Paris-Nice Stage 4 Preview

Thursday, 12 March 2015


It’s all change with a summit finish to reshape the GC. A series of climbs will soften up the peloton before the long climb up Mont Pilat.

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.

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Anonymous March 12, 2015 at 6:37 am

Last night’s lead-out train by Orica was the most impressive I’ve seen in a long time. It almost looked like they were going to power all the way to the line.

Also looking forward to seeing how Rohan Dennis goes tonight, he talks the team talk but I’m not sure he’ll keep to it if he has the legs – ie Tour down under where he was supposed to go up the road for Cadel but apparently couldn’t get to the front…until it was too late to attack and perfect timing to follow Richie’s wheel lol.

Larrick March 12, 2015 at 6:41 am

I must admit, the first thing I thought when Bardet and Jan attacked was, wouldn’t it be best to stay out of the spotlight for a couple of days, but then I wondered if the positive from Mondory had affected him to the point where he just needed to do something. Anger, frustration, concern or a number of emotions might have got to him or do you think it was a planned effort to try to gain a stage or at least some time?

Howard Mullins March 12, 2015 at 10:55 am

Completely agree with you! The first thing I thought when Bardet and Jan attacked was, wouldn’t it be best to stay out of the spotlight for a couple of days!

Dave March 12, 2015 at 6:52 am

Reading your peice is sound like David Moncoutié become a super-aduaxer!

Alpen March 12, 2015 at 10:05 am

He rides in the cyclo sportive version of the Tour de l’Ain most years. Still floats up climbs like a helium balloon….still descends like a wobbly, newborn bambi 😉

Disgruntled Goat March 12, 2015 at 8:24 am

“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.”

As a young idiot, I attempted something similar with the route of the 2001 Tour, using only a handlebar bag (containing cleat covers, a pair of off bike shorts, a T-shirt a razor and toothbrush) and a set of clothes posted ahead to the first rest day. Fortunately, a car knocked me off at a junction and I broke my thumb after 4 days. I sometimes wonder if I would have survived…

As a measure of how stupid this was, I didn’t publicise it, use it to raise money for charidee or get a book deal before I started. What a fool.

Anonymous March 12, 2015 at 9:46 am

But you’ll always have a story to tell and you made me smile while reading it. That’s not so bad.

Disgruntled Goat March 12, 2015 at 8:25 am

Oh and go De Gendt!

Andy March 12, 2015 at 9:15 am

Landis ‘bagged’ the race overall. Nice.

Pierre-Jean March 12, 2015 at 10:32 am

I really liked the Moncoutié reference and information, especially when French cycling is having a bad time with AG2R’s problems.

Sam March 12, 2015 at 10:56 am

Great, isnt it. I really wish someone would produce an English translation of Moncoutie’s book. I fear my A level French wouldn’t help me that much….

gabriele March 12, 2015 at 12:25 pm

In parallel universes lots of things can happen. Maybe in some of them Moncoutié even won a Tour without doping even if the other top players were on EPO and such (they can fall, get ill, tactics can favour too-big-a-breakaway and so on).
That said, if we want to imply that in “a clean world”, very like ours but doping free, Moncoutié would have won several Tours out of sheer cycling quality, well, I strongly doubt it. I appreciate him a lot, both as a cyclist and as a person (on the basis of the little we can know from the outside), but the Tour doesn’t need just climbing ability and notable stamina to be won, and that’s still true in most parallel universes.
Moncoutié apparent healthy and not-obsessive attitude towards cycling and life, which is one of the things I most like about his “character”, has some downsides if we’re speaking of getting triumph in pro sport. Which says much about pro sport, with or without doping, but it would be quite naïf to think otherwise.
Then, there are some technical aspects, but I won’t discuss them now, also because they would end up being way too hypothetic.

Asky March 12, 2015 at 10:51 am

The three times winner of the tour of swiss and former world champion Rui Costa does not deserve to be mentioned in this preview? Rafa Valls, seriously?

The Inner Ring March 12, 2015 at 11:35 am

Valls is more the curiosity, he produced more W/kg than anyone else in Oman so can he do it here? We should see Rui Costa in the mix, happy to be wrong if he wins.

gabriele March 12, 2015 at 12:28 pm

Hasn’t Valls being treating himself with antibiotics, at least just before the start of Pa-Ni? That wouldn’t help.
(Chest infection? 🙂 )

CRW March 12, 2015 at 11:45 am

Not to speak on IR’s behalf, but I’m sure he’she works on a limited schedule when pulling together these daily previews (which are awesome btw for those of us that don’t have time to keep up with the roadbook). Cut a man / woman some slack :-).

Anonymous March 12, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Its a personal blog written for pleasure, no wages, no departments etc. etc.

Tom March 12, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Based on this year’s results it should be between Porte, TJ and Majka (Valls reported to be ill a while ago and nothing happens twice) but guys like Bardet could be up there as well. The real question is Kwiatkowski. Can he survive such climb ? In Tirreno 2013 he was up there with the best but at the time he wasn’t focussed on classics like he is now (eg. aiming San Remo next Sunday). He is in shape and can do well on short climbs but 10 km at this point of the season ? Might be a little bit too much.

Also there is Talansky in his first race of the season. Impossible to predict his shape. Two years ago when he was flaying in PN he had few race days in his legs after Tour Med. Same thing with Aru but this guy actually says he is aimig for Catalunya and Giro so from Astana I would bet on Fuglsang.

There are also Movistar guys. You cant underestimate them especially if we consider that both Valverde and Quintana aren’t racing here so it’s one of few chances for them to shine instead of work for their leaders. Intxausti is in good shape, he has recently changed his race schedule to ride PN instead of Catalunya. Aiming for result, that’s for sure. Both Izagirres were in top20 last year, they can improve for sure. And there is also Spanish biggest hope for GT’s in future, Ruben Fernandez. After great TDU he was only “ok” in Algarve. Can he stay up there with the best ?

Last but not least, I wouldn’t scratch Kelderman, he keeps improving, can even win a stage. Last year, he was pretty good and would finish in top 10 but he had a puncture on Fayance stage. Before that, he had pretty avarge Algarve (was 5th in GC but it was because of TT). This year he crashed in Andalucia but actually on both mountaintop finished he was sixth. If his shape is getting better he will be very hard to drop.

The Inner Ring March 12, 2015 at 2:58 pm

All good picks. With Inxausti it’s just hard to see him winning, he’s done it in Beijing though but that was always an usual race, as much about motivation as anything else.

Cilmeri March 12, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Too much for Thomas? My guess is that the Sky train will protect both him and Porte today, and today will show which one’s the protected rider for Sky in this race, but my guess is that Sky will want to keep options open and ideally have both finishing as high up as possible (unless sacrificing one is the only way of keeping the other in the race).

I think both will be in the final select group and Thomas might have the quicker “sprint” for the end…..if he can hang on.

Cilmeri March 12, 2015 at 1:57 pm

In case anyone is interested this kind of answers my query for how Sky may approach it today;

“Sky team director Nicolas Portal told letour.fr he thought the final climb to Croix de Chaubouret suited Richie Porte better than Geraint Thomas: “For now, the three guys in the front are under control and everything will accelerate in the last 60 kilometers. That’s when the guys going more for the stage win than for the GC will start moving. For us, the goal will be to toughen the race from the beginning of the last climb to avoid keeping 70 riders in the peloton. We still have two joint leaders, bearing in mind that this kind of climb suits Richie better. Still we still have two cards to play for Geraint is capable of faring well by keeping a steady high tempo, the way Bradley Wiggins used to do. However I think Richie rode a pretty good prologue for he’s a small rider compared to someone like Kwiatkowski.””

The Inner Ring March 12, 2015 at 2:13 pm

That’s what I was thinking too, Thomas might have been on better terms if he did more in the prologue and had taken more time bonuses and this is a long climb today. Thomas is a bit like Kwiatkowski here, he might have the engine to hang on tight.

Tovarishch March 12, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Well he cart ain’t hung in today. I was going to suggest he was worth at least a ring but I can’t keep backing him all the time.

Tovarishch March 12, 2015 at 4:36 pm

Damn new iPad OS. Cart = certainly!

Sam March 12, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Doh! 🙂

TourDeUtah March 12, 2015 at 3:18 pm

As to the old podium shot, who’s the Libert Seguros rider in pale blue ?

The Inner Ring March 12, 2015 at 3:26 pm

L-L Sanchez

Scott March 12, 2015 at 4:07 pm

Is that Sammy Sanchez in green?

The Inner Ring March 12, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Samuel Sanchez, yes.

Anonymous March 12, 2015 at 5:54 pm

I like Thomas, but there just always seems that something keeping him back from more success.

Sam March 12, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Well, usually its been staying upright. Added to the fact that Sky have tended to overuse him in every role going.

Lets see what happens this season, if he can get through a season of staying on his bike. Looks like he had a great winter, and also worked on his TTing (he’s never really focused on specific TT training in the past)

Chrisman March 12, 2015 at 9:11 pm

He was always a bit of a joke charachter, I saw him and EBH as a sort of Chuckle Brothers style comedic double-act. But last season he somewhat grew up and got his act together. Anyone who saw his win at the Commonwealth Games will know that the lad clearly still has desire and wants to achieve things. It was a horrible race, but he wanted it. He wanted it badly. And now it seems wants some more.

Also seems like Sky might use him in a more senior role this year. Should be fun.

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