Paris-Nice Stage 2 Preview

Things return to normal with a classic transition stage, 213km to take the riders south towards an inevitable sprint finish.

Paris Nice snow

Stage 1 Wrap: a cold day on the bike with roads made damp by fresh snow. Team Sky hit the front with 45km to go and turned the stage into a spring classic, splitting the field and adding to the action long before the gravel started. Katusha missed the move but chased hard only for Alexander Kristoff to have a mechanical.

Paris Nice gravel

The second gravel section was hard work and the second time up Marcel Kittel was dropped out of the back. Geraint Thomas looked to be floating and Michael Matthews was at ease, covering his rivals. If there was a large bunch it was stretched out on the final gravel sector and the group coming into town never felt like a bunch thundering to the line. Edward Theuns took a late flyer and a long pull from Cannondale’s Paddy Bevin reeled him in, indeed the Kiwi seemed too strong for his sprinter Wouter Wippert. This closed the gap and with Ben Swift drifting across the road, Arnaud Démare took the direct route to the finish to collect the stage win.

Perhaps Hollywood would liven up the script by putting a few more GC riders in danger over the gravel but it made for an hour of action and already the stage is a candidate for highlight of the year. As much as we anticipated the gravel it was the wind that made the stage come alive.

Arnaud Démare

The Route: after leaving the argumentative-sounding Contres, the riders face longest stage of the race with an early intermediate sprint to offer a little reward to any breakaways going up the road.

The Côte d’Estivareilles is a third category climb and if you’re used to the Tour de France’s system you might think this makes today’s climb a serious effort. But Paris-Nice only has three categories and the road up to Estivareilles is as easy at it gets. The road crosses the Loire river and runs straight up to the village, 1.7km at 6%. It keeps climbing after the mountains point but anyone dropped here wasn’t going to feature later on. Still this marks a point for any breakaway to aim for so that the escapees can battle it out for the 4-2-1 points available.

The Finish: they head into Commentry, cross the line and then go for a 17km triangle-shaped lap around the countryside. There’s not much to see – count the white Charollais cows if you’re bored – but open pastures means exposed terrain. Still the forecast says the wind will stay calm.

The run into the finish is uphill and seems to drag up more than the graphic suggests. It’s hardly advantage climbers but can might chew up a leadout train or two who expect to hit 60km/h all the way. The finish line is on a wide road and slightly uphill.

The Contenders: this is one of the two clear sprint finishes in the race and we can expect Etixx-Quickstep, Katusha, Lotto-Soudal and Cofidis to strive for this scenario. Good luck to a breakaway but even if powerhouses like Sylvain Chavanel, Thomas De Gendt, Alexis Gougeard and Niki Terpstra were all in the move it’s still hard to see them staying away.

Marcel Kittel and Alexander Kristoff are the two top picks and there’s little to separate them. So we’ll go on past sprint duels and far more often than not when the pair have sprinted together it’s Kittel who has won. The slight uphill drag presents no problem for either of them, if anything it turns the finish into more of a straight test of power rather than rewarding aerodynamics. Both have reasons to make amends for yesterday’s stage with Kittel been blown out of the back on the final climb and Kristoff missing the main move and then getting a mechanical late in the day.

Nacer Bouhanni has made Paris-Nice a big objective and this is testimony to his ambition and straight talking. Not for him a “I’ll do my best” or “let’s take it day by day” which always makes an interview with him a refreshing read. However beating Kristoff and Kittel in a sprint seems a tall order. If he can do it à la pédale then he earns his place among the top sprinters.

As said yesterday André Greipel is recovering from injury and is sans Sieberg so his chances look reduced a little. Michael Matthews will be in the mix but has he got the raw power for a sprint? Today isn’t selective enough for him. Arnaud Démare will be feeling confident and the finish suits him too. He did win a race already this year but yesterday’s win at the World Tour level meant a lot more.

Team Sky’s Ben Swift was close yesterday but he’s a bit like Michael Matthews, he thrives on a hard day’s racing rather rather than a straight test of speed. Finally it’ll be interesting to see what Cannondale do. Paddy Bevin looked very good yesterday but perhaps today it’s all in for Wouter Wippert. He has won big but today is a bigger ask.

Marcel Kittel, Alexander Kristoff
Nacer Bouhanni, Arnaud Démare, André Greipel, Michael Matthews
Wippert, Swift, Lobato, Cimolai, Farrar, Bonifazio, Van Genechten, McLay

Weather: cold and dry. A top temperature of 5°C and little wind is forecast.

Local rider: theres Roger Walkowiak, the 1956 Tour de France winner and there’s a piece on him due here later today. For contemporary riders Julian Alaphilippe lives near the finish. He’s not from a family of cyclists, his father’s an orchestra conductor but cousin Franck was a decent amateur. Julian was an exceptional amateur, silver medallist in the junior cyclo-cross championships and a national title in the same field. He impressed by his versatility, in his last year as an U23 he won a mountain stage of the Tour de l’Avenir but also contested the bunch sprints he continued this all round ability in the pro ranks, coming close as a first year pro in the sprints of the Volta Catalunya before getting his first pro win in the Jura mountains of the Tour de l’Ain, beating Dan Martin who is now a team mate. It’ll be interesting to see how the pair combine in the Ardennes given Martin’s predilection for these races and Alaphilippe finishing second in the Flèche Wallonne and in Liège. Alaphilippe isn’t racing here, his plans having been setback by a bout of the mononucleosis virus. So if you want a local who might get in the day’s breakaway there’s Fortuneo-Vital Concept’s Florian Vachon.

TV: live coverage starts at 4.10pm Euro time and the finish is forecast for 5.10pm Euro time. It’s should be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport. If not then, and all offer alternative feeds.

38 thoughts on “Paris-Nice Stage 2 Preview”

  1. Anyone know why the white jersey isn’t being awarded this year?

    Also great riding from Porte yesterday but some sub-par teamwork from BMC leaving their leader isolated for a long time in that first echelon until the groups came back together. When Cadel Evans was running the show BMC were always hovering near the front of the bunch, and the team needs to remember this for stages such as this.

  2. The gravel sections of race day did not look like the pot-holed and rutted farm tracks that were the X-rated horrors of various recon pictures and videos.
    The Nightmare on Tourteline Street was more pebble-dasher than slasher.

    Anyway, when I did come out from behind the sofa, it was a good last 30km or so’s viewing.
    Sky and Orica looked smooth. But only one Etixx rider in the top 30?

  3. Is it just me who dislikes Nacer Bouhanni? Inrng may like how he talks the talk but I’m more interested in the fact he does not walk the walk. It seems to me there’s a reason he’s been at FDJ and now Cofidis and that’s that better equipped teams don’t want to place their chance for victory on him. Demare and Swift aren’t exactly stellar sprinters and yesterday was exactly the sort of finish Bouhanni should be sweeping up if he ever wants to be considered a top sprinter. Instead, I consider him to be more the playground bully type who can beat up the small kids but fails whenever pitted against one of the bigger boys. Given we have Kittel, Greipel and Kristoff in this race , all who are better and more reliable, I imagine Bouhanni will be a disappointing also ran yet again. Guys in commentary keep telling me he is also a boxer. Is he any better at that than cycling?

    • Don’t know – are you any better at your day job than being a miserable, snarky Eeyore who wouldn’t say any of that to Bouhanni’s face in private?

      • That’s a snarky comment if ever I saw one. Ronde is simply stating (albeit emphatically) that he thinks Bouhanni is over rated. His argument seems valid to me, there’s supporting arguments in there. I

    • It’s not just you. This guy’s palmares is rather thin compared to the noise he makes, but sprinters are kind of like that, no? The Manx Missile was(is) a bit of a jerk but he eventually backed it up with plenty of wins. Bouhanni’s still young yet, he may still get the results to equal his bravado?

    • I don’t mind wee Nacer. I don’t read French so I have no idea what he says in the press. I thought he was very impressive in that Giro a couple of years ago when he won the red jersey, admittedly against thin opposition once Kittel pulled out. Since then he’s been largely dissapointing and seems to crash pretty regularly. I like it that he signed for Cofidis because at least he makes them relevant. Before him they were just 9 red jerseys who contributed nothing to any race other than getting in doomed breakaways. I don’t see him ever beating Kittel (who can?), Greipel or Kristoff in a flat drag race but I think he could make a handy Matthews/Degenkolb/Sagan style sprinter/puncheur hybrid. I agree he could use a result or two though.

    • This year will be quite important to see if Bouhanni can step up and to what level. Last year was a hard season, indeed, as it sometimes happens when a sprinter changes team. Or he had already got as high as he’ll ever be able to, and maybe that’s why FDJ let him go.

      RonDe names Kristoff, but what was the now-phenomenal Kristoff winning when he was Bouhanni’s age? More or less nothing. Quite far from getting five GT stages as Bouhanni did in 2014, but also far from getting even near to the *disappointing* 2015 season by Bouhanni, where the guy could nevertheless win a couple of WT races… something that Kristoff hadn’t done in his whole career before winning the Sanremo: age-wise, Bouhanni’s time for that would be 2017.

      Kittel is two years older than Bouhanni, too, and, besides having just had a 2015 season which makes Bouhanni’s 2015 look like a dream year, he was deemed as a future talent but hadn’t won big before going “boom” in 2013. He had won some WT races, yeah… simply because the Eneco Tour and the Pologne are WT.

      Greipel is a whole different generation, I doubt he was even sprinting for himself when he was 25; he started to progress slowly from 26-27 on and was never deemed as a true top dog until… last year (he had a great 2012 Tour, too). He’s got two or three big winning streaks in GTs along his whole career (one out of every three years, more or less!), but besides that he used to win a lot of smaller races. He’s a great rider, for sure, I appreciate more than everything his will and skills when testing himself in the Classics, often working for the teammates’ sake, plus his consistency in the TdF, where even in the “bad” years he’s been picking at least a stage in the last five years or so. But let’s try to put things in context.

      All that said, I’m afraid that nowadays a sprinter needs to be in a bigger team to receive all the necessary support and be placed in the conditions to win, both physically- (training) and strategically-wise. The competition is absolutely strong, and most of those really good guys are in huge teams, too. Cofidis (and FDJ) are really no match. It looked like we could have a sort of French Spring, in recent years, but it’s to be seen if that survives the quite brutal political and economical acceleration the sport is living.

      • That’s well-reasoned I think. We all know how Cavendish got his dream seasons: a huge talent unquestionably but backed up with a sprint train of incredible size and cohesion.
        And aren’t sprinters meant to be arrogant and direct? I prefer Bouhanni’s jutting jaw to Elia Viviani’s racing excuses any day..

        • Also Viviani has come out as quite arrogant, lately, and I’m not sure if I really prefer him this way ^__^
          Viviani’s strong point is his eclecticism, he won’t ever be a top-dog among pure sprinters, but, after having had in Italian cycling the likes of Cipollini and Petacchi, I happily welcome a bit of a change, although that means less victories.

          I absolutely agree about Cavendish’s sprint train, and – without being at all a Cav-fan – I’d stress, just as you say, that we’re speaking of a huge talent. Among the best ever, probably. The shortcomings even a rider like him had to endure without adequate support should suggest how hard is a sprinter’s life when you’re on your own (or the likes).

      • thanks for that excellent evidence-based post Gabriele
        For me Bouhanni does enough to justify the mouth, although he needs a result or two this year certainly.

        • Based on his antics today he’s lucky his mouth wasn’t full of Mathew’s FIST!!! He’s young, so there’s still time for him to learn how to do a proper sprint – and let the best (fastest) man win.

          • Yup, he’s earned the sort of reputation mentioned above.
            Bouhanni moves all across the road and then moves further at the very end and blocks Matthews.
            Dangerous and clearly illegal.
            And he looked like he knew he’d done it afterwards.

          • He doesn’t seem to have Cavendish’s talent, but he does seem to have his inability to keep a straight trajectory in a sprint.

          • Regardless of how much talking bouhanni does, for mine he doesn’t “outperform” like you might expect a future star to occasionally. He has a weak train sure, but if he were going places he’d be doing alittle more by now, or should be this season. His move on Mathews was disgraceful btw, he has a nasty habit of doing that.

  4. Thought it was a great stage but part of me think maybe Sky worked too hard for no end gain? They had 4 guys on the front (all Brits which was nice) for most of the last hour but after causing the split the group was allowed to come together again. I know it’s important to keep G safe and they did give Sift a shot, however in GC terms looked like more effort from G than say Contator or even Porte?

    • maybe they are doing their usual ‘lets pretend this is the Tour and we’re leading so we all get used to it and see who copes well’ routine…

    • It looks like, ever since Wiggins broke his collar bone (in 2011?) that Sky like to be ultra cautious. G didn’t look like he was pulling that much to be honest and sat up once they went round the final tight corner. Looks to me as though he slowed the rest of the field up when he sat up actually, causing a split.

  5. Stage 1 was great viewing, surprised to hear Boonen complaining about it. It did feel like a classic and almost rivaled Strade Bianche for funniest race of the year so far.

  6. Lively finish, good nobody got hurt. Think the officials got it right. Does Bouhanni get fined/punished?

    Thought you were joking about the white cows and there they were in the fields.

    • Relegation should be punishment enough.

      The initial “sliding over” was arguably in a straight line, plus Bouhani could reasonably argue that the final swerve was because he was worried he’d be knocked over or pushed by Matthews. In reality, Bouhani should have jerked the other way to avoid contact, instead of into Matthews’ path. So, I think the judges got the ruling right and then no further punishment is necessary.

      • Agreed. It did look from some angles as though Bouhanni leant in after starting to lose balance – nevertheless he should’ve been more central given the lack of contenders at the end – there wasn’t anyone making him drift towards the fence. 3rd place is still not bad!

      • He has prior record of this though. Even without the barrier jamming it was borderline unsporting. You can forgive a drift left to keep straight but to head for the barrier early like he did meant for mine he knew what was coming…

    • Bouhanni gets a 200 Swiss Franc punishment and relegation to last in his group as DMC says but since they were ahead of the rest it still meant third place.

      As for the cows, they’re part of the landscape in that part of France and knowing the terrain and type of activity helps judge the terrain, eg exposed or not etc.

  7. Well all that^^^up there about needing a better team to reveal his true talent suggests Bouhani should not even have been in position to win…but whose train dominated that last 250-300 meter leadout…?

    • I don’t want to go on defending the guy, especially since I don’t have much respect for the decision to put your and other’s health at risk for a win… but perhaps you should watch again the finale: leaving your leader alone on the front with a little more than 200 full meters to go isn’t exactly dominating, especially if the sprint is slightly uphill and with an albeit gentle bend.

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