The Moment The Race Was Won: Paris-Nice

Richie Porte Nairo Quintana Andrew Talansky Montagne de Lure Paris Nice

Stage 5 and the lead group is on the Montagne de Lure and just two kilometres from the finish. Andrew Talansky’s already put in two bold attacks. It’s audacious racing and useful too because the accelerations have dropped several riders, you can see a second group in the background of the picture. But it’s also fatal for Talansky’s overall lead because Richie Porte is taking a good look his power meter, at Talansky and the road ahead and will soon attack to finish 32 seconds clear and take the 10 second time bonus. Porte then followed this up with a powerful stage win on the Col d’Eze, extending his overall lead and leaving nobody in doubt as to who was the strongest rider of the week.

Here’s a look back at the race, including the arithmetic to show Talansky’s attacking didn’t lose the race, plus some lessons for the rest of the year, from the classics to the Tour de France.

As ever though, a stage race can have a winning moment but it is a series of efforts and moments compounded over the week that make things happen. A short prologue saw Porte finish 39th, nine seconds off Damien Gaudin. Stage 3 brought foul weather, a steep climb and a fraught descent. Local rider Romain Bardet (Ag2r) got away with Andrey Grivko (Astana) and soon David López (Sky), Jon Izagirre (Euskaltel) and Davide Malacarne (Europcar) joined them. Then Porte and Talansky jumped across, the Australian ushering the American to do the work because there was already a Sky rider up the road. The next day wasn’t easy either and Talansky was isolated by the end of the stage… but so was Porte as he was the only Sky rider to make the 37 rider front group over the tricky final combo of the Côtes de Talencieux and Sizeranne. This all set things up for Stage 5 and the summit finish on the Montagne de Lure.

The Moment The Race Was Lost?
Did Talansky throw the race away on the Lure? No. Some will say he should never have attacked, that he should not even have lifted his rear off the saddle but instead rode high tempo. But his attacks on the Montagne de Lure were a good idea, or at least the first and the second moves helped. They thinned the group, no longer did Talansky have to watch 20 riders but, he could now focus on Porte, Tejay van Garderen and Lieuwe Westra. Yes, the third attack saw him go into foreclosure thanks to oxygen debt but it did thin down the group.

Hopefully the American’s attacking spirit does not evaporate because it was risk-taking that got him the overall lead in the first place when he gambled on the descent to Brioude and paired up with Porte to bridge across to the lead group with a few kilometres to go on Stage 3.

Counterfactual arithmetic
Richie Porte’s the clear winner, taking the mountain stage and the final time trial. But only for the sake of calculation, let’s imagine Talansky did not do three attacks but instead came in with Porte on the Montagne de Lure and won the sprint. He held a seven second lead at the start of the stage and if he won the stage Talansky and Porte did not place in the top three then Talansky would have extended his lead to 17 seconds. Since Porte won on the Col d’Eze by 23 seconds the difference on the Montagne de Lure didn’t matter, the Australian would have overhauled him anyway by five seconds.

Notable points
The race was more than a battle for the yellow jersey. Here are some other points:

  • Sylvain Chavanel has so much energy he struggles to channel it. He’s won time trials but hadn’t got a victory salute road win since June 2011. He’s great to watch but you wonder if he’s the fastest man to the 20km banner rather than the finish line. But he’s racking up precious points, remains a valuable rider and is France’s best paid cyclist
  • Robert Gesink reminds me of the Albert King song with the lyrics “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all” as the Dutchman started the race as a top pick but left the race ill, another missed opportunity to add to a long list in his career
  • Jean-Christophe Péraud is an under-rated rider. Ninth in the 2011 Tour de France, “J-C” had a bad year in 2012 with a few problems as well as a split focus on the Tour and the London Olympics mountain bike. He finished third overall and might have been second were it not for a crash on the final stage.
  • French TV have learned how to pronounce Richie Porte. Ironically Porte is the French word for door but for years Thierry Adam called him Re-chee Por-tee
  • Talking of the media, all week long L’Equipe newspaper has dedicated less than a page to to the race, despite being in the same corporate stable as race organisers ASO. It’s arguably France’s third biggest stage race yet struggles to get a full page in the house newspaper. Bizarre
  • One innovation this year was the circuit finish used where the race crosses the finish line before heading out to the local countryside to return in less than an hour. Strictly speaking it’s not new but we saw it three times in a row. It’s a ruse to get locals out to watch as they can see the race twice and it makes the finish area come alive for longer. The Tour de France probably doesn’t need this kind of theatrical engineering but it’ll be interesting to see if it’s used in the Dauphiné and next year’s Paris-Nice.
  • Amongst the teams fighting for wildcards there’s no definitive performance. Certain invitees Europcar had a stage win thanks to Gaudin and Davide Malacarne was second to Talansky in Brioude. IAM Cycling took the mountains jersey which might boost their chances but Tschopp was by poaching points rather than out-climbing the likes of Talansky, Porte or Quintana that they won. Cofidis were visible thanks to their red jerseys and yellow helmets but didn’t get a result, a similar story with Sojasun whose Jonathan Hivert quietly impressed. But none stood out to become incontournable as they say in French, unavoidable.
  • Katusha won the team prize overall. Now you know.
  • Talking of teams, whilst Richie Porte won’t be going anywhere near Milan-Sanremo or the Tour of Flanders, his win helps his colleagues a lot for the classics. As pointed out above, UCI points determine the order of team cars in the race convoy. Being first car in the convoy means domestiques don’t have to drop back too far to fetch bottles and more and the same if a rider punctures, they can get a wheel faster than others.
  • Lastly, this time last year I wrote a piece asking if Bradley Wiggins could win the Tour de France after his ride in Paris-Nice and the answer, in the piece and 120 days later, was yes. Now with Porte already expressing ambitions for the 2014 Giro and Froome taking into the overall lead in Tirren0-Adriatico you almost wonder if a Team Sky 1-2-3 in the Tour de France is next, no?

51 thoughts on “The Moment The Race Was Won: Paris-Nice”

  1. I’m a big Team Sky fan and I think it’s really great to see them give Porte this chance to show what he can do as leader, because he did a great job of work last season in a support role. Shows that the strength in depth that the Sky squad has is the main reason for all the success.

  2. I was glad to see Richie as a team leader for a World Tour race after years in service of Contador and Wiggo. He certainly lived up to his potential and came on top of a decently talented field. I think a Sky 1-2-3 at the Tour is quite possible, wouldn’t rule it out.

  3. As always, great analysis Mr. Ring. You think so thoroughly through the topic and follow it up with good evidence that it’s difficult to find holes in your logic. Or maybe I’m just small minded and can’t think on your level. :-/ Anyway, my only comment is any team doing a 1-2-3 in the Tour seems improbable. A team has to bury itself so thoroughly during the tour just to get one rider on a step, that I can’t imagine any team getting three. And any time a team does get two, there seems to be serious conflict within the team about who should be going for it and for what place. So not only is it physically difficult to get three on the podium, there’s political issues within a team that would seem to negate any chance of it happening. This doesn’t even mention the good fortune needed by these 3 guys to get through the Tour unscathed and still near the front. Again, it seems highly improbable. (Obviously, I’m completely ignoring history here…has it ever been done in the modern tour?)

  4. I’m British so naturally have an affinity for the British riders and glad to see them doing well.

    Despite that I’m worried by the dominance of sky. It seems an unfathomable amount of success and I can’t quite believe this can all be down to the marginal gains philosophy. I wish they would have got an outsider perspective with full access like kimmage. The decision to choose Walsh (long time admirer of Armstrong) is bizarre and won’t quell the naysayers.

    Lets hope for the good of cycling and britains reputation this ain’t the next USPS.

    • I can understand the cynicism that surrounds Sky given the past. But I also think you need to consider:

      1. For many years, success was derived from investment in “preparation” so there was no need to invest in the ‘art’ of proper training.
      2. Many DS were, and are, riders under (1) so I can’t believe they brought too much to the table in terms of new ideas. Much of the road-side of the sport has been “jobs for the boys” for years. Although “experience” will get you so far there aren’t going to be too many sports science degrees floating around.
      3. Many teams until very recently took a very ad-hoc approach with riders responsible for their own training and pretty much turning up on the start line.

      In light of the above, is it any great surprise that a team with professionally trained staff, analysts etc and a (highly) organised and targeted (regimented?) approach to training can rise to the top in a short space of time?

      Yes, I could end up with egg all over my face but I’m reasonably confident that I won’t.

    • David Walsh a “long time admirer of Armstrong”? The same David Walsh, author os such books as “L.A. Confidential: Lance Armstrong’s Secrets” and “Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong”?

      I feel you may be thinking of somebody else.

      • Actually Walsh said he was “a fan with a typewriter” for some time and an admirer of Armstrong it seems, at least until the comeback started and the wake of the Festina scandal. “Long term” is perhaps too strong though.

        • Always reminds me of Rumsfeld –

          What do we know we know about Sky? They have a large payroll budget and appear to be very well organised. They have recently won lots of stage races.

          What do we know we don’t know? How they came to hire a ‘tainted’ doctor.
          I don’t know what else we don’t know!

          • From the top of my head. how about;
            – 3 DS’s hired with doping histories, 1 of which was subsequently ‘admitted’ in the face of witness evidence, 2 of which are still denied depied despite links and witness statements.
            – Complete non-disclosure of the the audit conducted (launched under great fanfare) into the links/conflicts between SKY and Team GB. Only comment I saw from DB, was that the report stated the relationship was ‘broadly supportive’. I think the real report might have been slightly more wordy?
            – Last minute refusal to allow Kimmage complete access to the Tour after the story had been run through the media that he was going to be embedded 100% for Le Tour. Kimmage was then told at the last minute he couldn’t attend certain stages/days. I assume they thought he’d have to accept as he’d have commitments to editors to keep – fortunately Kimmage’s integrity is placed ahead of his personal reputation.

            I know that these behaviours from SKY don’t actually prove anything, but they certainly do mean that they don’t live up to their own rhetoric. If they truly are a zero-tolerance set-up, then they are one that does zero diligence and has its head completely in the sand when it makes any decisions? 2 minutes on google should have thrown up plenty of information for DB when hiring Sutton, Yates and De Jongh. It would have saved weeks of embarrrassment over Neil Stephens.

            I’m not anti-Team SKY, but I am anti-being-taken-for-an-idiot. If they dropped all the noise about being a clean team, I really wouldn’t mind in the least, but I do object to all the protestations from the SKY camp, when very little of their actual behaviour gives me any reason to believe they are anything other than pro-winning.

            Sadly, experience shows us that talk is particalarly cheap in sport and almost worthless in cycling. Behaviour and reputation are the only currencies left that people can trade in and I’m still waiting to see Team SKY demonstrate the sort of behaviour that I would want to support.

            My champagne is still on ice to celebrate Britain’s 1st Tour winner and hopefully one day I’ll get the chance to toast it? I’m sure it will taste much sweeter when I do!

        • Which comeback do you mean? From cancer or from retirement? Either way, David Walsh has been critical of Lance (and others, many others) for a long, long time. He does admit to having some respect for the pre-cancer Armstrong but that is overwhelmed by his predominant view – or at least thats what he outlines in his books.

    • Is it fair to say that either the sport is now sufficiently clean that a team can dominte by doing all the right things or that there is something dirty going on. i.e. if some teams are still resorting to questionable practices wouldn’t it be impossible for Sky to be achieving what they are?

      • It’s a difficult question and one that the great philosophers of humanity have examined. Not Team Sky’s situation of course but the subject of epistemology ( and what we can and can’t know. We can have views… but beware of those with the most certain takes on the situation.

        For what it’s worth I don’t think Sky dominated, they were strong but Porte won only by a small margin and he might just have been beaten on the Col d’Eze if J-C Péraud hadn’t crashed during the stage.

        • Certainly the amount of people prepared to make definitive conclusions is grating. Yes we should always ask questions but the minute we make definitive conclusions based (almost) solely on performance we might as well all pack up and go home.

          I’m still shocked that top riders, Nibali included as I remember it (?), are pretty much left to their own devices when it comes to training. On the other hand Sky are looking strong as a unit, even if they arguably have a disproportionate amount of talent.

          Yes anything is possible and yes always ask the questions but I wish more would refrain from unsubstantiated conclusions and try to actually enjoy the racing in the meantime. Guess I should just do a better job of avoiding reading it too! NB This venting is not aimed at the original poster moreover what I consistently read on forums that lack the informed opinion that is usually found on this site 🙂

      • Echo: I wonder if the Sky pseudo-patented marginal gains philosophy is really just a marketing philosophy, and the classic competitive advantage techniques are the same as they’ve been over the last 15 years…. Slick application of substances, now masked by slick application of public relations horseshiz, e.g., such as aero helmet covers, advanced fabrics, and the Sky systematic management ju ju. It is very very difficult not to be a skeptic in light of the number of tainted eggs that have been cast out of the Sky basket over the past year, not too mention winning margins that resemble days of yore with express mail free shipping of the oxygen candy of choice. 🙂

      • I don’t doubt that some of the innovations Sky has brought to the sport have helped them, but having a big budget helps even more. Sky seems to be winning everything right now because they have invested a lot in GC talent, and there happen to be two stage races this week. Froome is really the only one on the team who didn’t already show his GC potential before coming to Sky. When you have the payroll they do, it’s not hard to get 2-3 guys on your Tour team who would have been outright team captains on most of the other teams in the peloton. Despite having 2-3 guys with legitimate classics potential, I think all the talk about Sky’s dominance will soon be forgotten until May or June.

        • These comments remind me of all the people that reiterated the “higher cadence, larger heart, scientific training” mantra of the LA team. Don’t be such homers about your countrymen.

          Go back and watch the video of Porte closing a 15 second gap to Menchov in Paris-Nice in a matter of seconds, then dropping the former GT winner like he was an amateur racer. NP is an accomplished rider, but has NEVER ridden at the sharp end in the mountains. Then he follows that by WINNING an uphill time trial in which his VAM in the first half of the race both approached 7.0 and completely flummoxed Sean Kelly.

          Think again. Marginal gains do not account for that leap in performance.

          • 1 Menchov is nothing like the rider he was. Performance declines with age.
            2 By NP, I assume you mean RP. If you do, he rode on the sharp end, i.e at the front, of just about every hilly stage in every hilly race in which Sky competed last year.
            3 By VAM, I assume you mean Watts per Kilo, as 7 vertical metres per hour is quite slow. If you do, then 7 in a very very short burst is feasible. It would require extraordinary amounts of structured training to achieve it but . . . . . Oh, wait a minute, which team is it that does extraordinary amounts of structured training.

            If you are going to hurl around allegations, especially on this blog which is contributed to by the better informed and more sensible, please try to get some basic facts correct.

            Are you American?

          • As I say informed opinion is usually found on this site. I don’t know whether Sky are clean or not. The point is I can speculate, I can have my suspicions and I can ask questions (which we should all do) but I cannot definitively state they are clean or that they are doped at this moment in time.

            In terms of the, admittedly very limited, numbers I have seen they seem in keeping with more recent times (i.e. considerably slower than the EPO era and post the biological passport) for what little that is worth. My advice would be to keep questioning while trying to enjoy the sport and try to refrain from derogatorily stating speculation as fact.

          • 1. Menchov is still a top tier rider, and was in a breakaway at the head of the race.
            2. So, RP riding at the front end in 2012 (after he joined Sky) is proof that Sky riders are clean? Interesting use of logic.
            3. Structured training allows a good but not great rider to suddenly demolish the entire peleton? That was exactly my point above. Good thing no other riders have figured out how to accomplish effective training.

            Simon, you’re drinking the kool-aid. But don’t feel bad – a lot of people drank the LA kool-aid, too.

          • Doubter – have a little read of this, from Blazing Saddles
            Granted, it’s probably not enough for many fans to take things on trust anymore. But by the same token, it’s not right for default suspicions to precede any form of appreciation of training methods, hard work, dedication and professionalism.
            And this from later in the piece.
            Fans need to be more realistic. By all means, be cynical – but do so for a reason and not merely in protest. Omertà is one thing, but a persistent finger-pointing and unmeasured hounding is just as bad.

            The full piece is here.

            It’s reasoned, measured, thoughtful and balanced. It also presents evidence and rationale.
            I don’t detect any of the same qualities in your contributions.

          • When you take off the Sky fanboy blinders, what more proof do you need to take a hard look at some of these performances? Too busy with the ad hominem attacks, apparently.

            You’d think those of us who watch cycling would figure out that things that look too good to be true usually are.

            We’ve been down this road before…….many, many times.

          • I’m no Sky fan. I find their smugness about being a “clean team” a bit insufferable, and yes, there are some legitimate questions they still need to answer. Performances are more believable than they used to be pre-blood passport, but I agree we need to continue to ask questions about performances that seem unbelievable. In this case, I simply don’t see what was so unbelievable about an up and coming rider beating a field of mostly other young up-and-comers and one guy who has been a grand tour contender in the past but finished well down in the standings. Especially in spring races, it’s hard to read too much into the results because you’ve got guys who are getting what may be their only chance all season to lead their teams in GC racing against others who are just starting their seasons and treating it as training.

            I agree that riding at 7 W/kg for longer than a few minutes should raise eyebrows. If there is evidence that Porte achieved that, I would be very interested to see the calculations it is based on.

  5. I don’t think it’s going to be a Sky 1-2-3 either. Last year’s 1-2 is more a result of Wiggins’ riding style. He needs somebody to pace him to the line on mountains (Froome probably would have won two or more stages if not for Wiggins).

    Froome on the other hand can climb on his own and Sky conserves firing power as a result. Porte, Uran & Heno may very well stay in the top ten if they can. But it does not make sense for them to try taking top five in any mountain stages: they’d need to conserve energy and would not be able to set as high a pace and control the race as throughly.

    Also, the question of Wiggins. If sky is serious about Froome, I’d imagine Wiggins to be the first to strip away on the mountain train rather than the last. His style of riding is more suitable for soaring the pace before a climb rather than on a climb. In fact he’d be totally useless when the climbing really gets tough and it wouldn’t make sense for sky to spend somebody protecting him if they are really get going with Froome.

  6. TotheBillyoh March 12, 2012 at 1:59 am
    Bikecellar. We hear your pain. Some things are just not meant to be. Oh yes they were/are. 🙂
    thanks for the reminder of the doubters. Although the Cav comments were correct.

  7. i think it’s worth noting that boonen was nowhere during stage 6’s classics-esque stage. he seems way off the mark in terms of form and with chavanel and gilbert living up the stage, i was expecting him to be somewhere as a protagonist as opposed to using paris-nice as training miles.

    • I agree but it’s always hard to know if he was just training or unable to race because the condition is not there. It’s possible too that Chavanel finishes the week tired but I think he’ll be ok. Gilbert did look good but not yet 100% either, if he’s not there for Milan-Sanremo, he will be for the Ronde.

  8. Just a thought on Radio-Shack and TDF. The management really should get real and admit that nothing short of god’s will and doping can get Andy Schleck back on track in time for the tour.

    The best way to salvage 2013 for Andy is probably having him ride in a supporting role (probably to Chris Horner) during the the Tour. That and big brother Frankie not there to cuddle him would probably teach him team work , dedication & the right mind-set of a Grand Tour contender (success had really came too easy for him before). Then, depending on how the tour goes, he might have enough form and energy left to make a proper come back at the Vuelta.

    Using the Tour to train for Vuelta is probably controversial, not to mention the fact that the rider in question is a previous Tour winner as well. The short time between the Tour and Vuelta (34 days) could also be a problem though arguably you probably are fresher riding in supportive role. But give up the Tour and do well in Vuelta is probably better than not doing well at all through out the year.

    • This is always hard, especially in the early season. I didn’t pick Porte as a prime choice because he’d not been racing as much, by contrast I thought Gesink and Rui Costa would feature but both crashed out.

  9. I thought Kyrienka (apologies if spelled wrong heading the peloton into Nice for what felt like at least 20k’s was a great bit of team riding, especially after his crash a few days previously.

    What’s sad though, and I really hope I’m wrong, is that some of the previously much touted prospects are just not performing, you mention Gesink, but I fear we have already seen the best of riders like Taaramae.

    • With Taaramae probably attacking every other hilly or mountainous stage in the TdF we might not have seen (on TV) the best of him yet!

  10. I was a little surprised to learn that Chava is the best paid French cyclist but on reflection it makes sense. He’s a class act and I guess Boonen would consider him as his most valuable teammate. I hope to God he gets a monument before he retires

  11. 2.3.018 The order of team cars in the race will be determined as follows:
    UCI WorldTour calendar men elite events
    1. the cars of the teams represented at the sports directors’ meeting referred to in article 1.2.087
    in the order of the UCI WorldTour individual classification of the starting riders as drawn up;

    …So according to the rules Porte would have to start MSR for his WT points to help Sky. They shouldn’t be too far back though thanks to Geraint Thomas.

  12. As I recall it, Talansky did not attack, he coverered 2 attacks by others, Scarponi and perhaps another. I assume that the team car has the play by play. So what were they thinking, or were they thinking. Porte then VanGarderen were the enemy. What were they thinking?

  13. I will admit not watching P-N all that closely, but amid all the claptrap about marginal gains (which seems to have fallen apart based on SKY’s performance at the penultimate stage of T-A yesterday) there’s not been much said about what seems to me to be not-much-support from Garmin. It looked like it was Talansky vs SKY, even the team staff was off-the-back one stage when the poor kid was handed a towel by someone until the staff guy showed up. It seemed the race was lost by Garmin as much as it was won by SKY?

    • Vaughters continually laments his team’s lack of budget compared to SKY on twitter.
      He tweeted the other day that the 8/9th payscale of rider at SKY was the equivalent of the top paid rider at Garmin.

      • Yes, it’s a big factor. I’d like to write more but for obvious reasons getting the source data is impossible. I gather a neo pro like Joe Dombrowski is earning more than Ag2r’s leader and podium finisher J-C Péraud.

        • It’s an interesting topic, but I assume no-one but Vaughters is keen to comment on it?
          It’s a whole different world to the minimum wage domestiques on several teams.
          SKY domestiques are all strong riders who want the team to succeed – but I’m sure the mighty pay-packet incentive helps them dig even deeper to help out. Vasil Kiryienka at P-N worked like an absolute dog!

  14. the cars of the teams represented at the sports directors’ meeting referred to in article 1.2.087
    in the order of the UCI WorldTour individual classification of the starting riders as drawn up;

  15. Argh, so this is probably very naive and obvious, but riders will check out their power meters, know what they are capable of, and then gauge a climb or stage, huh? So much for riding on feel. That’s upsetting to me, maybe more than all the cheating and everything else. Doping makes them superhuman, power meters, race radios, and other tech makes them automatons.

    I love cycling & it’s my main sport these days, but all the data crunching makes me year for a simple 1v.1 game of basketball or running or something that is just about effort & guts.

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