The final stage and all to play for with the top-3 overall within 30 seconds of each other.
Stage 7 Wrap: A long raid by Lilian Calmejane saw him take the mountains jersey off fellow escapee Axel Domont, saving Direct Energie’s race after Bryan Coquard’s absence in the sprints.
Onto the Col de la Couillole and one by one the riders popped as Jarlinson Pantano set a fierce pace on the front. It was odd to see Pantano in this role, a wild horse tamed into pulling the reins, but it was effective as he thinned the group down. Julian Alaphilippe was among the first to crack. Jacob Fuglsang was the first to attack the select group but paid for it and was ejected and soon it was every rider for themselves when Porte attacked and then Contador ditched Sergio Henao while Dan Martin chased in that nodding style of his. Porte won the stage and showed what could have been if the wind hadn’t been howling earlier in the week but that’s what makes Paris-Nice compelling, the contrast of north and south, flat and mountains, rain and sunshine.
Instead it’s Sergio Henao in yellow with a slender lead with a final tricky stage left. Suspense? For the stage win today yes but Henao will be hard to topple given his form, his punchy ability on the climbs and of course his team as Sky will look to control events.
The Route: just 115km which allows for plenty of action. The leave Nice for a long neutral procession up the Var valley, a handy warm-up and thenthere’s hardly bit of flat road all stage. It’s all on the typical snaking roads of the region which constantly twist and turn their way up valleys and gorges.
With 55km to go the race climbs out of the Paillon valley for the climb to Peille, the Col de St Pancrace to locals and this is the hardest climb of the day. It’s listed as 6.5km at 6.9%, so worthy of a small Alpine pass on these stats alone but it’s the irregularity that makes it hard work with early sections of 9% and even 12% as it winds up a narrow road with so many bends that a rider need only get 50 metres’ lead to be out of sight. It levels out further up and once over the top comes a twisting descent to La Turbie and Eze and then the village of Eze where the race takes the corniche road down to Nice before climbing the Col d’Eze. It’s 7.7km long at 5.7% average but with some consistent 7-8% ramps for the first quarter of the climb and it almost levels off completely for the last quarter.
The Finish: a downhill run in to Nice. After all the twisty inland roads the descent off the Col d’Eze is wide and regular. It’s not easy for a chasing group to pull back time. That bump on the profile with 1km to go isn’t anything to worry about, it’s a gentle up and down around the sea front before a finish on the Quai des Etats Unis, slightly earlier that the usual finish.
The Contenders: it’s an open stage for attackers so hard to pick a winner. Tony Gallopin has done well on the final stage before and packs a good sprint from a small group so he makes an obvious pick, better still he’s eighth overall and would have to take 1m40s before he endangers Ion Izagirre’s seventh position which means he can move and the others may not be so defensive. Diego Ulissi is the prototype rider too but went on the attack briefly yesterday which if it wasn’t a long move, the exertion will have come with a bill to pay today, we’ll find out the price tag today.
Alberto Contador made the final stage come alive last year with his long range attack and he could try the same again. The climb to Peille is a good place for a bold attack but still far from the finish so he may prefer to wait for the final climb but he’ll find Dan Martin hard to shake and the Irishman has a good sprint too in case Contador wants to take a time bonus to overhaul Martin. But Contador probably doesn’t care too much about third place, a stage win and the overall is surely what he craves. If Contador can’t get away then maybe Jarlinson Pantano can win the stage, he’s a good descender and if the run off the Col d’Eze isn’t very technical he’s got a fast finish out of a small group
Julian Alaphilippe is a pick but if we worry about Ulissi being drained, imagine how Alaphilippe feels after trying to limit his losses. Still he leads the points competition and can show off his green jersey with a sprint win. Simon Yates cracked yesterday and lost over four minutes on the final climb but this just gives him room to attack today. Ion Izagirre is going well and has some room to try for the stage, perhaps if it rains his chances increase just as they did when he won his Tour stage in Morzine last summer? Finally local resident Alexey Lutsenko of Astana gets a mention, he’s a powerful rider able to barge away on a course like this.
|Pantano, Yates, Izagirre, Lutsenko, Alaphilippe|
Weather: wet or dry? There’s the chance of rain forecast for today which is significant given the amount of twisty descents here. A top temperature of 17°C at the start in Nice and then cooling throughout the stage.
TV: the finish is forecast for 4.50pm CET. You should find it on the same channel as you watch the Tour de France. It’s on Eurosport and you can rely on Cyclingfans and steephill.tv for links to feeds and streams.