Paris-Nice Stage 1 Preview

Today’s stage features gravel road sectors late in the stage. There are two sections each covered twice on a finishing circuit that’s also got narrow roads, a steep “wall” climb and some tight bends. It’s all got the (cold) air of a spring classic.

Prologue Wrap: a surprise triumph by Michael Matthews. Top-10 in last year’s prologue he came back and beat Tom Dumoulin by one second. It made an antipodean top three with Paddy Bevin taking third place, another turn up from Down Under.

Among the GC contenders Dumoulin may have been beaten but could well find satisfaction later on this week as he’s first of the GC contenders. Ion Izaguirre did an excellent time, Geraint Thomas was close and Richie Porte was 11th, better than imagined. The big losers among the GC candidates were Pierre Rolland and Simon Špilak, both outside the top-100. But the short course kept all the time gaps small.

Two micro observations:

  • Tissot are the new timekeepers. They brought a fancy new start hut with a big electronic display to identify the riders. Better still it means we don’t get served up daily reminders of Festina
  • They had an on-screen speed graphic. It should have been done years ago instead of those awkward moments when the camera is pointed at motorbike’s wobbling speed needle

Michael Matthews

The Route: 150km across the open plains of the Paris basin where only village churches, small pockets of woodland and wind turbines break up the horizon. If you’re getting thoughts of Paris-Tours you’re right because if they went through today’s finish in Vendôme and kept going it’s not much further to Tours.

The finishing circuit of 23km has two gravel sectors, Tourteline which is 1300m long and Tertre de la Motte which is 750m and uphill. These are different from the strade bianche which are made from fine gravel and compressed by the regular passage of traffic. Instead the tracks here are a little more rocky, especially the second sector. It pays to pick your line and take the paths crunched by vehicles ahead.

But the gravel sections are almost the easy bits, the approach roads are just as hard. The approach to the first section sees the race turn off a medium sized road onto a narrow tree-lined road which narrows further for bridge over the Loire (pictured in the Google screengrab) before a sharp left hand bend onto the Tourteline path just after. So it’s all about the race to get into position for this.

The same for the second sector. The race nears Vendôme but suddenly does a hard right turn on a road that doubles back on itself – almost a hairpin – and then heads up a steep “wall” of a road, known as the Tertre de la Glacière. Here a rider with the wrong line can lose 20 places in a flash and waste energy in the process as they approach the second sector. Another tight corner with the route bending back and the Tertre de la Motte gravel sector begins, uphill but it’s not steep although enough to award the mountains jersey, a rare chance for a classics contender to take a polka dot jersey. It ends on a downhill slope with a tricky S-bend to line everyone out even more just by the local cemetery. Fitting for those who have seen their chances turn to dust.

The Finish: Vendôme is a charming town but the finish won’t show off the town’s best side. After all the hustle and bustle of the narrow approach roads, the gravel sections and the steep “wall” after a dead turn the finish run is banal. Just after the 1km banner there’s a regular 90 degree left hand bend and then a run along a main shopping street before another regular left hander with 500m to go and then a straight finish on a wide road lined by apartment blocks.

The Contenders: when the route was announced the gravel sounded novel, something where an unfortunate rider could see their chances turn to dust while most hold on tight for a bunch sprint. Having inspected the course it’s much harder and if the gravel isn’t inherently dangerous, the pressure of teams fighting for position will raise up the pace and the wall before the Tertre de la Motte section will help thin out the field and punish weaker riders.

Alexander Kristoff doesn’t fear a sharp climb and has a team ideally placed to drop him into position for the rough sectors and at the same time ensure Špilak and Zakarin are out of danger.

Tom Boonen would have been a firm pick a few years ago but his form seems questionable right now, a contender given the gravel and walls won’t scare him but will he fight hard for the sprint or just save himself for more important races to come and play bodyguard for Marcel Kittel who can rely on Etixx-Quickstep’s classics expertise with the likes of Stijn Vandebergh to shepherd him to a sprint win.

Who’d be against Michael Matthews now? He’s floating at the moment and sprints well and his team has the strength of Orica-Greendge’s classics riders to back him.

André Greipel is on the mend from a broken rib which reduces his chances and furthermore he’s without trusted sprint leadout Marcel Sieberg who didn’t start the race because of illness.

Nacer Bouhanni is in good form but his Cofidis team is a steam train compared to the TGVs other teams have got, they’ve probably not got the puff to deliver Bouhanni into position and then rally and repeat again and again over the cobbled sector before dropping him off with 200m to go. Julien Simon provides an extra option for Cofidis.

Arnaud Démare can sprint and wants to be a classics contender too so today is the day for him to get the edge on sprint rivals like Marcel Kittel, André Greipel and Nacer Bouhanni, to put them in the red.

Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto-Jumbo) is an unlikely sprint winner but has every interest to set his team to work and rip up the race so that he can lay down the power over the gravel section and escape with a few others. A similar story for Lars Boom (Astana) and Ian Stannard (Team Sky). Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) took it easy in the prologue, citing medical advice, but has promised to resume racing and a searing attack up the final climb is just his kind of move.

Third placed Patrick Bevin is also a quiet pick given his versatility and the wall will suit him but can he fight for position? As good as he’s been in the Oceania Tour trying to fight for space on the road against Etixx-Quickstep, Katusha, BMC Racing and Team Sky is bound to be a new test.

Alexander Kristoff
Marcel Kittel, Michael Matthews
Boonen, Gilbert, Greipel, Bouhanni, Bevin, Felline, Démare, Vanmarcke, Theuns, Farrar, Boom, Lobato, Bonifazio

Weather: cold with a top temperature of 7°C and the possibility of snow showers. A moderate wind from the NNW wind of 20-30km/h will speed the riders along for much of the course.

Local rider: Tony Gallopin was born in Dourdan just to the west of Paris, the route passes by before skirting south towards Châteaudun, near the raucous-sounding Angerville where he lives today. Gallopin is from a big cycling family, the son of ex-pro Joël Gallopin and his uncle is a DS at Trek-Segafredo plus he’s married to ex-pro Marion Rousse.

It all started by accident when André, the eldest of the five Gallopin brothers, fell off a roof and broke his hip. The family bought him a bicycle to help with the rehab and eventually all the brothers got the cycling bug. Some years later Joël Gallopin had turned pro and was racing a criterium when the speaker Daniel Mangeas announced the birth of a baby boy called Tony to the crowds. Despite this cultural headstart and the DNA Tony often says he was never born with a big talent and that his results have had to be worked at, presumably a relative statement given he’s worn the yellow jersey and won stages in the Tour de France and more. But it’s true that he’s been a slow starter. He didn’t have huge junior wins and his pro career has been gradual. By the way galopin is French for “urchin” and a slang term for a small glass of wine or a half of beer.

TV: live coverage starts at 3.00pm and the first gravel section is forecast for 4.00pm Euro time and the finish is for 4.40pm. It should be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport. If not then, and all offer alternative feeds.

27 thoughts on “Paris-Nice Stage 1 Preview”

  1. When reading the preview I was discounting a bunch sprint, but clearly this shouldn’t be the case given the contenders. Hoe far is it from the end of the gravelly sections to the end, am I right that it’s only 4km? If so then is this a tough day, but not enough to split the field and shake off the sprinters? I agree with Kristoff clearly but Kittle seems a strange choice given the parcours.

    A couple of observations on the piece. An “antipodean top three”? I thought Dumoulin was Dutch, or am I missing something? And Kristoff’s section references a “cobbled sector”. (but these are nit-picks!)

      • I marvel that you let slip by the opportunity to use ‘antipodean podium’. Alliteration wasn’t euphonious or too many feet in it?

    • Cilmeri, there’s some (scary) footage from a Sporza recon motorcycle of the gravel sections on Steephill. They are bona fide agricultural tracks. The first one, off a sharp left hand turn, after Inning’s bridge picture is pot hole strewn and rough in places, also flat and exposed to the wind.

      The second sector, from the tight left hand sweep, is initially uphill. The RH side is wet, from run-off from a small skirting embankment and very uneven and worn where rivulets have formed.

      Although both tracks are wide enough (two cars?), there looks to be very limited assured space for the riders. Possibly on one team deep unless you want to take a risk; hand sized cobbles abound.
      There’s bound to a reduced split form with these I reckon, think Etixx / Sky of course and a select few hangers on.
      Whether the race may come back together after the wall, with 4km to go, we’ll see. But a dangerous day for GC contenders. Can’t wait!

  2. Dumoulin lost confidence in the corners after a fall in his training ride. Also made some mistakes on the hill. A big shame because you feel his current margin won’t really be enough in the high mountains against Porte or Contador but say another 10, 15 seconds might have given him enough of a fighting chance.

  3. I can’t see Kittel getting to the end at the front but probably Kristoff, Matthews, Bouhanni and Demare. It depends how hard the punchuers go on the little climb, and how little it is?! Gilbert looked to be at about 5% yesterday, his effectiveness depends on whether he was saving himself for today or is still injured. I suspect he’s not fully on it.

  4. Kittel seems to have improved on hills this year (Hatta Dam springs to mind) and I believe the uphill gravel section is just 3.7%. He also has the best team for this kind of terrain. I would count him among the favorites.

  5. “…near the raucous-sounding Angerville…”


    Agree that a sprint from a reduced bunch seems likely. A lot seems to depend on whether Quick Step can get Kittel through the tough, tricky sections and still be in a position to contest that sprint. If he’s in the group, I can’t see anyone challenging him. Otherwise, you’d have to pick Kristoff.

    • Very interesting post Larry – it’s great how you can bounce from one section of the race to another in time to see the race past at those points.

      Jealous you got to see this in person!

      • DMC – I am fortunate beyond belief to be able to “live the dream” in so many ways. But I’m also a guy who drives a 1993 automobile, pays no monthly cable TV bill, owns no $10K+ newest/latest bicycles, has no mortgage, but is married to a college prof who can supplement our income in the years CycleItalia comes up a little short 🙂

  6. Geographically speaking, Paddy Bevin is from Down Under. As we Australians generally reserve that moniker for ourselves, I would propose that Mr Bevin is from Down Under, Across the Ditch – he being a Kiwi and all (watch out for this guy, he’s a real talent).

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