The Moment Paris-Nice Was Won

Monday, 12 March 2018

Are you sitting comfortably? On Sunday morning Marc Soler was sat comfortably in sixth place overall, wearing the white jersey of the best young rider under his rain jacket and had taken a strong second place in the Saint Etienne time trial earlier in the week. He’s a promising rider and was already in a very satisfactory position. Only it wasn’t enough for him and he took off on the steep climb to Peille with 47km to go and won the race overall.

The week began with a wet stage that saw Tejay van Garderen crash out and photofinish win for Arnaud Démare in Meudon, the kind of win that suggests he’s more a classics contender than a pure sprinter.

The sprinters had their turn the following day in Vierzon, nobody wanted to attack such was the inevitability of a bunch sprint. Dylan Groenewegen’s win was almost as inevitable, he’s establishing himself as a first division sprinter already this season and finished ahead of Elia Viviani to eclipse habitual Paris-Nice stage winners like André Greipel, Alexander Kristoff and Nacer Bouhanni.

Stage 3 to Châtel-Guyon featured a tough final climb and two contrasting riders. Having ridden over his home training roads Julian Alaphilippe stomped on the pedals to try and ride away from the field and it was exciting to watch and a demonstration of force but ultimately. Luis León Sánchez floated off the front just as the descent began, a stealth move that gave him the yellow jersey while Jonathan Hivert won the stage. Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere offered critical words of Alaphilippe about wasting energy in and out of the race but didn’t seem to want to criticise him for it all the same.

Wout Poels won the time trial around the industrial city of Saint Etienne and looked every bit like the prime pick for the GC. With hindsight Marc Soler’s second place was equally impressive, especially as he put 16 seconds into the Izagirre brothers and 22 seconds into Simon Yates which was going to count for plenty on the finish line in Nice.

The stage to Sisteron saw Pro Conti team Direct Energie – budget €6 million – triumph again, this time Jérôme Cousin outwitting Nils Politt in the final in a test of nerve rather than watts. It was a textbook example of how to outfox a rival – underhand would be to promise or even sell Politt the win, only to outsprint him – but Cousin’s comments post-stage enflamed matters although by the time he made them he’d been insulted by the Katusha staff already.

Rudy Molard took a “home” win in Vence, he’s moved to the Côte d’Azur and as a result targeted the stage but in his own words knowing the route only helps so much. Just ask Wout Poels, another adopted local up the coast in Monaco who might have known the roads but he still lost control on a corner and crashed out when he looked to be in prime position to win the race overall.

The “Race to the Sun” is a poetic label, not a climatic guarantee and the peloton faced a grim weekend on the Côte d’Azur. Saturday’s mountain stage was in a ski station and the wintry weather began long before they got there. The final weekend had its climbs and descents but what if wardrobe choices were as selective? Don too many layers and it’s boil-in-the-bag time for a rider or wasted watts with a flapping jacket but too few and in no time a rider is cold to the bone, energy waning.

Simon Yates got his wardrobe just right and the reward was a yellow jersey. Astana tried to pace the lead group up the climb to La Colmiane and if riders were being shelled plenty were huddling. Roman Kreuziger upped the speed and cracked Luis Leon Sanchez. Soon Yates attacked and only Ion Izagirre could follow with Dylan Teuns and Tim Wellens chasing hard. This put Yates in control but with a slender lead, seven riders within one minute on GC.

The final stage started in grim conditions. Would things heat up? This year there was no Alberto Contador to throw caution to the win. In 2017 and 2017 Contador had twice tried to turn the race upside down with a long-range attack to win the race overall and if he’d failed, he’d enlivened the stage and ennobled the winner. Marc Soler decided to try the very same move attacking on the Côte de Peille with 47km to go. He was 37 seconds down on GC in the morning, a small gap but ask Contador who’d been 15 and 31 seconds down in the past and still couldn’t convert an attack into the overall win. For one thing Soler was an unknown quantity, the 2015 Tour de l’Avenir winner and a promising rider but not someone to shut down immediately so perhaps he didn’t have to make such a violent attack to get clear. Still this was a brave move, he started the day sixth overall, in the white jersey and if fortune smiled why not aim for the stage win? Instead he was risking it all with a long range attack.

Soler did things his way. He was joined by David de la Cruz and caught Omar Fraile but the two stuck to his back wheel for much of his time, enjoying the prodigious shelter of his 1m86 build. Behind Roman Kreuziger had cracked and Chris Juul Jensen was yoyo-ing while Matteo Trentin did a huge job of work for Simon Yates. This was impressive by Trentin but the more he impressed the worse things got for his leader because few riders joined the chase and Trentin’s work was containing Soler but no more. This meant that once Trentin was used up Yates was going to be isolated.

By the time they got to the final climb it wasn’t clear who was going to win. The Izagirre brothers attacked taking Teuns and Wellens and Movistar’s Richard Carapaz with them and Yates was dropped. Was the Briton pacing himself or had he been cracked? Yates got back to the Izagirre’s but partly because of a crash. The brothers crashed on the descent of the Col d’Eze. In isolation the fall and the brief delay untangling their bikes cost them the race but presumably being down on the virtual GC forced them to take more risks on the corners?

Soler kept pushing on down the finishing straight and De la Cruz won the stage ahead of Fraile. He’d won the final stage last year too. The suspense lasted once the riders crossed the finish line. How far behind De la Cruz was Soler? Remember to add on the time bonuses Soler had earned. Then work out how far down the Izagirres and Yates finished. It took a moment to do the maths before Soler was confirmed as the winner.

The Verdict
Another cliffhanger on the final stage and some fine racing all week, Paris-Nice has been a highlight for the last two years and the 2018 vintage was just as good. Stalwarts tuning in all week might have found Monday’s stage dull until the final kilometres but that’s inevitable and it was disappointing to lose Wout Poels to a crash, especially as he could have been in the mix on the final Sunday without Team Sky having the race under lockdown because they never looked too strong, apart from the time they paced Poels back after a puncture late on Stage 3.

Did you notice the reduction in team sizes? It’s meant to be a theme this year but it wasn’t the UCI that made the difference, more the weather. Come Sunday afternoon and there were only 78 finishers and one curiosity for a future quiz is that UAE Emirates didn’t finish the race, Sven Bystrøm abandoned on the final day and if Sutherland valiantly made it to Nice he was outside the time cut and so officially DNF. Paris-Nice’s race to the sun is also a race of youth where young riders make a name for themselves. Simon Yates was looking set for the future only to see a rider a year younger than him hustle into the race lead while 26 year olds Teuns and Wellens bolstered their stage racing credentials.

What next for Soler? Literally it’s the Volta a Catalunya, his home stage race. Longer term it’s crowded at Movistar with El Tridente of Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa but Soler’s still serving an apprenticeship, he joined Movistar for 2015 and they didn’t put him in a grand tour until last year’s Vuelta. He will make a valuable lieutenant, just as Miguel Indurain once did for Pedro Delgado.

J Evans March 12, 2018 at 10:57 am

A brilliant final day once again – Eurosport need to learn to show this in its entirety (if possible), rather than an hour or so of this and three hours of the Tirenno stage, which was never likely to be all that interesting.
Fantastic to see bravery rewarded – finally – in this race and to see such a young rider do it: surely we all want to see long-range adventurous attacks rather than trains going up mountains.
Fraile seemed over-confident in the sprint and went far too early, losing to a slower rider.
This is a far better way to end a race than a time trial.

Ecky Thump March 12, 2018 at 11:26 am

I was watching Sporza (no ‘Jonge, jonge, jonge…” alas) and the pictures went MIA right at the end!
I presume that they were receiving from the French..?
Great race though.

Cinjet March 12, 2018 at 11:29 am

Way better indeed! It was really exciting. Up to the very last moment. Soler wasn’t sprinting for the top two places and lost a couple of seconds and for a minute I thought he might have lost it (or it would come down to the TT times after all in case of a tie) because he lost contact in the last meters…

Kjetil Haaland March 12, 2018 at 11:15 am

Excellent race report. Also thank you for this:
“…throw caution to the win.”

Ecky Thump March 12, 2018 at 11:40 am

It really was another super race altogether and enough to keep all racing fans Happy.
We started appropriately enough in Paris and ended in conditions more suited to Wigan Pier.
A shame that a fellow Brigante couldn’t quite get there – his twin did in Italy – but still, this northern soul remains a Happy chap :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IanjdGZFGA

RIP Sir Ken Dodd.
Remember his sage advice “Use your chuckle muscle every day; if you don’t, it’ll dry up and drop off…”

Ecky Thump March 13, 2018 at 12:42 pm

Brigantes, of course.
The ‘s’ makes all the difference! 🙂

paul March 14, 2018 at 10:12 am

lol

BC March 12, 2018 at 12:40 pm

It was extremely refreshing to see a young rider attacking from so far out, something we see less and less of – and succeeding. Maybe he was fortunate that the chasing group didn’t or couldn’t organize a successful chase, but brave aggressive riding takes the day.

Maybe the fairly repetitive final 1 – 3 km of a climb attacks can be relegated by history, if only more riders have the courage to try and follow Soler’s example.

Michael B March 12, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Great race and nice to see attacking riding rewarded. It’d be pretty hilarious if Soler somehow contrived to take yellow early at the Tour and Moviestar had to manage four wannabe leaders. Would that be a record?

Ferdi March 13, 2018 at 10:30 am

Perhaps. Leaving the National teams era apart, in the 70s teams such as Miko-Mercier or Kas used to have multi-pronged leaderships, and so was the style of Ti-Raleigh, Bianchi or Zor-BH into the 80s. In the 90s, Festina was the notorious example.

Michael B March 13, 2018 at 11:51 am

Yeah, even in more recent times Contador/Armstrong, Valverde/Quintana, Porte/TJVG, Chaves/Yates. Sure there’ll be more that have slipped my memory. It never seems to work that well!

Anonymous March 12, 2018 at 1:33 pm

Great race, great write-up, thank you.

Wellens is only 26?!?! Wow he seems like a veteran of the peleton.

RQS March 12, 2018 at 2:39 pm

Great race report.

Enjoyed both the P-N and T-A. Not sure why they have both in the same week when they are both excellent races.

The weather conditions really threw in an unknown quantity into the race yesterday. Chapeau Soler for a masterful move.

Sam G March 12, 2018 at 4:15 pm

The Izagirre brothers tuned into the Chuckle Brothers on the final descent. Classic slap stick!

RQS March 12, 2018 at 5:09 pm

That’s a little harsh. But it was predictable that if one went down the other one would too.

It might have been an idea to put the second place brother just behind to avoid that issue.

Michael B March 12, 2018 at 7:06 pm

Yeah, if you’re going to ride as a “train” it’ll happen occasionally. Sky at last year’s Giro or BMC at Paris-Roubaix a couple of years back spring to mind.

Anonymous March 12, 2018 at 8:15 pm

Does anyone know why Ion Izagirre followed the move by Soler and de la Cruz and then went back to the chasing group?

Anonymous March 13, 2018 at 11:18 am

Ask Ion, he should know, since I assume nobody here spoke to him afterwards.

Anonymous March 13, 2018 at 6:59 pm

Somebody here could have seen an interview by a journalist who asked Ion.

The Inner Ring March 14, 2018 at 4:22 pm

Seems he was called back, the idea being that Soler was attacking from too far out.

Utah March 13, 2018 at 5:37 am

Mitchelton Scott is where climbing domestiques go to retire – I’m sure that Mitchelton cant be too happy about Roman’s form over the last yr and a bit compared to his 2016/15 form (top 10 tdf etc).

Let’s hope things change with Mikel Nieve.

Digahole March 13, 2018 at 7:19 am

Mitchelton Scott is also were young pros with potential go to learn to be team leaders instead of climbing domestiques… I do get your point though

CA March 14, 2018 at 4:42 pm

Utah – Roman Kreuzinger wasn’t signed to win GT’s, he came in exclusively to help the Yates’ develop into Grand Tour riders. It’s been pretty successful so far – Simon finished 7th at the Tour last year at the age of 24. What was Ivan Basso doing at 24 – DNF’ing the Tour, sounds like Roman’s been a huge success so far!

Ferdi March 13, 2018 at 10:20 am

Great, event-packed race. Kudos to Soler. A pity that Poels crashed out, and sorry for the Izagirre’s misadventure, a bit surprising for riders with a cyclo-cross background. Ion seems to have an issue with wet roads. Also surprising that Kreuziger and Yates were overwhelming the day before and weak the day after. Great to have chaos-generating last stages as opposed to TTs (hello T-A and Basque Country) or sprint-bound promenades (hello GTs). Smaller teams are proving a good idea.

paul March 14, 2018 at 10:10 am

Paris Nice really does seem to have the formulae cracked for an epic week of racing! Hugely entertaining and captivating final stage once again.

I was glued to the TV as the Galacticos battled their way to the Promenade Des Anglais.

Heart in mouth as the hugely talented brothers poetically took each other out Red Bull style.

No quarter asked no quarter given – simply fabulous

Along with the Tirrano if the rest of the season lives up to this promise …..

Monty March 14, 2018 at 4:56 pm

I have to disagree with the previous comments of Ti-AD being better and more exciting than PA-NI. TI-AD only had one super enthralling stage, which was the queen stage and another very good stage, to Trevi. Both of these stages were only interesting in the very final few ks the last climb to Trevi and the last 6km, more like the last 3km, of Sormano Sassotetto. While Pa-Ni had one super enthralling stage, the last 15k of the final stage, two very good stages the last few ks of the queen stage and the first stage and generally the sprinters stages were actually interesting unlike in tirreno. None of them being a standard sprint finish either including a hill to break up the trains or being deceived by breakaways or attacks. While Tirreno’s sprint stages were standard procedures and weren’t even really contested, even the second classics stage was boring and in my opinion a procedure even with Yates breaking away to win and with two time trials it doesn’t really make an enthralling race. Is this a tad too harsh?

Kudos to Soler for the coup d’etat and the second place behind Poels in the TT a thoroughly impressive performance for such a young rider. I was impressed by both Tiesj Benoot and Tim Wellens with a fourth and fifth respectively. They seem to be a good mixture of classics and short stage races like Kelly, I think not from that era though. Would Benoot have the ability to contest a grand tour in the future, same goes for Teuns?

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