Another flat stage across unremarkable countryside that’ll end in a bunch sprint? We said this in 2013 when the Tour de France took a similar route to Saint-Amand-Montrond only for teams to shred the race in crosswinds and provide one of the most thrilling flat stages of the Tour in recent memory. Sadly for those hoping a repeat episode the forecast says it won’t be so windy.
Stage 1 Wrap: Yesterday’s preview promised an “inevitable bunch sprint” however the riders did their best to avoid it for as long as possible, pedalling in exquisite torpor. Boredom? Or maybe the riders dreaded the finish line where journalists waited for get their view on the CIRC report which they hadn’t read.
Thomas Voeckler and Anthony Delaplace were up the road and at times Voeckler was playing around but suddenly he accelerated hard and the pair got to work in search of the stage win. It was possible, they had a good gap and behind the bunch was spread across the road. Sadly the viewers were awoken from their siesta with the crash of Tom Boonen with 18km to go. The Belgian had a clumsy crash and was left sitting in the middle of the road, cradling his arm in the classic collarbone pose and the resulting injuries rule him out of the spring classics.
Geraint Thomas outsprinted Michał Kwiatkowski for a one second time bonus at the last intermediate sprint while Voeckler and Delaplace’s lead was falling fast andF the bunch caught them on the run into town. Under the one kilometre to go flag and Giant-Alpecin surged prematurely. A mistake? Perhaps but practically every other sprint train had been derailed so the German squad was ahead of the rest. Alexander Kristoff waited before unleashing his long sprint to win his first Paris-Nice stage with Nacer Bouhanni simply sprinting to hold his wheel before Bryan Coquard went full mosquito with a darting dive across the road to sting third place.
The Course: Saint-Amand-Montrond is engraved in cycling’s anthology as the finish of that Tour de France stage where the bunch was split apart. Paris-Nice visits but we’re unlikely to get a replay. It’s a flat and boring, the race reaches the finish line after 127km before a 45km rustic loop featuring a climb, or rather a slight rise in the road but enough to hold a sprint for the mountains prize.
The Finish: after the red kit the route turns left at a roundabout, a minor pinch point before a long finishing straight in a featureless part of town. The roadbook says 500m… but it’s longer.
The Scenario: another bunch sprint seems likely. Nobody is far down on GC so Etixx-Quickstep will protect their yellow jersey before the sprinters’ teams take over to chase down any escapees.
This finishing loop takes place on départmentale roads which are narrow for a large bunch, sprinters will have to be well-placed early on although it’s wider on the approach to town.
The Contenders: given Alexander Kristoff was so at ease on Stage 1 it’s hard to see anyone doing better. But all sprints have an element of chaos, if you could re-run them again and again in a Monte Carlo simulation the results wouldn’t always be the same. With more practice rival teams should get their trains working better so the likes of FDJ, Cofidis, Giant-Alpecin and Lotto-Soudal have an increased chance.
Nacer Bouhanni might have lost his train and trusted leadout Geoff Soupe quit the race but he can ride hobo on the other trains. André Greipel should be there too, ditto compatriot John Degenkolb who tweeted he mistook the distance to go.
FDJ looked poor yesterday and Arnaud Démare was out of place for the sprint. There’s talk of a tilt at the classics but if this means the sprinting isn’t as effective then team’s going to have an awkward week. Heinrich Haussler was close but he’s in that mold of a classics contender too, he needs a tougher finish compared to today’s dragstrip.
|Nacer Bouhanni, John Degenkolb|
|Coquard, Greipel, Nizzolo|
Weather: cloudy for a change with a top temperature of 15°C and almost no wind to speak of.
TV: live from 2.00pm Euro time with the finish expected for 3.50pm. Tune in around 3.00pm to watch the sprint trains gather pace.
That’s Paris-Nice: Paris-Nice began as the “Six Jours de la Route”, the “six days of the road“. In the late 1950s the race was taken over by Jean Leulliot. A journalist, he had worked for L’Auto and during the war years he ran the Circuit de France, a copycat race mirrored on the Tour de France but this was a dismal failure on all fronts: sponsors were scared away, some of the results were falsified and at the end of the war Leulliot faced trial for collaborating with the Nazis, notably with claims he’d stick the Gestapo on riders who failed to start. His record is a defining matter but for moment, luckily for cycling he was cleared as he was a force of innovation:
- A pioneer of women’s racing he started the Tour de France féminin in the 1950s.
- He started the “Petit Tour de France” for amateurs and independent pros, a forerunner of the Tour de l’Avenir today.
- In 1963 he organised the first ever air transfer during a stage race, taking the riders to Corsica for a stage.
- He also invented the concept of the prologue for the 1968 edition of Paris – Nice.
- The same 1968 race listed a Meilleur Descendeur prize for the fastest rider down Mont Faron… sponsored by a ski manufacturer. Thankfully for rider safety this downhill innovation didn’t survive.
- In 1972 he introduced the “kilometre rule” meaning crashes in the last moments of the race didn’t penalise a rider’s overall position. This rule has since been extended to three kilometres.
- The 1974 race was made open to amateurs, a means to allow Eastern Bloc riders to take part. Poland’s reigning world champion Ryszard Szurkowski impressed with high placings but ultimately the Western pros won everything. The race was televised in Poland.
- His daughter Josette took the reigns after he died. She invited a Japanese team in 1988. None made it to the finish.