The route for the 2018 edition of Paris-Nice is out and the race is the first of the major stage races and has been thrilling in recent years. Here’s a quick look at what to expect from the route.
Stage 1 doesn’t start in Paris but it’s as close as the race has got and features many of the suburban training roads used by Parisian cyclists before an uphill finish with 1.5km at 6% to the old observatory in Meudon, just outside Paris.
Stages 2 and 3 are promised to the sprinters, they are flat and near featureless as the race borrows the Loire valley to make good progress south. These two stages are dependent on the weather: if the wind is up it’ll be classic conditions; if it’s still then even the wildcard invitees will think twice about attacking and you should probably tune in for the final minutes.
Stage 4 is an 18.4km time trial outside the industrial city of Saint-Etienne and features an uphill start. It’s a course reminiscent of the 23km stage used in the Dauphiné last year. The first eight kilometres are uphill but it’s 3-4% on a grinding rural road that suits powerful riders rather than the mountain goats.
Stage 5 sees the race visit old haunts with a route between Salon-de-Provence and Sisteron and is likely to be for the sprinters… because there’s no profile available at the moment.
Stage 6 has a lively, hilly route to Vence and the profile has so many red polka dots it looks like it has got measles. There’s plenty of climbing but also descending with some twisty roads to the finish likely to be two races for the price of one with a breakaway and a scrap among the GC contenders before an uphill finish in Vence.
Stage 7 sees the race leave Nice and make its way up the Var valley taking some shortcuts by climbing out of the valley and over the hills. It’s still 160km approach to the main test of the day.
This is the “new” climb to the ski station of La Colmiane, better known to locals as the Col de Saint Martin. The scenic road is novel as this has not been climbed before but last year it was descended just prior to the Col de la Couillole summit finish won by Richie Porte. It’s a long climb at 16km – long for March – but not steep with a 6% average and alternating sections of 5% and 7% and just enough bite towards the top to make it selective but it’s a climb where a group of riders can still work efficiently together rather than everyone for themselves.
Stage 8 is the classic Nice hinterland rollercoaster. It’s reworked with twist to the finish as they drop into Nice off the Col d’Eze as before but then climb back up part of the Col d’Eze to the Col des Quatre Chemins before taking the Col d’Eze descent usually climbed in the time trial back down to nice, a steeper and faster run to the line, the finish line is 9km away where previous editions had a longer drop down into Nice that allowed more chasing. The hope is to have even more lively racing but perhaps it is also logistical as a means to keep the race from choking the Promenade des Anglais seafront too.
An opening three stages with something for the classics specialists and sprinters and the balance depends on the weather; central France in March is more likely to be cold and damp rather than stormy. A good route without an obvious point to win the race, the climb to La Colmiane is the big summit finish but it’s not steep and should see a handful of riders come into the final weekend all within a few seconds of each other and the final stage is more tricky than ever as long as someone is prepared to exploit the route.
There’s no startlist, let alone form to go on. Alberto Contador has retired and the race could well miss his role as a catalyst to get the action going, such as his attack with 50km to go on the final stage that almost brought him the win. In the absence of an obvious set piece stage to define the winner it’s an open course. Christian Prudhomme cited several names due to ride and among them Julian Alaphilippe is a prospect given he won the time trial stage last year and the gentler slopes to La Colmiane could suit him. Dan Martin is due to return but the time trial won’t help him, the same for Esteban Chaves.