After three skirmishes for time bonuses and stage wins, the first big chance to shape the overall classification. The course is harder than the profile suggests with a steady opening climb and then a sharp spike nearer the finish.
Stage 3 Wrap: Astana got the tactics perfect. They set a high pace into the final climb of the day, launched Jacob Fuglsang twice on the climb and Luis-Leon Sanchez made his trademark move as the descent began to get away. Rémi Di Gregorio was up the road, this helped Sanchez more as target and a relay point. Sanchez is now in the yellow jersey with a 28 second cushion. More happened of course, with Jonathan Hivert hitching a ride for the stage win, he’s a handy rider for an uphill sprint finish out of a small group. He was close to being quitting the sport a couple of years ago, now he’s got his wildcard team a win in the World Tour live on French TV.
Julian Alaphilippe tried on the climb with 25km only he tried too hard, pushing on with Tim Wellens on his wheel. The Belgian didn’t or couldn’t help but Alaphilippe kept going only to get caught when his legs seized up. If he’d sat tight and covered the others on the final climb he could have possibly taken yellow and the stage win but then if he’d kept his cool the finish would have more boring. Another factor in the race was Wout Poel’s puncture early on the climb, he got help from his team mates who chased hard and as well as towing Poels back into contention they brought plenty more otherwise there would have likely been about 15 riders with a minute on the rest.
The Route: 18.4km. It’s uphill from the start in La Fouillouse to the hilltop town of Saint Héand. The road is wide, reasonably surfaced and even: the kind of climb to the tackled in an aero tuck most of the way with only one or two moments to get out of the saddle or change gear. It’s a proper climb, 6km at 4.5%, certainly steeper than the profile looks and a rider will know whether they’re on a good day or not within the first five minutes. It climbs through the town to the checkpoint.
The descent is fast, the road is wide and has been surfaced this week with fresh blacktop on the upper parts. It’s twisty but a recon ride and a race radio for rally-style cornering prompts should help riders wanting to win this stay in a tri-bar tuck through most of them. Then comes the intense part of the course, a sharp turn and the brief climb to Latour-en-Jarez up a narrow road via the appropriately named hamlet of Grattejambe (“Itchy leg”), it’s over 10% in a couple of places and awkward with speedbumps that will briefly make the slope harder and rob momentum. There’s a fast descent and then it’s 2.5km to the finish via the Andrey Kivilev roundabout and onto the Geoffroy-Guichard stadium.
The Contenders: LL-Sanchez is the new race leader and can handle himself in a time trial. The technical parts of the course suit him and a stage win is possible but he’ll probably place high, his real problems will come on the long climb to La Colmiane this Saturday.
Team Sky have several contenders with David de la Cruz the recent winner in the Ruta Del Sol. The course suits a versatile rider and the Spaniard is in form. Wout Poels should be close while the course is too hilly for an outright powerhouse like Dylan Van Baarle.
Movisar’s Marc Soler is another contender, the promising Spaniard climbs fast but is excellent against the clock. Which Izagirre to back? They’re together again at Bahrain-Merida now. Gorka has been very active so far this week but normally Ion is the better against the clock and the course is ideal for him.
Julian Alaphilippe won the Mont Brouilly time trial stage this time last year; this course isn’t as hilly and is a touch more measured but he’ll be close and if the legs are sore from yesterday his head will want to make amends. Fellow Quickstepper Yves Lampaert can win time trials by brute force and with the classics coming this is an interesting test but can he make up for lost time on the climbs?
Bauke Mollema isn’t an obvious choice but he’s handy on a hilly course. Tony Gallopin won the Etoile de Bessèges time trial and if the field wasn’t deep, the margin of victory impressed. Still a win today would be a big deal, “Gallo” beat Sylvain Chavanel that day and he can still turn in a good time trial even if this is his 18th consecutive Paris-Nice. Has Lars Boom been dropped recently or saving his energy? He’s good on short courses but like fellow cobbled classics specialist Lampaert these hills look too much. Lawson Craddock is a strong rider, a stage win is a big ask but he could be a surprise in the top-10 while Felix Großschartner is riding in the top-10 overall already and will aim to stay there. Lotto-Soudal have Tim Wellens and Thomas de Gendt to attack the course.
|Ion Izagirre, David De La Cruz|
|Julian Alaphilippe, Wout Poels|
|LL-Sanchez, Gallopin, Mollema, Chavanel, Wellens|
Weather: cool and rain showers, a top temperature of 8°C.
TV: 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. The first rider is off at 1.30pm and the last rider L-L Sanchez is expected to finish at 4.30pm CET.