Stage 2 is another for the sprinters but if you tune in for the last five minutes you risk missing the action. Sunday’s opening stage saw a dramatic finish with Nacer Bouhanni winning but one minute later a group of riders rolled in. Their chances took a real knock and it shows the tension and collateral damage. Today promises more of the same.
Stage 1 Wrap: Nacer Bouhanni crashed during the stage which meant he was going to win. Why? Because he did the same at the French championships last year. As long as the injury isn’t performance-ruining the accident gets rid of his stress, creating a “nothing to lose” scenario and a revenge motive. Not that it was so simple, he lost his lead out train in the crash but managed to barge John Degenkolb out of the way to get the right wheel in the finish. It worked and he took the stage, the yellow, points and white jerseys. Even his coach was pleased with his aero position, something loyal readers might remember:
— Fred Grappe (@fredgrappe) March 9, 2014
Meanwhile plenty of others were in the wrong position as a group came in over a minute down. Yes there were the usual suspects – bonjour Andy – but Edvald Boasson Hagen, Stephen Cummings, Pzemyslaw Niemec, Egor Silin, Simon Gerrans, Lieuwe Westra, Ed Sepulveda were amongst the losers who could have hoped for a top-10 or better by Nice. Worth noting that the race was going down narrow roads that the Tour de France would not use; at one point it was using one lane with oncoming traffic on the other lane separated by temporary barriers. The “losers” weren’t careless, the crash seemed to happen only a few rows back from the front of the bunch but the sprint starts from 20-30km out as teams crowd to the front to place their riders.
As the cliché goes, you can’t win the race in one day but you can lose it and these riders are not ruined for the week but if Paris-Nice is a process of elimination, they need a repêchage breakaway. If they had a bad day, Tejay van Garderen left the race before finishing thanks to stomach problems. Finally note the ambition of Geraint Thomas and Sylvain Chavanel, each taking bonus seconds by mixing with the sprinters at the intermediate points.
The Route: after yesterday’s finish through a tough housing estate the start in Rambouillet is straight out of the tourist brochure with royal hunting lodge, a giant forest and an impressive château that’s been host to several international summits. After skirting Parisian commuter towns the race heads south-east across the giant cereal basin with flat roads and where the skyline is dominated by wind turbines.
With 44km to go there’s a climb, 1.2km at 4% and nothing more. It means Bretagne-Séché’s Christophe Laborie can hold onto his polka-dot jersey for another day.
The Finish: a finishing circuit, the race crosses the line – intermediate sprint – before heading out for another 18.5km. The circuit features plenty of narrow local route départmentales - shown above -which mean a higher risk of crashes. Scanning the route there’s nothing inherently dangerous but put 167 riders and the rules change.
The race heads towards Auxerre but instead of finishing in town the line is on a suburban housing street with ordinary houses, more the location for a village race. As the map shows there are two bends in the final kilometre. They’re not sharp but they will string out the bunch and it’s uphill to the line.
The Scenario: starting by the royal hunting lodge the bunch will play hare and hounds with the sprinters chasing breakaway. A sprint looks the most certain outcome and crashes look likely on the narrow roads of the finishing circuit. But how big will the front group be? The wind is forecast to get up and there will be crosswinds for the last hour… but nothing ferocious.
The Contenders: a tight finish and an uphill run to the line suits a punchy sprinter and yesterday’s top-3 are all good picks. Nacer Bouhanni’s confident, John Degenkolb seems equally quick and Gianni Meersman will fancy his chances. Watch Europcar’s Bryan Coquard who could benefit from the changes of pace and Tom Boonen’s announced girlfriend Lore is expecting their first child, maybe he’ll want to mark the occasion?
Weather: a mild tailwind and sunny skies 18°C (68°F) with the wind turning to a 20km/h crosswind from the south for the final part of the stage. It might not be enough to do any damage but on these narrow roads teams only need a slight breeze to prise things apart.
TV: the final hour is live with coverage starting at 2.55pm Euro time and the finish expected for 3.50pm. There’s more on the TV channels / streams here.
Stick the road: Andy Shleck was fined for going off-course yesterday. No elimination, just a 200 Swiss Franc fine.
Guide Wolber: the local rider is Lotto-Belison’s Tony Gallopin who lives in the scary-sounding Angerville. The son of a pro Joël, his uncle Alain is more famous as the Trek Factory Racing DS. Tony is a fast finisher who likes a hilly circuit but when the French hear galopin they get thirsty as it’s slang term for a small beer which also translates as “urchin”.
Tourists guides often feature hotels so let’s look at this angle. There are 168 riders in the race but night Paris-Nice requires 700 hotel rooms. There are the obvious additions like team staff from managers to mechanics and masseurs. But there are plenty of organisers, support, the media and others.
Riders are reasonably stoic about their accommodation. There’s something egalitarian about millionaire riders staying the night in €40 motels. Many seem happy as long as there’s wifi. The race tries to mix the quality during the week. Tonight BMC, Lampre and Orica-Greenedge get the modest Kyriad hotel, the kind where the bed is bolted to the floor in case guests feel like taking a souvenir and all a beer can’s throw from the autoroute. Meanwhile Katusha get a hotel in a park with carefully restored timbers and pillows stuffed with goose down.