The Spin: Paris-Nice Stage 8

Sunday, 11 March 2012

A final time trial to settle the race. Bradley Wiggins leads but only six seconds so the final overall classification is no formality.

If we expect Wiggins to win, luckily this is sport and all sorts of things can happen. As Greg Lemond said on the eve of the final stage of the 1989 Tour de France “if he has a bad day and I have a good day anything is possible“, and the American went on to beat Laurent Fignon by just eight seconds on the overall. Lieuwe Westra is only six seconds behind Wiggins and he has shown powerful climbing on the stage to Mende. Similarly Tejay Van Garderen is only 20 seconds of a podium spot and could prove superior to Spilak and Valverde in the time trial.

The climb itself is part-technical, part obvious. There are no narrow parts, nor sharp bends but given it is just 9.6km, every second counts. The road climbs away from Nice on some steep sections and there is often a tailwind for the first two kilometres. Then the course begins to wind back towards the sea and level off before the midway section of 7% and then it continues on with spectacular views of the sea below.

Those high on the overall have proved they can climb and time trial so we should expect the likes of Wiggins and Valverde to do well. But some have suffered misfortune in the race and perhaps the likes of Jérôme Coppel, Sylvain Chavanel of Maxime Monfort can do well too.

TV: note the early start and finish, it will be on air from 1.30 to 3.30pm Euro time.

Weather: sunny and a light breeze coming in off the coast.

History: the Col d’Eze was used as a final time trial for the first time in 1969 when Eddy Merckx won. Sinc then it has been a regular feature of the race. But the starting and finish points have often changed meaning there is no definitive course record nor an easy way to compare today’s riders with Merckx. Not that the comparison is valid, riders will be using time trial bikes today with all the aerodynamic advantage possible. Merckx just rode on the drops.

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{ 9 comments }

beev March 11, 2012 at 7:33 am

there’s been a lot of chat this week on eurosport about todays TT up col d’eze, especially with respect to best times, and how this years winners time will compare against the best historic times, specifically those of the great sean kelly. so much so, that i decided to cast my slide rule over the history books using published data for time and distance. i looked at from when this TT was first run in 1969 until 1991 – ie before it was dropped in favour of promenade d’anglais as a close to the event later in the mid ’90s. nb. i’ve not considered any data after this year due to a big asterix you can put against this era – eg the same man won in ’91 and ’94 – only he went 12.5% faster on the latter occasion!!

first of all the assumptions – i don’t have the exact routes for each year, only the published times & distances, and the latter is subject to rounding assumptions – to nearest 0.5km, not 0.1km, as was the case way back when. however, this data throws up an interesting winner based on average speed – gerrie kneteman in 1980 @ 32.2kmh – although i must say i have to question the data here, because kneteman’s other winning ride on col d’eze was two years earlier at 28.2kmh – sorry gerrie, but i’m going to put that ride down as a data anomoly. behind that is sean kelly’s 1984 run @31.9kmh. for reference the best average speed for merckx was in 1970 was 28.1kmh, but this was detailed as a la turbie finish (the adjacent climb). his best col d’eze ride for speed was 1969 @ 27.6kmh.

the often quoted best time of sean kelly – 19.45 – occurred in 1986, but the official data suggests an average speed of ‘only’ 30.4kmh. however, it is believed that this ride was on what many regard as the ‘classic course’ as opposed to the longer routes of up to 12.5k that were sometimes used. a very similar ‘classic’ course has been chosen for this years 9.6k parcours (+/- a few metres at either end and a better road surface). I estimate that sean did this ride at 440W average (i’ll spare you my guess at his weight though in calculating this). clearly, the ‘king’ didn’t have the benefit of a power meter, but i’m sure his legs and lungs provided all the ‘burn’ data he needed!

brad wiggins clearly has to be a hot favourite for todays stage, and if he can ride it at his peak power levels for a 20 min TT – which may not be possible given differences when climbing – then he will beat kelly’s time for sure. if he goes for it, we could see a time of around 18.37 – question is, going off last and having all the information on other riders, is will he actually be pushed to need to achieve this sort of time. ultimately, i’m sure brad would trade a TT today victory for the overall, and as i tweeted earlier in the week, victory would make him only the third man to ever hold both paris-nice and dauphine titles at the same time – after anquetil and merckx.

finally, and bike technology arguments aside, you have to remember something very important when trying to compare these times – something that truly did make kelly ‘king’ – he rode his 19.45 after a morning stage of 101km already in his legs! brad will just have to do his warm up – with or without his black towel! good luck brad….

Ankush March 11, 2012 at 8:44 am

Great writeup to whet the appetite for the final TT. Thanks Beev for a fairly elaborate research piece.

As everyone else I also believe that Wiggo has MJ wrapped up. It will be interesting to see if Coppel could clinch 5th and if TJ could make the podium.

Owen March 11, 2012 at 8:57 am

Out this afternoon, after a ride this morning of course, so I’ll be recording and watching it, and France v England rugby, this evening. My wife should enjoy that. She’ll be eternally grateful there’s no time for Tirreno.

daniel March 11, 2012 at 9:13 am

Can’t see Valverde challenging. Westra vs Wiggins for the win. Hope its close, but Wiggins will probably win.

Hasn’t been a great edition this year (again). Tirreno should be much better today.

simon fielder March 11, 2012 at 10:28 am

Will they really be using tt bikes for such course? Would the normal road bike not be a better option considering the climbing involved?

Rooto March 11, 2012 at 11:34 am

Thanks for the technical insight. I’m still disappointed that my time yesterday of 43 minutes really doesn’t cut it…!

I think that there could be some surprise times at the finish. The steep section just after the intermediate time check could catch out a few people who’ve gone off too hard. Therefore, final times may have some changes from half-way split times.

Chris March 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Some early pictures coming up on Twitter seem to suggest that the early riders at least are opting for normal bikes with clip on TT bars, will be interesting to see if the TT specialists follow suit.

Larry T. March 11, 2012 at 4:30 pm

I’m with you Daniel, P-N’s been rather boring unless you’re a Wiggins fan. All the TdF hype regarding this seems to overlook the fact that Sean Kelly won P-N how many times? And how many times did HE win LeTour?

The Inner Ring March 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Beev: good work. The full list of Col d’Eze times is here:
Col d'Eze times

Note today was 9.6km and Wiggins did 19.12.

Larry T: it’s not just this race but with the Vuelta and Dauphiné from last year, plus the 100+ kms of time trials, it is now possible to imagine Wiggins on the podium of the Tour de France and even as a contender for the top step. Cadel Evans and others will want to dispute this. Bring on July. Although there’s plenty of great racing between now and then too.

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