Paris-Nice Stage 8 Preview

Sunday, 12 March 2017

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.

Tony Gallopin
Diego Ulissi
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 for links to feeds and streams.

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cw March 12, 2017 at 8:47 am

Is the descent off the Col d’Eze today the same road as used on the penultimate stage in 2015 when Tony Gallopin won solo? Thanks.

Anonymous March 12, 2017 at 9:05 am

Yes it is.

The Inner Ring March 12, 2017 at 9:13 am

That’s right, the same roads with Peille before, only it was the penultimate stage then with the Col d’Eze time trial on the final Sunday.

Anonymous March 12, 2017 at 9:07 am

Great ride by Pierre Latour, only 1.11′ behind the winner! Same for Marc Soler, who only needed 10 seconds more.

And…cannondale’s best placed rider in GC is on place 48. He is 52 minutes behind, if I saw it right? Delko, Direct Energie and Fortuneo have a rider before that (Delko and Fortuneo even two. That feels so good, when I think about all those time the WT-teams bully the smaller teams as if they never before rode a race). Damn, every team has riders before cannondale. Only team that is even worse in GC is dimension data. No wonder vaughters is so desperate for long running licences. On sporting grounds cannondale has no place in the world tour for some years now.

STS March 12, 2017 at 10:02 am

On a personal mission against JV or his team?

Anonymous March 12, 2017 at 11:24 am

Always against vaughters all the way. For several and different reasons.

But this wasn’t really the reason for this. Indeed, I feel bad for the riders I like, like Formolo, because it can’t be fun, even, if you might have fun in the team. I don’t understand, why they don’t do it like Cofidis and race smaller races, where they maybe have the chance to do something. Instead as a WT team they are forced to ride all the big races, while making their sponsor not really look good and having to resort to stunts like disc brakes in a TTT to be in the news. On the other hand they also block always another team (while sucking up what comes with being in a WT-race, like getting money for their attendance, staying in hotels in dubai). Other teams, that could come instead of them to the races and really do something – just look at this year’s Giro discussion.

Sure, someone has to be last and not every team has the same ambitions, but for some years now they haven’t really been compatible (and we all know, that it aren’t uci-points who determine that). And luckily this is still sport, a competition, in which you have to prove your skills, your sporting value and not a league, where it is in the end about money, because you buy your spot and then own that spot, no matter what or how you do.

Pax March 12, 2017 at 9:00 pm

I am Vaughters fan – to each their own.

RonDe March 12, 2017 at 1:25 pm

+1 For your anti-Vaughters points. The various incarnations of his team have been woeful on sporting criteria for years albeit bright sparks like Dan Martin and Ryder Hesjedal have given him big successes to cover up a general lack of wins.

STS March 12, 2017 at 10:21 am

Last year G with some great help provided by Henao pulled back all the time he had lost on Contador on the climb to the Col d’Eze in the descent to the line. Definitely a descent you don’t want to do alone when seconds matter especially not if you’re a lightweight climber.
I think it’s because of this descent that anyone besides Contador who has an eye on the GC podium would not try an attack. Which is a shame given the otherwise very inspiring roads throughout this stage. So for the sake of entertainment let’s hope for another “crazy” move from the man who doesn’t care which place he will end on if it’s not the top step. Pantano might turn out to be a congenial partner for Contador although I’m afraid they would need at least one additional rider capable of a high intensity raid in that terrain to pull off a succesful move today.

Bilmo March 12, 2017 at 6:59 pm

You called the story of the day. Great effort by Contador but in the end once Henao got in a group it was going to be a repeat of last year. Brilliant days racing (Sagan in T-A wasn’t bad either!)

gabriele March 12, 2017 at 9:47 pm

Was it really *going to be* a repeat?
Truth is that it was pretty tight…
Once that very little was at stake for the other members of Henao’s group, any help was pretty much a gift (that is, once it was clear, 40″ back with 7 kms to go, that they weren’t going to catch the first three riders – not even UCI WT points were available anymore, I think).
That’s always been racing, however: trading favours… across races or even above – or behind – race level.

Totally agreed about a weekend of great racing – I must add that this year Pa-Ni is again going to “beat”, so to say, Tirreno-Adriatico, like last season, after the previous five years of quite clear superiority by the Italian race (unless some huge surprise is waiting in the next couple of stages).

Ecky Thump March 12, 2017 at 10:24 am

Awesome scenery yesterday.
There’s something appealing, on various levels, about seeing cyclists on high mountain roads with snow banks hemming them in.

Is it worth Trek sending Pantano up the road today (if he’s got the legs!)?
Would Sky counter this, could Sky effectively counter this, should Sky counter this?

The Colombiams looked awesome too, Quintana over in Italy.
Sort of cycling’s equivalent to the Gurkha Regiment, brandishing a cassette instead of a kukri 🙂

STS March 12, 2017 at 10:43 am

I think Sky will stick to their usual tactic of keeping the troops together and ride as fast as they can sustain. Especially after it worked so well for them on the very same stage last year. And to be honest although it might only be their B-team it still has more firepower than any other team in the race on a course like this.

Cepphus Grylle March 12, 2017 at 1:28 pm

Henao might struggle today; he looked very leggy in the last kilometre yesterday, where I think Contador hoodwinked him into working for the previous few km when he didn’t need to. Martin could do with a recovered Alaphilippe too. He rode a canny GC race yesterday, which you can’t always say about him!

STS March 12, 2017 at 10:33 am

I can not find any threat of rain in the forecast of Météo France who are told to give out pessimistic forecast since the desaster some years back in Draguignan. Rain on those roads has the very likely potential to make the stage too much of a drama.
And wouldn’t this be the perfect stage for a full live broadcast right from the end of the neutralized zone?

BigFoz March 12, 2017 at 11:43 am

Bring back the old final day TT to top of Col d’Eze. Iconic.

RonDe March 12, 2017 at 1:29 pm

Sergio Henao has never won a week long stage race. In The Basque Country he has managed to lose possible victory more than once. This all makes him seem a little flaky to me. AC will surely give it the big one again and Dan Martin is the limpet you often cannot scrape off so, whoever ends up winning, it seems excitement is assured.

Gabriel March 12, 2017 at 11:02 pm

I saw a big bunch of losers scrambling for nothing behind Contador. He lost yet another race but added yet another memorable stage to cycling history.

STS March 13, 2017 at 2:04 am

My thoughts exactly, Gabrièle. I don’t understand those that go into a break – for what? Trying to win the stage, right? – but then do nothing to support the man who actually increases their chances of success by pulling like four normal competitors and unconditionally. Michael Matthews was the one exception and those two guys from UAE who sometimes at least rode through the lead.
It’s no wonder Contador stands out so much from today’s peloton with his will to provide a real show.
Is it so hard to understand that as a professional athlete you will only continue to find employment if spectators and sponsors targeting those find the racing you provide interesting enough to watch it?

Gabriel March 13, 2017 at 10:51 am

Ha, Matthews finished a mountain stage in the same time as the “climbers”. Their attacks where that bad.
On seeing the full part of the glass, I’m glad Alberto has Pantano this year. Finally a decent helper for him. I hope Bauke improves on his form and can help too. He would have been great as a relay in front, out with the early break maybe. We’ll see in the summer.

I would love to see Contador as a DS when he retires.

Dave Pye March 13, 2017 at 12:28 am

I saw a great advert for shorter stages. There is no way that kind of attack could be made to make stick (OK, it wasn’t, but it was close) or taken on without seriously jeopardising a rider’s chance over the next 1-3 days when the stages of a race are sequentially very substantial. The type of racing that Paris-Nice managed to put on today should, in my view, be applauded as it was both exciting for the public and could be coped with by a drug free peloton. This years TdF has 3500km over 18 stages plus 3 TTs. How much more exciting could it be 2500? I suggest rather a lot.

bc March 13, 2017 at 3:19 am

Perhaps these shorter stages make sense when they are placed as the “last chance saloon” stage of a race & come after the riders have already used up most of their energy on the earlier stages. Providing a parcour that encourages & can realistically reward long range attacks is obviously just as necessary. Whether next year’s Paris-Nice finishes with the same course will be pretty interesting especially if Contador isn’t taking part. If the gaps are small then maybe it would just come down to a sprint for bonus seconds.

gabriele March 13, 2017 at 11:27 am

Whatever, but please *not* that petty argument “riders need easier courses to offer a drug free show”. Competitive cycling’s got some 150 years of history, during most of which available drugs weren’t simply effective enough to make a sigificant difference, and a huge amount of spectacle was delivered on longer, rougher courses.

And the *no way that kind of attack* isn’t totally convincing, either. “That kind of attack” was what Contador was doing in the 190 kms Guardiagrele stage in Tirreno 2014, just after the 244 km long stage he had won the day before (with an altitude gain of some 3000 mts ).
You’re left wondering if this kind of actions would be as effective if there weren’t harder, longer stages in the previous days, maybe – in a 3 week race – the typical “Vuelta killer combo” with a hard weekend, a rest day, and then a short tricky stage (not only Fuente Dé and Aramón Formigal in the Vuelta to support this theory, also Andalo or Val Martello in the Giro followed a similar pattern).

Obviously you must be smart enough to try this sort of things when you’ve got some chance to recover afterwards, but sometimes the risk you’re assuming is simply worth the effort anyway: Nibali’s attack in the 2015 Tour brought him more advantage then loss in GC, even if he was less brilliant the following day (and not hugely so, if you take into account the flat he had).
Another excellent example is Contador in the 2015 Giro, the Verbania (170 km long) stage: he attacked alone some 45 kms from the finish line (being later joined by Hesjedal and morning breakaway members), quite similar to yesterday. The following day they got a 236 km long / 4000 mt altitude gain stage in V. d’Aosta and Contador was in control – he only started struggling on the third day in a row. Yet, one should wonder if without the display of strength and the time gained in Verbania, the Aosta stage would have been so calm. Striking a violent psychological blow in Verbania proved effective for the GC, despite its cost in physical terms.

However, from a course POV, it’s not about generally shortening a lot the stages or the race (pretty much nonsense – or how to kill cycling), it’s about building a course which makes sense, offering different options to the riders and thinking about the situations you might prompt as an organiser (than, it’s up to the riders, obviously enough).

I think that somewhere else on this blog a long list of long exciting stages has been already made.

Gabriel March 13, 2017 at 11:54 am

So, we should try and find more Contadors, not necessarily shorter stages.

gabriele March 13, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Yeah. However note that, as irungo txuletak pointed elsewhere, Contador wasn’t always as an exciting rider when he was more dominant. He could even be pretty much dull sometimes (Giro 2008, Tour 2010).
OTOH, Quintana started his career as an extremely aggressive rider, then went on to be “Movistarised” in several races. Yet, he’s still able to decide for himself and make or enter bold moves, notably the ones which granted him his two GT wins.
Nibali proved last year in the Giro (as in the 2015 Tour) that he’s not afraid to go from far – his problem is that the preparation he chose in the last 3-4 years prevent him from achieving the necessary level for a long time. Quite obviously, he isn’t on Contador’s level as a stage racer, which means that he won’t ever be as competitive on average.
Chaves has shown he can be pretty much an aggressive rider, as did the Yates, Bardet or López. Same goes for, say, Kruijswijk…
Not many Contadors are born in a decade – the most important thing is maybe that the racing style goes on changing as a whole (a key element is the fact that two or three “captains”, working together, should be able to leave well behind a group pulled by a single team with three of four gregari… whereas that was what killed races in the Armstrong era).

Gabriel March 13, 2017 at 2:04 pm

Yes, I was glad to see some bolder moves sometimes but too few to be optimistic. Lopez? Aru’s team mate when chasing Contador on the mountains? I didn’t remember seeing him taking chances as a team leader yet. Bardet, 1km over the top then kill it on the downhill mostly? Kruijswijk (he really need an nick name, otherwise he will never be a real star, no one would dare write/spell his name, I just copied from you myself 🙂 ) nearly got a GC win but he was a surprise. It will be more difficult for him to take people by surprise. That’s what I remember these guy for, till now. The Yates, it’s difficult for me to keep track of witch one of them did what. Can remember them to go all in on something. Mostly bolder attack when 10 places down on GC, right? Didn’t one of them just come in after Contador in the same group with a sprinter?

Nibali, yes, he makes it really interesting sometimes, but, like you said he is so consistent with his inconsistent form, that I also remember him for being the first big name to crack on the climb 1/3 of the year. Bad rep.

Q is good, but yes, Movistar has a bad influence on his in-predictability. So many times Movistar tried to win with the same Sky tactics, and they lost a lot. He gained some points lately, following Contador’s moves.

I have to say Chavez has potential and I enjoyed his racing so far. Waiting for another GT season to label him 😉

gabriele March 13, 2017 at 3:24 pm

López, last TdS, attacking alone on the last ramps of Flüela some 20 kms to the line, despite wearing the leader’s jersey, the other 4-5 only caught him in the descent.
Bardet also proved his attacking skills in the Dauphiné and when you attack far from the line you need to keep your advantage all alone on the last climb, too.
Simon displayed some attacking skills just a couple of days ago or so, it shouldn’t be difficult to track.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that anybody among them is even near to Contador (Quintana might one day be, but that’s to be seen; Nibali sure is, but overall, as a cyclist in general, more than just as a GT racer).

What I mean is that several riders, regardless of their quality (which is a good sign, not a bad one, IMHO), are showing themselves as belonging to a more attacking kind than what we had been used to see for a decade or so, when Vinokourov was among the few serious attackers and “attacking” tended to mean “go for the breakaway”, quitting GC in order to target stages or the mountain jersey.
That’s no longer the case, to attack is becoming an option which, albeit uncommon, isn’t *absolutely exceptional* anymore.
As a fan, I consider that great news.

Many of those I named are young, good news again (if they don’t lose their attitude along the way). Bardet and Quintana, born in 1990, are the *oldies*. The Yates are 1992 riders, López is a sub-23 (born 1994). Nibali is, along with Contador, an “old school” guy and Kruijswijk is somewhere in-between, but you can see great talent coming up.

In the last five years, 3 out of 5 Giros and 3 out of 5 Vueltas have been decided by one or more strong very long range moves by the top GC men. That’s impressive. Contador was involved three times, Quintana twice, Nibali and Aru once each.
The Tour makes such stats worse, but, hey…

You might add that in 2013 Nibali attacked from far in the Pescara stage, de facto eliminating Wiggins, a supposedly dangerous rival (obviously, I didn’t count this in the above stats). Besides, in the 2014 Tour the pavé stage involved long range Classics-style racing, and that clearly marked the GC. Don’t know what to make with that – same might be said for the crosswinds in 2015. It’s not “Contador-like”, but it’s long range, aggressive action, all the same. The 2015 Tour had nice long range mountain action (courtesy of Nibali, again), even if it didn’t change the first three spot in GC.

My point is that spectacular aggressive racing maybe is becoming more common than before, and that’s really fine, even if Contador will always remain a special figure in that sense (and things might as well get worse again, just look at the last TdF).

Anonymous March 13, 2017 at 1:16 pm

Attention: An (half)OT rant is following, so if you’re not in the mood, stop reading……now, no, no: Now! Hey, you’re still reading! Ok, now for real, rant is starting:

I don’t know, Gabriele, looking at the world, I think no amount of words will stop people from following easy answers, populism and searching/falling for formulas, that will rid them from this annoying thing called thinking. In this case, it is – more or less – harmless, but it is exactly the same weakness in us, that populists around the world always exploit, and right now with ever more success. As the world around us gets more complicated and demanding, many shut down and zone out the fact that life isn’t a onedimensional scene from csi, where action a leads to result b.

I don’t know, how often it was debunked here and elsewhere, that drugs make for more exciting or less exciting races. The argument, that short stages bring action, also was shown to have absolutely no merits. It gets boring to have these discussions again and again. If you understand cycling, you understand, that it is a myriad of things, that bring out good racing or a boring slog to the finish line. Hell, even, if you know nothing about cycling, it is easy to see: If you understand life, you know, that nothing is that simple.

The reason we see more short stages is mainly down to the riders revolting against stages over 200km, the need to fit in tv and the fact, that short stages are now accepted by the fans ( a few years earlier, this wasn’t so much the case), so that it can be used as ONE thing among many others to create a race course and of course 4 hours racing is a bit less expensive than 6 hours racing and road closures because of cycling are less and less accepted by the population.

Making a race route is hard work, so I think race organisers are glad, they have short stages as a possibility. Things like finding roads that a 200 people strong peloton can ride are difficult to impossible, they get less and less and in some cases don’t exist anymore. Police is scarce with the threats of terrorism in the last years and so on. So it gets ever more complicated to find a race course anyway. And yeah, and I guess among race organisers there are also some, who like simple answers.

Why this matters, is because these simple answers and ideas do damage. They make blind for reality, they make blind for the needs of reality. And only, when the damage is done, do we see, that with neglecting the complexity of life, we killed something in it. Following the idea, that short stages is THE answer, would indeed change the very soul, the sport of road cycling, which is an endurance sport. The accumulation of fatigue matters.

Look, take this example: Sure, a robot can paint a circle rounder, more perfect and faster than me. But it will never get the idea to draw three lines in it, to make it a smiling face or add 9 more lines and make it a smiling sun. And neither will it make someone smile, who sees my smiling face or my happy sun. From a strict point of professionalism or economy, my smiley and my sun have no value. Yet every breathing, living human being will know, that they have a value.

So the simple answer (yes, it was a long way, thank you for your patience, but finally here we are again, at the simple answers): The robot is the better choice, because he faster draws rounder circles, is not the right answer. It is ONE answer to ONE specific situation. If I need a lot of round empty circles, a robot is fine. But it isn’t the answer for everything and indeed, as much as it is good for one thing, it is damaging to other situations. But we tend to think: Ah, it is good for this – then it is good for everything. And no, this isn’t beside the point (to me). The principle behind brexit, trump, the shouts to ban doping offenders for life or even the idea, that only results matter, therefore it is stupid to look into the behaviour of bc and sky, is exactly the same. And it is exactly this principle we talk about, when we talk about the idea, that short stages are a guarantee for exciting racing.

Yes, it isn’t very satisfying, that we can’t control everything and that there is no simple answer. Yes, it is exhausting, that we always have to take care and be accepting and respectful. But it is what it is. And in the end respect for this complexity is our only defence against everything and everybody. Because it is this complexity, that allows us to be whomever and however we want to be. It is this complexity, that allows us to be ourselves and to dream about becoming even more. It is this complexity, that makes me accept you, although you look different and like other things than I do. It is the respect for this complexity, that makes me not be afraid for my life, because I look different than you and like other things than you do.

So, thank you Gabriele, for having the patience and taking it upon you this time, to tackle this idea again and explain this again. My patience is stretched too thin.

Ok, rant over. Don’t mind me. This isn’t to attack, but to make us stop and look at our own behaviour (me included of course!!! Especially, as it is not easy to write this for me, I don’t like disharmony). To make us less sure, about our own ability to access a situation (again, including myself, because although this might sound very assured, I’ve spent a lot of time making sure, that I am sure).

As I said, don’t mind me. But too much of this in the news every day and then having it here again was simply too much for me today. Sorry also for getting a bit carried away, but I guess these our times are exactly the times we have to get carried away like this? If not now, when then? But I understand, if it is too OT and too long. But not everything can be said in short messages.

Continue as you like. And to everybody who made it till here: Thanks and: Juhu, it is over!

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