Paris-Nice Stage 7 Preview

Saturday, 15 March 2014

In the Tour de France the cliché goes that “you can see Paris” from the top of the last mountain. Riders might not be able to see Nice but they can smell the sea among the perfumed roads around Mougins. A hilly day awaits but beware the flat looking section on the profile as it’s a heavy circuit that could prove selective.
Stage 6 Wrap: Sylvain Chavanel went on the rampage for the first half of the stage. It wasn’t on TV but it will be imprinted on the legs of other riders. As someone in the peloton said the other day when Chavanel goes up the road those riders tasked with leading the bunch chase know they’re in for some hard work.

As for the result, with hindsight a predictable result but it was good to see how it was done. Carlos Betancur’s the nonchalant sort – an arepa, why not? A descent, chill at the back. A win, no big deal – and makes it look easy as he won on the Mur de Fayence. But he did it by coming round Rui Costa in the final 100 metres, no mean feat. When was the last time you saw an Ag2r rider smoke the world champion in a take-no-prisoners finish?

Thanks to time bonuses he takes the overall lead, the first Colombian to lead the race. Geraint Thomas was a creditable fourth but with only one team mate left during the finish. Betancur will be hard to shake, especially as today’s finish suits him but it could still come down to Sunday’s final sprint on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice and the 10 second bonus.

Still it could all be different, Tom-Jelte Slagter attacked hard in the final moments of the climb but ahead Ag2r’s Alexis Vuillermoz toppled and Slagter stalled and seemed to have a problem with his gears. With this he lost all time and hope.

The Route: the start and finish are only 20km apart but the road heads inland and for the foothills of the Alps – there are small ski stations like Gréolières. It’s classic Paris-Nice terrain for the penultimate stage. There’s plenty of climbing but the descending is as spectacular and risky too.

The Finish: is harder than it looks. The three laps of the Sophia Antipolis technology park – France’s attempt at Silicon Valley – are hard work and the run to the finish is a steady drag uphill. Any rider who jumps too early just tows someone to the line.

The Scenario: with each day the probability of a breakaway sticking increases and today could be the day. But the finishing circuit is suitable for chasing and there’s still all to play for, for example Garmin-Sharp might fancy setting up Slagter for a consolation stage win so a noble sprint amongst the best riders is most plausible.

The Contenders: “never two without three” is a French saying but does it work in Colombia. On paper everything says Carlos Betancur is the prime pick. He’s climbing well and packs a powerful punch in the final hundred metres. T-J Slagter might want to make amends but so far he’s looked smooth in the inner ring, can he master this tactical finish? Zdeněk Štybar impressed yesterday with his third place, a Paris-Roubaix contender who left several climbers behind on an uphill finish. If Sylvain Chavanel can restrain himself then then a late attack could pay dividends. There are more names to conjure with but what of J-J Rojas, a consistent presence this week who should enjoy the finish?

Weather: another sunny day but cooler at altitude. A top temperature of 18°C (68°F) and a light breeze.

TV: do not adjust your set but do check the time. The schedule is different with live coverage from 3.25 – 4.45pm Euro time. See steephill.tv and cyclingfans.com for broadcast schedules and pirate feeds alike.

Déjà vu? If today’s finish looks familiar it’s because it’s the same as they used in 2011. Rémy Di Gregorio won the stage, helped by the rain which forced the bunch into a damp resignation but he went and fought for the win. At the time Di Gregorio was riding for Astana… which was enough for the police to start investigating him. Fast forward 15 months and Di Gregorio had moved to Cofidis and was in their Tour de France team when the police swooped in a raid that dominated the day’s news, not just the race but it was the lead item on TV and radio bulletins. Scandal, dopage and more. Di Gregorio was sacked by Cofidis and the team itself went through the mill because of the negative publicity. Only it all came to nothing. Yes there was a quack doctor linked to “ozone therapy” but nothing firm against Di Gregorio; yes he shouldn’t have visited the doctor in the first place. Still, named in public, sacked and given the full “perp” treatment, it was a classic case of headlines trumping reality. After the national scandal, the subsequent “rider cleared” headlines were literally small print and nobody’s really asked why the police chose to swoop on the rest day. Today Di Gregorio is back in the bunch with Continental team La Pomme Marseille and he’s just won the Tour of Taiwan.

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{ 11 comments }

Ablindeye March 15, 2014 at 9:09 am

Not sure about the finishing circuit as a whole but I think the last 2km rises at an average of 4.5%?

Wonder if Degenkolb and Kristoff might just be back in the mix with the long climbs being early in the stage.

Here’s hoping for another entertaining finish.

The Inner Ring March 15, 2014 at 10:15 am

That’s about right for the finish, a big ring drag to the line.

cthulhu March 15, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Throw in Mattheuws. Yes, it’s been a bit quiet since his U23 WC, but he has been climbing pretty well so far this PN, maybe it’ll be him and Rojas sprinting for the win today?

Bundle March 15, 2014 at 10:10 am

This grey zone between being sanctioned and not being sanctioned is a bit sad… It’s good to remember pauvre Rémy. But to avoid looking like I’m defending dopers, I will attack Valverde. Where on earth is he now? With the shape he’d been displaying, with the team he has, and with this course, he could pocket this P-N no problem. Whoever designs his calendar leaves me puzzled. As for today, two questions. 1) Will the first 10 in GC still be together when the race goes through the finish the first time? 2) Is AG2R strong enough to control the race, or will Betancur be left alone with plenty of kilometers to go?

Chris March 15, 2014 at 2:07 pm

AG2R really impressed me yesterday with the way they worked for the win yesterday. There was Vuillermoz following attacks by Serpa and others, and then putting up that big dig in the final climb. Also, there was one other rider who snuck into that late move by Nibali and stalled proceedings when it was his turn to “pull” while his teammates dropped back to bring Betancur to the front. And after all the fuzz, Betancur had three teammates leading the bunch with ~2k to go. Textbook team victory.

As for Betancur being nonchalant, he mentioned that he wasn’t feeling great towards the end, which is why he was some ways back on that descent. Usually he’s one of the more aggressive riders going downhill, so it did surprise me to see him at the back of the front group

Hopefully he’s recovered well for today and will be able to defend his lead all the way to Nice.

tourdeutah March 15, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Carlos appears to be toying with the peloton over the last three stages. Today is another “odd” ASO parcourse. All the selective terrain comes early in the stage. Probably too early for any tv coverage. Then the road flattens out late. Plenty of time for the sprinters and non climbers to catch back on during the long descent to the finishing circuit.

BC March 15, 2014 at 5:31 pm

GT has too many crashes to be a contender for stage races. Poor positioning in the bunch at critical times and ever poorer cornering technique are always going to make counting on him a gamble. He has a poor record in one day races – Flanders last year, where poor positioning approaching the final was also evident. Excellent rider, but not a leader because of these constant shortcomings.

I await the SKY fanboys to tear me to shreds, but the obvious is sometimes inescapable.

Shawn March 15, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Regarding yesterday’s stage, I cannot remember someone overcooking a switchback going uphill. I felt awful for Slagter yesterday; good to see him bounce back from whatever mechanical mishap he had.

@BC I guess all that time on the track for GT didn’t help his descending (you can include Wiggo too).

The Inner Ring March 16, 2014 at 12:41 am

See Denis Menchov http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fl4eCCa1pJQ. It’s rare.

Shawn March 16, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Thanks for the reminder of that pratfall. As with everything concerning Menchov, that fall was cause for suspicion (of either oil on the road or bad karma).

BC March 16, 2014 at 1:27 pm

INRNG. Falls, unfortunately are part and parcel of bike racing. The point I was trying to make is that GT has history with being badly positioned, often because of his suspect cornering, and then being caught out in crashes. It is something a team should take into account when deciding if he should be named ‘leader’. A true leader knows instinctively that he must be near the front to avoid such situations. GTs history is a little different than crashing whilst putting pressure on the front – no ?

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