Today’s the day, the most anticipated stage of the Paris-Nice with several climbs and a summit finish. It’s not the fiercest mountain stage by a long way but currently there are 30 riders within a minute of race leader Michael Matthews and the overall classification is going to get shaken up. Can Matthews hold on or will the likes of Contador, Majka, Thomas, Izaguirre or Dumoulin take the race lead?
Stage 5 Wrap: the early breakaway was given a good lead but once over Mont Ventoux its lead melted like snow on the Ventoux’s southern slopes. The two climbs up St Anne in different directions shook out the peloton and dropped a lot of sprinters. Over the top of the second climb Astana’s Alexey Lutsenko took off solo. It seemed too far but who would chase? At this time Katusha were trying to tow Alexander Kristoff back and Orica-Greenedge only had to contain the Kazakh as he could take the yellow jersey. So the reduced bunch had a stand-off and even when Katusha got back they found themselves wondering whether to chase in case they did the work once again and others would only profit. Yesterday’s preview was close to tipping Lutsenko but for the sake of concision and also with thoughts he’d be tasked with protecting his team leaders he was scratched from one chainring. He’ll be tipped in the future and his importance to the Astana team cannot be underestimated, a Kazakh cyclist capable of winning big is essential for the team’s continuation.
The Route: the summit finish has grabbed people’s imagination but look at all the climbing before, even the start is uphill today. Most of the gradients are steady but the race reaches 1,000m above sea level within 50km and then drops back down and then rises again. You can see the profile above but it’d be even better in 3D to appreciate just how much the roads twist and turn which means a lot of braking and acceleration and the accordion effect wears down those badly placed.
It’s with 40km to go when they cross the Var valley that the slopes start pitching up and there’s no much relief on the small descents after Levens and Duranus, the roads are twisting and the field will be strung out.
The Finish: 15.3km at 5.7%. The profile says plenty but those steep black sections are hard to find out on the road, the kick at the end is really only 11% if you stick to the inside of the long bend before the line. There’s a full Roads to Ride look at the climb but for today this climb’s principal difficulty is it’s length. If it’s not steep then teams can get to work early on and set a fierce pace to shell out riders, it’s a climb where teamwork and sitting on the right wheel for as long as possible counts as opposed to everyone locked on their own power to weight gravity battle. There’s a breather as they ride through Utelle where the slope eases but once they leave the town the road gets more irregular and rougher in surface as it climbs up. The road rises almost to the line before flattening out for the final 40 metres.
The Contenders: Alberto Contador has been biding his time and he’s got every reason to do so on the final climb. All it takes is a late surge on the final bend to the finish and he gets the stage win. But Rafał Majka is better placed on GC and so with a time bonus he’s the better placed to win. This suggests Contador will have to try a longer range attack with Majka sitting tight ready to snipe the time bonus if Contador is caught.
Geraint Thomas is the second pick. He’s Team Sky’s leader and this race has been on his radar for ages. We’ll see how he’s climbing and his position on GC ahead of Sergio Henao means Thomas will get the full backing of the team.
Ion Izaguirre is quietly biding his time. He’s a good stage racer but so far seems to win by measured efforts rather than flamboyant displays of power so it’s hard to see how he gets everyone off his wheel to win. Still he should be up there.
Tom Dumoulin merely has to follow. Easier said than done but he’s the first of the top GC candidates with five seconds on Geraint Thomas and Alberto Contador so if he can stay at the front he can inherit the yellow jersey if Michael Matthews is dropped. He’s suited to a climb like this and as the prologue shows in excellent form. The only thing missing is a team around him, Laurens Ten Dam will be crucial.
Romain Bardet has ridden a good race so far, he hasn’t been caught by crosswinds nor gravel roads and is now entering the kind of terrain he likes. He’ll miss Alexis Vuillermoz.
Richie Porte has nothing to lose and his prologue time was very good. He’s a punch rider who, one year ago, won atop the long and not so steep Col de la Croix du Chaubouret.
Tony Gallopin is a good versatile rider who has improved his climbing but I can’t see him taking the stage win, he’s the kind of rider to hang with the best over a climb and then outsprint them, in other words a safer pick for tomorrow. He crashed yesterday but didn’t seem too sore. Team mate Tim Wellens is better pick but how he beats the opposition here is a riddle he may not be able to solve.
Wilco Kelderman isn’t an obvious pick but if he jumps away who will chase? It’s a bit like Bauke Mollema at last year’s Tirreno-Adriatico where one acceleration from him and then hesitation in the bunch allows the Dutchman to flip into time trial mode and ride on.
Can Michael Matthews hang on? He should know the roads as he lives in Monaco during the season and the final climb is one where you can hang on. He was going backwards on the Col de Suze yesterday, maybe he was just pacing himself in order to stay fresher for the sprint but even so this suggests he has to dose his efforts on a climb and a 15km effort is surely too long given the opposition but who predicted he’d win the prologue? The finish is next to the chapel of Our Lady of Miracles.
Elsewhere there’s a good chance of a breakaway sticking. The big squads will swing into action later on but this only means they’ll try to save themselves early on. Some random picks are Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie), Julien Loubet (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Tsagbu Grmay (Lampre-Merida) and Simon Špilak (Katusha) who was a GC candidate before the race but had a bad start although he made the front group over the climbs yesterday so all is not lost for the Slovenian iceman.
|Alberto Contador, Geraint Thomas, Rafał Majka|
|Tom Dumoulin, Romain Bardet, Richie Porte|
|I Izaguirre, Kelderman, Yates, Wellens, L-L Sanchez|
Weather: sunshine and almost mild given the past week’s conditions with the thermometer reaching 17°C in the valleys and cooler at altitude.
Local rider: many pros live in the region but almost none were born here. You might think the scenic roads and warm weather would make this area a natural nursery for cyclists but there are almost no local riders. In the past there’s been René Vietto and his sidekick Apo Lazarides while 1930s Italian cycling champ Alfredo Binda grew up in this area. 1967 Tour de l’Avenir winner Christian Robini was born here too. Today there’s Alexandre Blain from Nice who started with Cofidis but now rides the British crit circuit for UCI Continental team Madison Genesis.
If there are not many local riders from the region it attracts plenty. The warmer weather and the handy Nice airport makes this an attractive place for many riders to live, train and travel and for the lucky on a big contract there’s Monaco where nobody pays income tax although the cost of living here is a tiny apartment and a high rent and being surrounded by tax exiles who aren’t even there for the weather or nearby roads but the tax rate alone. Peter Sagan, Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Michael Matthews and many more live in the area and Romain Bardet rents a flat in the area to escape the cold winter of central France.
TV: there’s live coverage from 3.30pm and the finish is forecast for 5.00pm Euro time. It’s should be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport. If not then cyclingfans.com, cyclinghub.tv and steephill.tv all offer alternative feeds.
Meanwhile in Italy they’ve scheduled the finish for Tirreno-Adriatico’s fourth stage in Foligno for 4.00pm allowing you to watch both races with ease.