb and it’s listed as 4.2km at 7.9%… in fact the road climbs for 9km. It’s just the first 4km climb up the side of a cliff but once this is done the road goes up for much longer across a desolate plateau before descending back the Tarn valley again. Then it’s the Côte de l’Estrade, this time 6.1km at 8.1% and there’s nothing hidden here, this is a regular steep climb. Then comes this Côte de Chabrits, another effort.

The final climb will be decisive but don’t ignore the earlier efforts. If the climb above Mende is only three kilometres, it is very steep and comes after plenty of hard climbing all day. The stage is not Alpine, by my reckoning there are 2,500 vertical metres today but the climbing is concentrated on steep and sometimes rough roads.

There’s no debating the finish though. The riders will fly through Mende – bonus sprint – and then tackle the climb of the Croix Neuve, or the Montée Laurent Jalabert, named after the French rider who won there in 1995 who will be commentating for French TV today. It’s steep enough at 10% to make even a small gap pay dividends, once a rider opens a lead on the others it might look small in distance but counts for plenty in time. It’s all about pacing, go too early and too hard and you’ll pay later. Fail to follow the moves and you’ll struggle to close the gaps near the top.

This should be a showdown between Alejandro Valverde and Bradley Wiggins but it is perhaps too reductive to imagine a duel. He’s been invisible so far but Euskaltel’s Igor Anton is in the race and there are climbers who could profit. Think of David Moncoutié or Dani Navarro. The finish is intense and equally suit powerful riders, maybe Rein Taaramae will want to make amends for all his bad luck so far too and never forget Thomas Voeckler, even if he seems out of form for now. Simon Gerrans finished so strong on Tuesday he could have a go too.

Wiggins alone will be worth watching. Can he climb with the best? He’s done this climb before and was 14th in the 2010 Tour. Today is a great test because the ascension is like the Grand Colombier, the climb that will play a big role in the Tour de France next summer… except as brutal as today’s climb is, it is shorter and less steep. But we’ll see how he weathers the attacks.

TV: earlier coverage, this time 2.45pm to 4.15pm Euro time.

Weather: the “race to the sun” has already found the sunshine but warm temperatures aren’t here yet, only 9°C. Above all it’s going to be windy near the finish. A northerly wind will blow at 20-30km/h but could gust to 60km/h. The route is sheltered in places but exposed in others. If the wind is blowing as forecast then it will be possible to blow the race apart in crosswinds again.

Wild guess: Alejandro Valverde finished second here the last time Paris-Nice came, behind Alberto Contador and is the logical pick. But what if Wiggins has a superior power to weight ratio? The steady climb could suit him.

Local riders: I can’t think of any. The regions crossed today have some of the lowest population densities in France. There’s some fine cycling, in large part due to the empty roads.

Hungry? It’s too early for the cherries that come from the Tarn valley. Instead there’s plenty of honey and dishes made from chestnuts if you have a sweet tooth.

Larry T. March 8, 2012 at 9:19 am

Nice preview! Am I missing your take on that other race…the one where the winner gets the golden trident as a trophy? We’ll have dueling laptops going today with Italy vs France. I wish RAI Sport would start broadcasting in Sicily but so far…..niente.

bikecellar March 8, 2012 at 9:28 am

I just looked back at the comment I made when you reviewed The Rider, well I did take it on holiday but never really got into it,up to page 44 to be precise, it’s been back on the shelf since last July I shall have to try again, the holiday I took it on was just too busy for reading such a “thoughtfull” book. Today’s stage, for sure a big shakeout will occur but I don’t think Wiggins will have any problems, as he has said he has very good form at the moment and can be seen to be doing just what he needs to. I saw him being interviewed the other day (Tuesday pm) and he seemed much less intense than usual, perhaps having Cavendish at Sky has helped to take some of the weight off his shoulders ?

The Inner Ring March 8, 2012 at 9:30 am

Larry: I haven’t got the time for two previews per day, hopefully there is time to catch some video of the race later.

bikecellar: Wiggins seems to have good and bad days on camera but given he’s in control in this race I think he’s going to be happy.

Roly March 8, 2012 at 9:40 am

Re. The last climb. It’s def. Shorter than Colombier bub I’m not sure about less steep. I did the 2010 Tour stage and this is a real brute. Look closely at the last km: 10.9% ave and the last half km levels off. The km before the last half is an absolute killer!!

neil March 8, 2012 at 10:02 am

Its a pity that someone with the skill and ability of Uran is unlikely to be let off the leash today given that he’ll be under the cosh to shepherd his Team Murdoch leader.

beev March 8, 2012 at 10:26 am

after copping out yesterday, i’m actually going to pick a name for today. levi.

Bundle March 8, 2012 at 10:28 am

I join others in commending the nice preview. Valverde should win, but yesterday’s finish left me wondering. Fränk Schleck and Antón should be in front today, and so should Coppel and Monfort too. But it would be a shame if everything was left down to the last 3 kilometers. The previous two climbs are significant enough, and close enough, to allow for tacticalities and surprise attacks. Let’s hope “modern YouTube cycling” is forgotten by DS.
And Neil, I agree. Rigo is diminished in the Sky supersquad. I think a more modest French or Italian team would allow him to shine a little more.

Ablindeye March 8, 2012 at 10:41 am

@ neil Uran might be let off the leash at the end (he tried a move yesterday in the run in) in an effort to take the time bonus as much as anything else. Surely Moncoutie to be in the break today and to fancy his chances if given a headstart on the final climb. having said that he might have some competetion today given a number of big names more than 10 minutes down.

At 10% I think Wiggins will be ok to ride at threshold and keep the attacks at bay. He’s less strong (not bad just look at his fine performances on some brutal climbs at the Vuelta) when the it starts kicking up to 12-15% against those who possess more explosive acceleration.

Ankush March 8, 2012 at 10:50 am

As it happens, I can’t look beyond for today’s stage win. Short climb at the finish won’t suit Wiggo/Levi so Uran/Richie could be sent up to compete. On a more serious note, De Clercq was in the breakaway y’day and today’s parcours suits him real well (remember last year Giro). I also fancy Lulu Sanchez/Mollema t0 play some role today. This is real racing…

Geoff Bumble March 8, 2012 at 10:57 am

Great preview as always Inner Ring.

I understand the comments above about Rigo’s ‘diminished’ role in Sky, but I don’t agree. He’s got probably the best support around him in terms of fulfilling his physical and mental potential at Team Sky. He’ll also be getting plenty of opportunities of his own. He’ll be a protected rider in the Ardennes classics for example. Last year when Wiggins crashed out of the Tour, the team supported his White Jersey challenge. And I’m sure before long (perhaps even at this year’s Vuelta) he’ll have an opportunity to lead the team’s GC ambitions at a Grand Tour. All team members play a supporting role for others. Cancellera does it for the Schlecks at the Grand Tours, Wiggins did it for Porte in the Volta Algarve. Swings and roundabouts.

Anyway, back to today, I agree that Sky will be very happy to see a breakaway develop, but we saw yesterday how keen Movistar were to keep it in check, so I think it’s unlikely that any attempt will succeed. So it will probably come down to the final climb. It’s not an ideal climb for Wiggins so I think he’ll be more focused on limiting his losses. Valverde has to the favourite (yawn), but it will probably go to someone who hasn’t yet shone this week, such as Navarro or even Coppel.

Ian March 8, 2012 at 10:57 am

not heard of The Rider so I’ll be straight out to buy this, thanks as always. The education continues.

L_Islandais March 8, 2012 at 11:53 am

I put The Rider on the top of my Christmas wishlist, along with Europe’s Greatest Climbs – also reviewed by Mr. Ring. The Rider kept me busy for three whole days during the holidays as I couldn’t keep my mind off it between reading. Worked up a nice sweat in the most grueling parts as well – excellent read and highly recommended!

TomC March 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm

@neil I’m not so sure about Uran being wasted, as others have pointed out he will be protected in the Ardennes and last year he had plenty of podium finishes in good races despite working for others in other races. Also he can continue to develop without the pressure of being ‘the next big thing’ for GT’s etc with Wiggo and Cav taking all the pressure.

Bundle March 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm

well, the “next big thing” could actually well be Sergio Henao, and he’s also in the team (doing races like the 3 Days of Western Flanders).

Miles March 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Just damn brilliant work on this blog

Nick March 8, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Ian – The Rider is the single most wonderful thing you will read about bike racing (apart from this brilliantly measured blog). Follow it up with Matt Rendell’s A Significant Other.

Almost as good as riding a bike.

Levi will push Brad into the red zone today, but Brad will hold him. And neither will win the stage.

Nick March 8, 2012 at 2:05 pm

And another thing, how much aerodynamic advantage must Levi get being so small. He looks like he barely has to pedal in the peleton; just sucked along.

Ken March 8, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Only @Bundle has mentioned the Schleck brothers. There are hills on the course, aren’t there? Or, is the brothers’ form really that bad this early?

JimW March 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm

@INRNG

Thanks for the excellent insights!

Eurosport is streaming today.
English with Sean Kelly! WoooHooo!

Ablindeye March 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm

@ Ken Andy is already out of the race with sickness (along with 4 or 5 other riders) though he rarely seems to do much outside of July. Frank doesn’t seem to have the form at the moment.

Don’t claim to know too much about him but Westra!? Looked comfortable for him and he could even have got within 3 secs of yellow if he kept going to the line.

CarbonCube March 8, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Wow amazing Westra! Should have pushed on untill the finish but maybe he couldnt. Great for Vacansoleil too. Where one Dutch team fails the other team seems to prevail…

Very interesting. Westra is a TT specialist and now also a climber. Bet he can hold his own on the last TT climb.

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