Stage 3 Wrap: the third and final sprint finish, we had another repeat with no action until late. The low average speed early on saw Philippe Gilbert go up the road in search of points for the mountains jersey and the kind of workout he won’t get sitting in the bunch. Thomas Voeckler later bridged across but it was all to no avail, as was Ag2r’s defiant late attack but Romain Bardet might regret the energy spent today. We got the sprint but as predicted the hill changed the contenders and Orica-Greenedge gave it 100% in Saint-Pourçain, leading out Michael Matthews for a fine win. Like yesterday this was a team effort and Matthews has the knack of winning when it matters, grabbing the opportunity for the stage win and taking the yellow jersey.
- Km 42.5 – Côte de Cheval Rigon 5.9 kilometre-long climb at 3.7% – category 3
- Km 54.0 – Col du Beau Louis 6.1 kilometre-long climb at 3.5% – category 3
- Km 140.5 – Côte de Saint-Bonnet-les-Oules 2.8 kilometre-long climb at 3.7% – category 3
- Km 144.5 – Côte de Saint-Héand 1 kilometre-long climb at 5.1% – category 3
- Km 152.0 – Côte de La Gimond 1.8 kilometre-long climb at 6.5% – category 2
- Km 175.0 – Col de la Gachet 5 kilometre-long climb at 4.4% – category 2
- Km 178.5 – Côte de la Croix Blanche 1.8 kilometre-long climb at 4.9% – category 3
- Km 204.0 – CROIX DE CHAUBOURET 10 kilometre-long climb at 6.7% – category 1
The Course: the longest stage in the race at 204km. Two early climbs make a good springboard for an early move to get away but note the percentages above, everything is low. The race tackles many categorised climbs but they’re all moderate affairs, even the Col de la Gachet which looks serious on the profile is 4.4% for 5km, nothing to scare anyone. The only challenge comes from the winding roads which make a chase effort awkward, it’s hard for a team to set a rhythm over the final 30km.
The Finish: listed as 10km at 6.7% the road starts climbing well before the 10km. The road leaves the grim town of Saint Chamond passing crumbling factories and boarded up houses and starts rising just where a preserved old factory with its giant red brick chimney. It’s 5% from here until the large dam and then the road levels out alongside the artificial lake before rising again to the next dam in the Gier valley. It’s here where the official climb starts but it’s been 4km at 5% already, nothing scary but climbing all the same.
The climb then kicks up into woodland. It’s a regular road with long drags to the town of La Valla after which it gets steeper, the profile says 7% but there’s 8%. Further up there are open sections but for the most part it’s wooded and feels a lot like the Col du Béal, scene of the Contador-Froome duel in the Dauphiné. It’s uphill all the way to the line where there’s still snow. With the long straight sections at 6-7%, riders can still benefit from sitting on a wheel and a “sprint” from a select group at the top is possible.
The Scenario: the course lends itself to two races, one for the GC contenders and another for the breakaway hopefuls who can try to build an early advantage and hold on. It’ll be hard because several big teams want to set up their riders for later and we’re likely to see the familiar Sky train setting a high tempo towards the final climb and then on the early slopes too. The climb’s wide roads and steady gradient lends itself to teams setting tempo rather than a few climbers getting out of sight.
The Contenders: the last climb is a long and steep enough to be selective but via the back door. Riders have to supply a lot of watts for a long time and having a sprint to snipe the win from a group helps.
Tejay van Garderen had the VAM to drop everyone in Oman so he’s the prime pick here. Richie Porte would normally be higher rated but his prologue time was a touch off; but he’s lost weight so he could simply be climbing better today plus he’s got a full team to help pace him into position.
Michał Kwiatkowski can do this. He’s still an unknown quantity in the mountains, he’s done well a few times but cracked too. Team manager Wilfried Peeters says the Poles “legs are too big” to be a climber but today could still be ok, he’s in top form and today’s finish is hardly the Stelvio. If he’s there at the finish he’s a contender for sprint.
Romain Bardet is the local rider even if home is still some distance away. He was climbing very well in the Vuelta a Andalucia but those were different climbs, sharper efforts. If he is there at the end he packs a handy sprint. Andrew Talansky was off the pace in the prologue which doesn’t bode well for him today. It’s now or never for Rafał Majka to cheer up Tinkoff-Saxo, the team ride last in the race convoy and bar a move or two by Matti Breschel their fluo kit has been hard to spot.
It’s hard to see Wilco Kelderman doing a victory celebration but the Dutchman is powerful and consistent so he could be close. Luis Leon Sanchez threatens to do something, fourth in the prologue was strong but he’s been better downhill than uphill, often taking wins on stages with a descent instead of bagging a summit finish. A similar tale for Simon Špilak, he could be there but he’s a rare winner.
Normally Fabio Aru would be an obvious pick but he seems to be building his form; we should note the Astana team’s distress at the moment with riders trying to show themselves, see Diego Rosa ‘abandoning’ Vincenzo Nibali over the Strade Bianche so it’ll be interesting to see how Aru and Jacob Fuglsang and others cooperate.
There are some specialist climbers to watch out for like IAM’s Mathias Frank and FDJ’s Arnold Jeannesson. Do they stay put and hope for a top-10 or do they go in the early break? There should be more competition to get in the breakaway, expect to see Arthur Vichot, Cyril Gauthier and Thomas de Gendt in the mix.
A few names to watch for include Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin), Simon Yates (Orica-Greenedge) and Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) as all have the potential to do big things one day, Barguil has two Vuelta stages to his name already but is still not in the bankable category like Bardet and Thibaut Pinot. Finally the curiosity is Rafael Valls of Lampre-Merida, the winner in Oman, can he repeat today?
|Tejay van Garderen, Richie Porte|
|Michał Kwiatkowski, Romain Bardet,|
|Talansky, Majka, Kelderman, Špilak|
Weather: sunshine and clouds, 15°C and almost no wind to speak of again.
TV: live from 2.00pm Euro time with the finish expected for 3.45pm. Tune in early to see all the late climbs but it’s likely the fireworks are saved for the long climb.
That’s Paris-Nice: the Col de la Croix de Chaubouret is billed as novel for Paris-Nice, it’s true it’s the first time it’s been used as a summit finish but it has been used before. The last time was in 2011 where youtube legend Daniel Lloyd set the best time on Strava but it came early in the stage.
In 2006 it was the final climb of the day. Floyd Landis took off, accompanied by Basque rider “Patxi” Vila. The pair dropped into St Etienne, Vila took the stage while Landis bagged the race overall. Both Vila and Landis would be busted for doping. On the the podium in Nice that’s David Moncoutié in the mountains jersey, a rider who kept it clean and on a good day could out-climb those with EPO, in a parallel universe he’d have won the Tour de France several times. Back on the uglier Planet Reality he works for Eurosport and, just for the fun of it, will be riding from Paris to Malaga in June with the aim of tackling 200km-250km a day in a self-supported ride with only a large saddlebag to transport his belongings.