Paris-Nice Stage 7 Preview

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Queen Stage and a long climb to the fiish, a 45 minute uphill effort is beaucoup for early March and should tease out the overall contenders who remain huddled together. If you’ve been watching during the week note the earlier finish time.

Stage 6 Wrap: a big break and the race briefly went off course causing chaos for a moment. The upshot was that one minute Dylan Teuns was at the back of the bunch, the next he and others spotted the correctly-signalled route and followed it and they were effectively up the road. BMC’s Belgian climber was a threat on GC and so once the bunch reformed behind it chased. He sat up and the move was allowed to get away but having been kept in check it couldn’t build up a big lead and so the remnants were caught well before the finish. On the hectic descent towards the key “wall” climb of the day L-L Sanchez punctured and with Sky forcing the pace up ahead there wasn’t time even for a wheel change with a team mate, instead he took Omar Fraile’s bike and managed to keep his overall lead despite riding a bike centimetres too small. The climb was steep and the attacks flew but nobody got a big gap.

On the descent Wout Poels crashed out, it’s bad for him and changes Sky’s tactics significantly because moments before he and Sergio Henao were attacking and proving hard to contain, Poels went from the prime pick for the overall to out with a broken collarbone and talk of a Giro-Tour double in doubt.

Rudy Molard attacked over the last rise in the road and got a gap. He’s not the rider everyone had to shut down but a good rider all the same who often works for others. He lives nearby and had targeted the stage, “riding the course ten times” as he told TV. Apparently audiences in France are soaring and with four home stage wins so far you can see why.

The Route: 175km inland. It’s all about the final climb but there’s plenty of climbing along the way. The race leaves Nice and heads up the Var valley before turning off at Gilette. The Côte de la Sainte-Baume is one of those roadbook names rather for the actual Col du Vé Gautier. It’s never too hard but adds vertical gain before the race drops back down to the Var valley via the feedzone in La Penne and the hairpins of the Col Saint-Raphaël.

The Finish: a 16km climb to a ski station, La Colmiane atop the Col Saint-Martin. 6.2% is not much but it’s still selective and crucially it’s often steeper, the mid-way kilometre of 3.5% has a flat part and then a steep part so as ever beware of averages. Overall it’s a steady climb and a wide road, not the sort of thing to drive a team bus up but cars can go up fast. Never mind vehicles, the point is this is a fast climb and one where being sat on a wheel means saving energy, especially for the second half where the gradient eases a touch and this suits a group more than a lone rider. It kicks up a touch for the finish.

The Contenders: this was going to be the stage were Team Sky deploy their mountain train and drill the pace to tire rivals from the start of the climb but with Wout Poels out they line up for Sergio Henao. He’s a punchy rider but didn’t look too strong yesterday despite terrain that suited him.

Bahrain-Merida can play the 1-2 instead with the Izagirre brothers. They’re both in good form. Another team with options is Mitchelton-Scott and Esteban Chaves was smiling moments after a scary crash into Sisteron and the long climb suits him while Simon Yates should be close too.

Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) not been visible in this race but it’s not his fault, apparently he had a mechanical yesterday. The discretion means he’s not the first pick but given he’s lost time on GC nobody has to mark him any more and he’s one of the best climbers in the race.

Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) is a GC threat and he’s proved capable of hanging with the best in the mountains in the Ruta Del Sol but this is a long climb and so feels like a new test for him.

Last year Julian Alaphilippe started the equivalent stage in yellow and cracked on the Col de la Couillole. Today’s climb is a touch easier for him and the rivals less fierce so this will be a good test for him and his rivals will look to eliminate him because he’ll be hard to handle tomorrow if he’s still in contention overall.

Marc Soler (Movistar) has been in all the right moves and had a great time trial but been hard to spot on TV, despite the white jersey. He’s due a big win and this climb looks perfect. Sam Oomen (Team Sunweb) is another rider to watch, a climber but he’s powerful for these long ascents. Lastly Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing) has made a name for himself on short climbs but as an amateur excelled in the high mountains and this ascent suits him but sitting 11th overall will he try to win the stage with a risky attack or climb up a couple of places overall.

Esteban Chaves, Dan Martin
Sergio Henao, Izagirre², Simon Yates, Tim Wellens
Soler, Alaphilippe, Oomen

Weather: a mild 12 °C at the start but damp. It’ll be colder inland and a high chance of rain in the mountains and even snow for the ski station finish.

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. It’s earlier than the weekday stages with the finish forecast for 2.50pm CET. It’s perfect timing as you can switch over to Tirreno-Adriatico where the Sassotetto summit finish is forecast for 4.15pm CET.

Digahole March 10, 2018 at 7:34 am

Real shame for Poels on such fantastic form, but on the other hand, great to see that luck was on Chaves’ side. Such a positive character, I’d love to see him have a great season. And Yates was strong at TA yesterday… all 3 Mitchelton-Scott leaders all looking good early season

Stuie March 10, 2018 at 8:02 am

I had £20 on Poels winning today’s stage, he has bad luck with injuries. He never gets away with a crash does he? Can’t see past Dan Martin now. A linear climb with no major altitude, suits him to a tee.

Michael B March 10, 2018 at 4:29 pm

I know what you mean although given how high speed his crash was yesterday you could argue a broken collar bone is getting away with it. The Giro is probably too close for him but he’ll be back for the Tour. It might even delay his season / form and help him at the very hilly worlds, although that’s probably looking a bit far ahead and a bit optimistic.

Anonymous March 10, 2018 at 8:07 am

Enjoyable stage yesterday and great to see the home nation dominating the podium. I hope for another French win today.

David March 10, 2018 at 9:43 am

If we apply a nominal value of 1 to the Izagirre bros then Izagirre² means only 1 brother. Beyond that, a minimum of four! 😛

Mattgc March 10, 2018 at 12:01 pm

I think the exact same query raised with the Yates twins last year at the Vuelta

Richard S March 10, 2018 at 10:32 am

Hopefully by the end of today we’ll be able to cover Alaphilippe, Wellens and Sanchez with a small blanket. That would set us up for an epic final stage. I’m finding this race more interesting for its lack of A-list GC men. It’s punchuers on a punchy course which makes it good to watch.

gabriele March 10, 2018 at 3:21 pm

Well said. In recent years, I’ve often preferred Ti-Ad, but this year it’s being no match. We’ll sure need to wait for them both to be finished, but the view of Team Sky shepherding the herd at strolling speed through one of the most promising Appenninic course (on paper) is making my morale sink at its lowest. We’re still 50 km to the line, but it doesn’t look good anyway. OTOH, great racing in France.

STS March 10, 2018 at 5:20 pm

Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen when racing consecutive stages of 6+ hours in cold conditions? I bet we were doing the same, making sure to keep our energy levels in check and wearing warm clothing until the very finale.
I get that for those who are preparing for the classics those long stages might give them confidence heading into those races but for GT GC candidates I doubt that racing TA is the best preparation.
P-N on the other hand is so great to watch, especially those stages run on the back country roads of the Côte.

gabriele March 10, 2018 at 5:37 pm

Both stage 3 and today’s at Pa-Ni were over 5h long and not warm at all. Weather conditions were even worse during the most part of today’s race in French. I don’t think that what you say is actually the point, just check previous editions, too. I suppose it’s a mix of factors. Maybe it’s a bit of Giro-Tour effect, with reversed countries.

STS March 11, 2018 at 9:43 am

Thanks Gabriele,
You’re much better than me coming up with data about past editions right from the back of your hand but my impression is that at TA in past years there were crucially more hours per day of racing and whereas P-N also has stages with 200+ km those are never filled with as much elevation gain as at TA.
Furthermore as you know of course better than me there’s a huge difference between racing for 5 hours and some minutes compared to 6.5 hours.
Maybe I err but I remember stages at TA with 240+ km and 4000+ m of climbing. And in stage races those rarely provide fireworks especially not with single digit temperatures for most of the day.
Looking forward to today’s short stage at P-N on roads that most of the peloton knows from training as good as the back of their hands.You’re much better than me coming up with data about past editions right from the back of your hand but my impression is that at TA in past years there were crucially more hours per day of racing and whereas P-N also has stages with 200+ km those are never filled with as much elevation gain as at TA.
Furthermore as you know of course better than me there’s a huge difference between racing for 5 hours and some minutes compared to 6.5 hours.
Maybe I err but I remember stages at TA with 240+ km and 4000+ m of climbing. And in stage races those rarely provide fireworks especially not with single digit temperatures for most of the day.
Looking forward to today’s short stage at P-N on roads that most of the peloton knows from training as good as the back of their hands.

ChrisSK March 10, 2018 at 8:03 pm

Well, that is what happened, just that only Wellens is still in contention.

Richard S March 10, 2018 at 8:41 pm

Yeah didn’t quite go to script. I’m quite surprised how much Alaphilippe lost over a small distance.

The Inner Ring March 11, 2018 at 10:51 am

He cracked and cramped up too. He was visibly forcing himself to stay in contention, going into the red to hold the wheel in front but this could only last so long.

Scott W March 10, 2018 at 4:54 pm

+1 for Izagirre²

Anonymous March 10, 2018 at 6:29 pm

And both on a podium place so far. Lucky family.

Joe K. March 11, 2018 at 8:13 am

What’s up with the French these days? First Bardet in the Strade Bianchi coming in second in a one day “classics” style race, and then multiple French winners at P-N, … they’re riding like Belgians!

STS March 11, 2018 at 9:41 am

Thanks Gabriele,
You’re much better than me coming up with data about past editions right from the back of your hand but my impression is that at TA in past years there were crucially more hours per day of racing and whereas P-N also has stages with 200+ km those are never filled with as much elevation gain as at TA.
Furthermore as you know of course better than me there’s a huge difference between racing for 5 hours and some minutes compared to 6.5 hours.
Maybe I err but I remember stages at TA with 240+ km and 4000+ m of climbing. And in stage races those rarely provide fireworks especially not with single digit temperatures for most of the day.
Looking forward to today’s short stage at P-N on roads that most of the peloton knows from training as good as the back of their hands.

Richard S March 11, 2018 at 10:28 am

Tirreno has been won in the relatively recent past by Erik Dekker, Pipo Pozzato, Fabian Cancellara and Oscar Freire. I’m assuming in those years there wasn’t so much climbing?!

gabriele March 11, 2018 at 12:08 pm

Of course not. The current format is about 10-year old. Since the 90s the race had been more like a series of Classics-like stages in order to hone the form towards the Spring. Someway similar to the experimental 2014 Pa-Ni edition.
The Pa-Ni, too, presented from time to time some lighter course open to riders who weren’t exactly stage race specialists, but it was less of a general trend.

gabriele March 11, 2018 at 12:32 pm

Yeah, STS, I hear you 😉
What I mean is that there’s no obvious correlation between stage length, weather conditions and spectacle.
Some of the best ever stages were held on a demanding course with dire conditions. The decisive stage in 2013 had a hard 210 km route and was eventually 5h45′ long. The best Terminillo victory by Quintana came under the snow in a stage which, albeit slightly short of 200 km, lasted 5h30′. Among the best ever Giro stages in recent times, you’ll find the 2010 Montalcino “Strade Bianche” stage (222 km) which we just remembered for obvious reasons or the 2011 Gardeccia one (over 7h), both held under freezing rain.

However, I’d agree that yesterday the hard mountain-top finish someway spoiled the interesting rough terrain which the stage offered before it. It’s important to avoid monoclimbs, but the sort of tricky sequence of short and hard climbs was more suited to a different kind of finale, or to a different stage altogether (today’s, for example).

In short, the simple truth is that teams decided not to take advantage of the terrain to set up a more complex scenario. But, at the end of the day, that’s perfectly normal: not every great football match (or any sport event of sort) ends up being as good as it may look on paper beforehand. What’s relevant is that the chance for a strategic race is offered to teams and riders by a decent course: if they don’t take it, it’s their decision.
In that sense, a hard course, be it long, climb-loaded or both, is just as fine or better than most other options, even if the key-factor is exactly *how* it is designed, not the kms or the altitude gain. And bad weather usually adds a notch to spectacle rather than taking something away from the race.

gabriele March 11, 2018 at 12:54 pm

Two further details:
1) yesterday stage prove so lenghty mainly because they were strolling around, typical Sky attitude on hard stages… the avg. speed was nearly 2km/h slower than the slowest one calculated by the organisation.
Normally, the thin line which makes the difference in terms of race length is thought to be “over 200 km” – that is, the inflection point would be around 5h (which means that for some reason “popular knowledge” in cycling considers that there’s more difference between 4h30′ and 5h than, say, between 5h and 6h). But that’s referred to one-day racing, where you typically go as fast as possible. Racing mildly for 6h before a final 30′ frenzy is way lighter than going quite hard for the final couple of hours in a 5h race.
2) Let me be once again extremely clear, since I’ve named Sky a couple of times. They’re doing great. It’s not their *fault* (if we should ever speak about “fault” for such circumstances, which IMHO makes little sense).
They’re the last ones I’d criticise for such a dull stage. This is clearly the way they maximise their options, they prepare most of their riders to race like this, and for different reasons most of their captains, even yesterday, prefer shorter, intense efforts after slacker racing (Kwiatko likes Classics style, all-day hard racing, yet he favours shorter top efforts all the same – at least, the “old” K. we’ve seen until now, who knows if he’s going to be the next alpine climber…).
Ag2R, Bahrain, Movistar, Cannondale, Bora… they all could have done better – or “even better” – if they had pushed harder before the finale, but apparently they didn’t felt like it or didn’t have the resources or didn’t want to use one of their stronger riders for a middle to long range action or whatever.
If anything (if anything!), in terms of tactics I’d complain about them, not about Sky.

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