A prologue to start the 2013 Paris-Nice. If you watched last year’s race this is very different being short, urban and flat. Note the series of corners and junctions on the map above.
As well as the stage preview here is a look at the overall contenders for the race too.
The Overall Contenders
There are three defining aspects of the course:
- just 12.5km of time trialling
- time bonuses of 10-6-4 seconds
- the Montagne de Lure summit finish
With this in mind the time gaps and the end of the week should be small and defined by the Montagne de Lure, although the others stages and team tactics could be influential. With this in mind we need to think of a climber who can handle time trials and contest stage wins.
Robert Gesink is the obvious pick. Sometimes it’s easy to think of Blanco’s captain as a climber given his lanky frame but he won the Tour of California last year after a surprisingly strong TT. He should find the Montagne de Lure suits him and he comes with a strong team. His only problem seems to be luck, he’s crashed out of a disproportionate number of races.
Movistar’s Rui Costa is another pick. The Portuguese rider won the Tour de Suisse last year thanks to bold riding, steady time trialling and big help from his team, especially Alejandro Valverde. Now he comes with mountain ace Nairo Quintana who will have to soar on the Montagne de Lure to build a lead.
Tejay van Garderen is my next pick. An all rounder who is improving each year, this is his first target race for 2013. But his form is unknown because he’s not raced since the Tour de San Luis in January. Without wanting to stir the pot, you also wonder if he’s also racing against Cadel Evans in Tirreno-Adriatico because a win in Paris-Nice would bolster his claims, implicit or explicit, to lead the BMC Racing team in the Tour de France.
Andrew Talansky is similar to TvG and not just because of nationality, no he is being tipped as a winner but we don’t have much form to go for the Garmin-Sharp rider but instead have to judge by pedigree and past performance from 2012.
Next Simon Špilak isn’t a big name but he’s won the Tour de Romandie before (after Valverde was stripped of the race) and the Katusha rider is looking strong in early season races, he comes with Dennis Menchov who has announced ambitions but I’m not sure he’s got the zip for short distance time trials and the zing for poaching time bonuses. Lieuwe Westra surprised last year to push Wiggins all the way for the win, Since then he’s fallen off the radar but has reappeared in the Tour of Algarve with strong riding and comes with Thomas De Gendt who can play wildcard for Vacansoleil-DCM. Lotto have Bart de Clercq, who impressed me a lot in the 2011 Giro but seemed to vanish, only now he too is looking in good shape. Astana come with Jacob Fuglsang who’s in form and a more consistent rider, perhaps not for the win but the podium is possible. Tony Gallopin is worth watching because he can win bonus seconds with his sprint but in the Tour of Oman he wasn’t climbing as well as he was last year and Maxime Monfort is another steady rider. Sky have Richie Porte who could well make the podium and comes with a strong team including Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, the team has no sprinter in the race so it’s all about the overall or perhaps sniping a stage. One improvement is Nicolas Roche and the course suits Saxo-Tinkoff’s new signing as he’s an all rounder who can snipe bonus seconds. Roche’s old team has J-C Péraud who is a dark horse after winning the Etoile de Bessèges. The same for another early season winner Thomas Lövkvist of IAM who can also do a bit everything from climbing to time trialling but above all grab time on summit finishes. Normally I’d pick Rein Taaramae of Cofidis but the team say he’s been ill and not ready, perhaps Jérôme Coppel will step up? Talking of French teams Alex Geniez is FDJ’s leader but is more a climber than a time triallist but seems to be in great shape and comes with Arnold Jeannesson who is looking to confirm his place within the team.
Back to the Prologue…
The suburb of Houilles hosts the 2.9km prologue. It’s short and suits explosive riders rather than those capable of cruising at high speed. Accelerate – brake – corner – repeat, all whilst getting the gear shifts right and trying to adopt an aero position. This is not a course for the big rouleurs but instead for prologue specialists and maybe even a sprinter if they’re in good shape.
Intelligent riders will do well to check the course closely and make mental notes or get the team to take rally driver style notes because the line through the corners isn’t obvious with speedbumps, manhole covers and more, the roads are narrow and suburban.
The Prologue Contenders
Amongst the sprinters Marcel Kittel was primarily known as a time trial specialist when he was in the amateur ranks but could do well and if he doesn’t win he could be in contention to collect the leader’s jersey in the coming days. The same for Elia Viviani of Cannondale who is able to make fast accelerations when seated and Blanco’s Mark Renshaw is in form too. FDJ’s William Bonnet is fast in these courses, the same for Brent Bookwalter who’s finished second in the Giro prologue so can’t be ruled out. Watch Katusha’s Simon Špilak because he was second in the Ruta de Sol prologue. Tony Gallopin should be worth watching all week but can do well in the prologue, many in France talk of Thibaut Pinot and Pierre Rolland but Gallopin’s got plenty of talent too. Orica-Greenedge often resemble a giant team pursuit squad and Leigh Howard and Michael Matthews are good picks. Sylvain Chavanel is normally a good prologue rider but this course might be too stop-start for him. The same for Gustav Larsson of IAM but the Swiss team has an inform Martin Elmiger. Europcar’s Damien Gaudin won’t be cited by many but he’s got a track background which will help. Finally two opposites in age, there’s Sky’s neo pro Ian Boswell and who’d rule out Jens Voigt?
The first rider is off at 1.45pm and the last rider will arrive at 4.43pm. The TV will show the later starters with the broadcast beginning at 3.20 – 4.55pm Euro time. It’s broadcast live across a range of channels. Alternatively you can find a pirate video stream via sites like cyclingfans.com or steephill.tv.
The town’s name might be changed because it’s the butt of jokes.
There’s little terroir on this stage, instead it’s banal suburbia. So pop into the café to order a banal croque monsieur, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.
Houilles was home to Victor Schœlcher, the man who helped abolish slavery in France. France was one of the last imperial powers to put an end to the practice and Schœlcher worked hard to make this happen. Visit France’s numerous overseas colonies today and the man is celebrated with statues, books and collective memory but on the mainland he’s a discreet figure. Still Houilles has a street named after him and his old home is still there.
Clear skies but the temperature won’t get past 10°C (50°F) with a light breeze expected from the northwest. The urban course means plenty of shelter but the winning margin will be small and every second counts. But unlike past editions where high winds or rain have changed the results the weather doesn’t look to be a factor.