Sprint or breakaway? Today’s stage is a scenic ride and a gourmet’s delight with the finish in Rasteau, famous for its wines. The race has come alive with Michał Kwiatkowski leading Richie Porte by just one second. Today’s likely to see others in action before a nervous weekend spent sprinting for time bonuses and the Col d’Eze decider.
Even if you don’t care for the race, read on because there’s a short tribute to Paul de Vivie, the man who perfected and promoted the derailleur and issued the Seven Commandments for a Cyclist.
Stage 4 Wrap: the early break only had three riders although Thomas de Gendt does count for double such is his ability to power on for hours. It wasn’t enough to stay away and Ag2r upped the pace early, going full speed with 40km to go. A puncture at the same time saw Rafał Majka in trouble and later on he was dropped on the final climb. Andrew Talansky suffered the same fate.
Onto the main climb and Astana rode well as a team. Paolo Tiralongo was the first attacker while behind Team Sky set the pace, their traditional tactic although it wasn’t as selective as previous efforts and the lead group was still large. Just when it was Geraint Thomas’ turn to pull he took off in an attack and was followed by Jacob Fuglsang and Simon Špilak. Behind the moves were being covered by Richie Porte, he could draft anyone trying to get to the lead trio. As Michał Kwiatkowski led the chase Porte attacked and rode past the lead three, scooping up Thomas who was able to follow but no more. The 59kg Porte, 2kg lighter than 2013, kept the power going to the line to secure the time bonuses.
As predicted the fireworks didn’t start until late. The linear climb meant the likes of Kwiatkowski and Thomas were able be there in the finish, if this had been a steeper or more awkward climb things might be different. Note the ride by Tony Gallopin, seventh. He’s a hard rider to label, able to sprint fast but he can do the medium mountains very well. It sets up a close battle between Porte and Kwiatkowski where time bonuses come into play before the Col d’Eze.
The Course: 192km directly south. The opening climb isn’t hard by itself at 12km at 4.5% but it’s straight up from the start. Then it’s a gradual descent to the Rhone valley and a long flat ride south. The wind can blow here but the forecast’s calm. The penultimate climb of the Côte de l’Aleyrac is 6km at 4%, not enough to worry the sprinters.
The Finish: an uphill sprint, the gradient isn’t enough to disadvantage the sprinters, they must simply get the gear choice right. It’s a tricky finish on small roads past the vineyards. The road is narrow and it’s easy to get flicked into the vines. There’s a hairpin-like bend in the final kilometre but it’s wide before the 500m rise up to the line at 4-5%.
The Scenario: breakaway or sprint? With many riders now well down on GC there’s more room for some riders to go up the road and the early climb suits an escape. But a sprint finish is likely because many teams have to get something from this race. The likes of Cofidis and FDJ have been pushed aside in the sprints and this is the last chance to give it go; we might see them hedge their bets by sending a man in the day’s breakaway. More successful teams like Orica-Greenedge and Giant-Alpecin can back their sprinters today.
The Contenders: it’s a hard finish to call. It’s uphill all the way to the line and unlike Wednesday’s Stage 3 finish, it doesn’t flatten out requiring riders to kick. Instead it’s all about solid power to the line. So it’s less for Michael Matthews and more for John Degenkolb. However both types of rider will get their chance, the pure sprinters and the punchy finisseurs.
Alexander Kristoff will fancy this too, he can put out huge power and won’t have faded from yesterday’s stage. André Greipel gets on the list too, he’s in form. The French trio of Bryan Coquard, Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Démare all have a chance and the uphill slope should be enough to tempt Sam Dumoulin and Jonathan Hivert into the mix too but Coquard would be the best pick although he’s got a budget lead out train compared to others. There’s talk of a move to IAM Cycling because of his links to Jérôme Pineau – they joking call each other “father” and “son” – and it’s Pineau’s birthday so a gift could be in order.
|John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff, Michael Matthews|
|André Greipel, Bryan Coquard|
|Bouhanni, Démare, Rojas, Cimolai, Dumoulin, Hivert|
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 3.55pm. 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 stage starts in St Etienne which holds the record as the most visited town along the way. It’s a manufacturing city or rather it was. It’s still home to French brands like Zefal, Stronglight and TA. It’s not the birthplace of the derailleur but it is where it was refined, in large part thanks to a man called Paul de Vivie who often went by the nom de plume Vélocio during the start of the 20th century.
Velocio is credited with the invention of the derailleur but this a myth. Velocio experimented with a British example called The Whippet and spent time perfecting it. At the time this was a select technology that was reserved for pure enthusiasts rather than the wider public, like electronic shifting today. Velocio’s riding pal Joanny Panel took things a step further and produced a bike with derailleur called Le Chemineau (the vagabond) and arguably the first bike that allowed people to tame mountain roads. Perhaps the proximity to these hills and also the booming cycle industry in St Etienne and nearby Lyon meant the ideas took off.
He also wrote the seven commandments for cyclists. They might be 100 years old but hold firm:
- Stop rarely and briefly, so as not to lose your rhythm
- Eat little and often. Eat before you are hungry, drink before you’re thirsty
- Never push yourself into such fatigue that you lose appetite and cannot fall asleep
- Wrap up before you get cold, undo layers before you get hot and do not fear exposing the skin to the sun, air and water
- Avoid, at least when riding, wine, meat and tobacco in your diet
- Never force the pace, ride within your means, especially during the first few hours when you’re tempted to ride hard because you feel full of energy
- Never ride for show or vanity
There’s a memorial to him at the top of the Col de République today. As riders cross the pass and shift into the big ring with the push of a button they pay tribute to Paul de Vivie.