Paris-Nice Stage 3 Preview

After one sprint stage it’s time to get back to the action with some climbs and Mont Brouilly with its miniature summit finish.

Stage 2 Wrap: this was supposed to be the boring, predictable sprint stage but ended in high drama. It was a long day, there was a long breakaway. Three solid rouleurs in Evaldas Šiškevičius, Anthony Delaplace and Mathias Brändle plus talented climber Tsgabu Grmay never got much more than seven minutes, the tightest of leashes. Too many teams were interested in a sprint finish including Etixx-Quickstep who did a lot of the early work. Come the sprint finish and Marcel Kittel was 65th, something isn’t right there.

Katusha too appeared to run out of riders and Alexander Kristoff missed out. Instead, coming around the final bend with 200m to go, Nacer Bouhanni lead out the sprint and Michael Matthews looked well placed to pass but they tangled yet somehow stayed upright. While a lot of the post-stage outrage focussed on the tussle by the barriers Bouhanni’s biggest fault was drifting diagonally across the finish line just prior to the contact. Bouhanni got relegated, Matthews got the stage and another 10 second time bonus to put him 14 seconds ahead. A slender lead but a flawless ride so far.

Matthews Bouhanni Sprint

The Route: a lot of red dots on the profile but all the climbs before Mont Brouilly are big, steady climbs you can do in the big ring and on a wide roads too. They’re partially protected by pine forest and, after the feedzone, exposed among vineyards. The hard part here is not the gradient but the altitude. Nobody’s going to be gasping for air, instead it means colder temperatures on what is going to be a bone-chilling day already, the section through the feedzone will be 2-3°C colder than the rest of the day.

They climb Mont Brouilly for the first time – full detail in this Roads to Ride feature – and reach the finish line with 32km to go before a twisty descent then a loop around the countryside. The terrain is exposed among the vineyards as they pass by places like St. Joseph and Morgon and the roadmap reads more like a wine menu. This isn’t just for the anecdote, it means gentle slopes and more climbing. Most of the roads are small which means moving into position for the final climb is that bit harder.

The Finish: Mont Brouilly is a very difficult climb. The profile above doesn’t do it justice. Glance and it and you’ll think 3km at 7.7% is hard but not cruel but today’s climb is more like a staircase than the linear profile shown in the graphic suggests, one minute the road is flat then it rears up only to level out again and so on, this is especially so towards the top. It’s also very narrow meaning anyone who starts the climb in a bad position is going to struggle to make up ground, being 20th wheel can mean being a long way back.

The Contenders: nearly half the field is over three minutes down so a breakaway could be given some leeway if it includes riders who pose no threat to the overall classification. There’s a chance to take the mountains jersey and maybe stay away for the stage win of the move has the right combination of non-threatening riders. Any winner from a move will need to be a useful climber for the finish nor can they belong to a team GC ambitions because these squads will surely want to keep riders to help them in the finale. So some random mentions for Thomas de Gendt (135th overall), Julien Loubet (144th), Daniel Diaz (153rd) and of course Thomas Voeckler (129th). But the pressure among the top teams to deliver their rider into place means the pace will be very high and the chances of a move sticking are slim.

The narrow climb means a rider backed by a strong team has an advantage, they need riders to place them in the rush to the climb and then a climber or two to pace them on the early slopes.

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador has a solid team and Rafał Majka he’s got a climber to accompany him all the way. The Spaniard got the jump on everyone in the Algarve uphill finish and could well subject everyone to that pistolero finish salute.

This is the big test for Geraint Thomas. We know he can handle intensity, he’s won Olympic gold in the track pursuit, but can he cope with the hill-rep style changes of pace alongside the climbers? I think so and as mentioned the other day he did well over this climb the last time the race crossed it in 2014. He’ll be after the time bonus too while there’s no doubting team mate Sergio Henao‘s ability on the climb like this but is the form there?

Movistar will back Ion Izaguirre, the Basque rider did an excellent prologue and is good on a punchy climb like this. Richie Porte is good in a finish like this. He’s been downplaying his form but 11th in the prologue says more than any pre-race expectation management talk.

Another tandem team is Lotto-Soudal with Tony Gallopin and Tim Wellens. The pair often train together and both appear on a similar good form with positions just outside the top-20 in the prologue.

Can Michael Matthews win? Normally you’d think not but who predicted his prologue win. He might be able to track the riders on the way up and in fact he has to in order to keep the jersey. He is a sprinter but handy uphill, you’ll remember he was the only rider who could or would match Philippe Gilbert up the Cauberg in the last Amstel Gold and that alone tells us Matthews can dance on the pedals. Simon Yates brings more options and it’ll be interesting to see if he’s deployed to help Matthews or can play his cards for the stage win.

Tom Dumoulin might not be a prime candidate but remember he beat Chris Froome uphill in the Vuelta last year on the awkward climb of the Cumbre del Sol and he’s always been a handy rider in the Ardennes before.

Ag2r La Mondiale have some cards to play. Alexis Vuillermoz loves these intense finishes, you’ll remember his Tour de France stage win at the Mûr-de-Bretagne last summer and he’ll make a useful decoy for Romain Bardet who of course can handle these climbs too. Pierre Latour is a strong climber too and the team has reconed the finish.

Finally a few more names to rattle through. Given the miserable weather Simon Špilak would have been an obvious pick but he’s off the race right now so gets discounted. Astana are backing Lieuwe Westra and L-L Sanchez but do they have the zip in their legs for the stage win? Like Arnaud Démare Arthur Vichot is an FDJ rider who went into a slump after winning the French championships but is now on the up again. I think he might be better for Sunday’s final stage. Last but not least Tom-Jelte Slagter won here before and is built for these punchy finishes but he’s not in stunning shape right now, maybe Paddy Bevin can be the surprise?

Alberto Contador
Geraint Thomas, Romain Bardet, Tom Dumoulin, Ion Izaguirre
Vuillermoz, Porte, Matthews, Majka, Henao, Wellens, Gallopin, Slagter

Weather: cold, wet and miserable with temperatures peaking at 7°C but down to 2-3°C mid stage and it will be raining along the way. On the plus side it won’t be too windy.

Fumiyuku Beppu

Local rider: Fumiyuki Beppu. This might be the last name you’d pick for a local midway in Paris-Nice. But the Japanese rider from Chigasaki on an American team doesn’t live far from today’s finish so he’s out on his training roads. The Sâone Ranger is the first Japanese rider to complete the Tour de France and speaks French and English, having lived in France for some time after racing as an amateur with the VC La Pomme team in Marseille, as did the likes of Dan Martin and Daryl Impey and the team has since become the Delko Provence pro team.

TV: coverage starts at 4.00pm Euro time and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm. It should be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport. If not then, and all offer alternative feeds.

69 thoughts on “Paris-Nice Stage 3 Preview”

  1. No love for Wilco in a punchy finish?

    Also wonder if your coat hanger man Mr Steven Cruiseship will be allowed to try for the break after his troubles in the Prologue.

    • Neither win races that often. Kelderman has yet to win a single road race (he has 4 TT wins) and Kruijswijk is an infrequent winner at best, plus his prologue time suggests his form doesn’t look promising for today.

      • Not a great stat for Wilco but I still thought he’d get a ring as a probable top ten.

        As for Kruijswijk, it was only about whether he’d be kept back to work for the team or not.

  2. You include Dumoulin, whereas I think this is where he loses his chance in the GC. Far too much change in the gradient for him to ride his own tempo, think this is gonna be a problem.

      • He jumped them on the least steep part and he managed to hang on by just being very good that day. He consistently lost time on climbs with steep sections in the rest of the Vuelta.

      • We’re only day 4 into the race,and Dumoulin has shown he can go the distance in a GT.
        He’s got a bit of help around him for the climbs too.
        I think that he’ll stick with it, and look to blast it on the last climb.
        Giant Alpecin have been playing it cannily over the last couple of days, and Dumoulin seems to be looking to follow the wheel of Thomas as a marker.

  3. What are the rules around sprint finishes? I couldn’t tell if Bouhanni was disqualified for supposedly boxing Matthews in or for the elbow/lean in. From one angle you could see Bouhanni moving diagonally but he kept his line and didn’t suddenly move across Matthews.

  4. I am no great fan of Bouhanni but this judgement to me seemed a little harsh, as I saw it he did veer toward the barrier but then kept a line and the collision was 50/50. The moral victor here wasn’t Matthews.

      • Matthews came through a very narrow gap and had his arm/elbow out so arguably he made contact first. But this was because Bouhanni had already crossed the road. The verdict seems reasonable and Matthews wasn’t too upset about it on TV after.

        One important thing to remember is that we can all see this in slow motion but the riders are doing 60km/h and are tired after a freezing day on the bike. It’s not easy to make rational decisions in a sprint and to replay the scenario again and again.

        • A lot of people seem to be judging the irregularities of this sprint vs. historical precedence. But if the UCI is going to start making some real inroads into rider safety, these are exactly the kid of rulings they need to make. Regardless of whether this was normal behavior in a sprint, I see no reason for Bouhanni to cross the entire road (the turn wasn’t that severe) and then try to pin Matthews to the barriers with a shoulder. If your kid was a jr. sprinter and got crashed by the same actions, as a father/mother you’d be furious. I know as an amateur, I don’t want to sprint against a guy who does moves like this just because he saw the pro’s do it. Cycling needs to continue to emerge from the dark ages and ensuring a safe sprint would be another smart place to focus on.

          • Please, let’s try not to remove more skills from road cycling.
            People who want to know who does better on a static bicycle with powermeter – something which incidentally might prove itself hugely safer than descents, crowds, controlling an object which keeps a contact with the ground of about a square inch or so and so on – should just try to create their own sport, not spoiling an existing one.
            I’m all for safety and rider’s health is paramount to me, but some actions aren’t forbidden simply because they can and should be managed by a pro rider without utter risks.
            Sharp turns, closing your rival against the barriers, hitting him with an elbow (or even popping your elbow out without necessarily touching the other rider)… that’s dangerous, and that’s forbidden.
            Other things just aren’t (not forbidden / not dangerous), like deciding your trajectory as you please when you’re on the front: it involves skills and might make a good sprinter out of a mediocre watt-machine.

      • Being a Gerrans-Valverde-Freire wheelsucker type? 😛

        Jokes apart, I guess that Anon is speaking about the fact that what we see in that impressive photo actually depends on Matthews steering towards the center of the road and Bouhanni *wisely* (as well as unconsciously) just leaning against him to avoid a crash. The problem is that Matthews decided to steer because otherwise he would have crashed against the barriers, hence he was quite legitimated, I’d say; what matters the most is that such a situation happened because Bouhanni – albeit without closing the trajectory with his bike – had spread out an elbow.
        It was no totally-crazy sprint (as many people have been commenting, perhaps impressed by the photo or by the diagonal trajectory of Bouhanni which was emphasised by the bending road and the front camera, but which was quite normal when seen from above): apparently, the jury needed to watch again the footage some ten times before taking a decision.
        IMHO, the problem was simply that furtive elbow strike, which is something you usually see going unsanctioned, but that in this case was especially dangerous because of the barriers and the potential consequences.

        • “Being a Gerrans-Valverde-Freire wheelsucker type? ?”

          I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with a lot of opinions here – viewpoints are formed before each incident and riders who are liked defended, those hated are attacked. Not quite cyclingnews forums yet, though.

          • There might be a bit of that going around, but regardless of the participants in this case, you should’t cannot close the door on somebody when they are partially through it – like Matthews was. Closing the gap before he gets there is fine, but not after.

          • @Nicktarios

            I agree absolutely with you and think the relegation was very fair – if there was no 1 second gap after 3rd he’d have been placed further back and that’d be fine as well.

  5. To reply also to some comments in the Stage 2 post, I really think that once you don’t steer too abrubtly, you’ve got all the right to choose your trajectory across the road – however “diagonal” might that be (within reasonable terms, which Bouhanni respected, indeed).
    It’s very typical sprinter-wisdom to go for the barrier… you just need to eventually leave to everyone who’s possibly coming the space to pass between you and the barrier. Which Bouhanni’s bicycle did, unlike his elbow and then body. It’s not running within lanes, and changing the direction is a basic sprinter skill (to force your rivals into the wind, to keep them in the unfavourable side of a bend, to scare them and so on).
    Images were dramatic but actually it wasn’t anything horrible, compared to any normal sprint (hence a certain debate among the judges and finally a quite normal sanction). That said, be it instinct or whatever, when Bouhanni leant over, he created a highly dangerous situation to protect a lesser victory and, although I can see that being basic sprinter attitude, I can’t really appreciate such a move.

    • I check three websites for weather and only one is saying it’ll be windy. It is exposed in this area, with nothing but vine stumps around the finish you don’t need much wind to pull apart the bunch.

        • Shame you have to choose, Ron. For once (I should really give them more credit and say unlike some stupid scheduling they’ve had in the past) RAI Sport here in Italy seems to have their act together as we get both. These pre-season things will have to do to until MSR I guess 🙂

          • “Pre-Season things”??!! ….. pppffftttt…. personally I´d sooner watch OHN, DVV, or OVV than that boring Italian Ice cream parade any day of the week 😉 ….gotta be THE most over-rated Monument of the season by a country mile (and LBL hasn´t exactly been “stellar” for a couple of editions to put it mildly).

  6. I would like to see Serge Pauwels do something this week. Maybe a tilt at a good overall GC place could start with a stage win today? At 1.28 back he may be allowed to slip under the radar.

    • I too have a liking for Mr.Pauwels but I seem to remember him being fairly anonymous in the Tour of Oman when I expected more of him.

  7. Another dangerous aspect of yesterday’s finish was someone in the crowd sticking out their arm, very nearly making contact with Matthews – so nothing has been done following previous crashes caused in this manner.

  8. Bouhanni’s diagonal move across the road starts after the final corner. The road is all but straight and Bouhanni is right of centre in the road. Then, he moves all the way across the road. He’s not following the road – he’s blocking Matthews. It’s commonplace, but it shouldn’t be allowed. I suspect he wasn’t punished for that, but for the later blocking of Matthews with body and elbow.

  9. Man! That sucks! They could’ve run the race…

    Will they cancel Paris-Roubaix if it’s cold, wet, muddy and windy now? Isn’t part of the point of Paris-Nice to get the riders used to poorer conditions?

    • Until you actually have to race in conditions like that, you won’t have any idea how miserable and dangerous it really is. And not necessarily from sliding out and crashing, hypothermia and frostbite become the greatest challenges.

  10. Given Bouhanni’s history and our discussion of him yesterday, as that sprint progressed, I was absolutely expecting him to make an irregular move. When it occurred, no surprise here. Watching during the day, the feeling was Bouhanni was completely at fault. Watching again in the evening, I actually began to question my conviction. He definitely has a reputation and even a history with Matthews himself. If I’m looking for it, commissaires are equally watching closely and then that becomes something other sprinters might exploit. Maybe Matthews presses a tight situation, gets the irregularity he anticipates and immediately calls foul. Boxers (sprinters) are highly spirited. Bouhanni seems like he has a chip on his shoulder, possibly insecure and prone to letting emotion get the better of judgment. Smart riders will take advantage.

    • Agreed – I definitely think that Bouhanni deserves the punishment he got. At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if Matthews was expecting Bouhanni to swerve and rode into the situation knowing that was one of the possibilities. However, riding down into that gap was also Matthews’ best chance to win so he had very little option.

      • I doubt that that much throught went through Matthews’s head. He was clearly faster and that must have been clear to him too, so why not just go for the win – which I think he did. Bouhanni moves across the road, so there’s nowhere else for Matthews to go, and then does a further block once that hasn’t stopped him.

        • Bingo.

          And just to add, Bouhanni was on the left barrier in the corner, moved to the middle, and only came back to the barrier to close the door knowing someone was coming up the left with a good deal of speed.

          The only other reason he would drift diagonally to the line is if the wind was coming from the right, and I have no idea which way the wind was blowing, or if it even mattered, at the finish.

    • Yup – I had exactly the same initial thoughts as your comment above, berating the modern day rider. Then, I saw the pictures.
      Mind you, would great, historical races like Neige-Bastogne-Neige happen nowadays? It’s a fine line, I suppose.

      • Yeah, a very fine line, and I wonder if we’re turning too soft. Boonen built his career on brutal races, P-R’s cobbles in any weather is more dangerous than today…

        Are we going to cancel the entire cyclocross season? Most of those guys are roadies too.

        • The feed station is at a pretty high altitude chaps, over 2200 feet in old money.
          That’s causes more than a 7C temperature drop than sea level without any wind chill added on.

          • I think the big difference is that this was a stage race rather than a classic.
            You can have a classic with only a few finishers but would make the rest of Paris-Nice odd is only 25 finished (like Le Samyn the other day for example).

          • That’s a great tale Inner Ring.
            Hinault in his shorts too!

            Compared to the Alpine passes, they were not so high today but it was akin to riding across the tops of the Pennines. There’s not too many roads higher than that in England.
            I’ve ventured out walking etc in such conditions, but in full Winter gear, not cycling kit and sitting atop a bike!

        • Cyclocross speeds are a little bit lower than road speeds, particularly descending. The consequences for falling at race pace are completely different in the two sports. Snow on roads is no joke when you’re racing down a mountain. And if they’re not racing down the mountain, what’s the point of doing it?
          We also don’t make people risk their lives for our enjoyment so much anymore. I see this as a good thing.

      • I was ready to go on about “modern riders are soft” but then I thought a) it’s (to me anyway) is still a pre-season race, who wants to crash and see their Classics season ruined? b) the course goes up and down, unlike the snowy Terminillo stage last year at Tirreno. c) they even neutralized MSR a couple of years ago since they had to do some serious descending in pretty dangerous weather conditions.
        So while part of me wonders what’s up with all the supposed “progress” of modern clothing and (disc braked) bicycles and why they couldn’t keep going despite the epic-in-the-making conditions, the other part says this race is NOT one of the monuments like L-B-L or a Grand Tour, so what’s the big deal if they cancel a stage?

        • This race is not a monument. But canceling the stage and not just postponing then re-starting now sets a precedent in terms of the severity required to do so. I think maybe this has now been set a touch too low?

          • I think Bilmo makes a very good point that it’s a stage race and so you can’t have dozens of riders dropping out. (Well, you could, but although a ‘only the strongest survive’ scenario might appeal, having ~30 riders continue in Paris-Nice might be going a bit far.)
            I do wonder, though – as Sam G says – whether or not the race could have been re-started at a later point, as was initially suggested (or so I read). But then I haven’t seen what the conditions were like later on in the stage.

          • Good points above about this being a) a pre-season race and b) as a stage race, riders should take less risks.

            The next couple stages will be really good and it would suck if most of the peloton fell during today’s stage or got sick because of today.

            Here’s to hoping that Paris-Roubaix or one of the other Classics NEVER gets cancelled due to weather! haha

          • I was at Terminillo last year and damn glad I didn’t ride a bike there as I would have had to ride back down instead of climb into warm bus like the racers did. Today’s P-N stage looked pretty grim on TV….going up in these conditions is one thing, going down is quite another. I think it’s best to leave these decisions to those who are actually there rather than argue about how bad it might have been based on TV and photographs. This isn’t the first time P-N’s had weather issues.

          • DMC: this isn’t a pre-season friendly, it’s a crucial World Tour race and a very stressful race as a result.

            J Evans: the final climb of Mont Brouilly had snow on it and it was beginning to build up and given the gradients it would have been a skating competition. Originally the plan was to make the race neutral and get off the higher terrain and then resume the race down in the valley below at Villié-Morgon but the snow kept on falling so it was abandoned.

          • Inrng – sorry, I meant an early season race, not “pre-season friendly”. I mean, riders would likely accept a lot more risk at Paris-Roubaix or the Giro/TdF than an early season stage race which many use as a build-up for the Monuments/GT’s.

            Of course Paris-Nice is important, and one of the biggest stage races in the world. But, it would look really bad if one of your four-chainring TdF favourites slipped on an icy descent in March, therefore I think more caution is necessary here than in later races. That’s all I meant, I wasn’t downplaying Paris-Nice – I fully understand it’s historical place in launching people’s careers.

  11. One other thing about that sprint (leaving aside the judgement):
    The fabulous overhead photo of the instant of contact makes it look as tho conjoined twins are winning…

  12. And now we have riders 2nd guessing the organizer’s decision to cancel the stage?
    Do these guys have the slightest clue as to what goes into running a stage race? For every stage there needs to be a “Plan B” just-in-case? ASO is just supposed to what – come up with a duplicate police force to close the roads/control traffic or magically transport the originals to this “Plan B” course? When? How? If they’d somehow done such a thing, I can imagine plenty of, “Geez, what was wrong with the original route, why did they detour us with Plan B? I was planning my big attack on that hill, now they’ve robbed me of my chance.” 2nd guessing. Do these people ever wonder why the organizers, UCI, etc. are so often not interested in their suggestions or opinions?

    • These were only suggestions by riders but yes, it’s not so obvious. For example because the roads are closed for the race all the emergency services in the areas used by the race have a plan for the day so that if there’s a local disaster (an explosion in a factory, a pile-up on the autoroute etc) then they know which road is being used by the race and they can detour elsewhere. So switching to a “Plan B” route means a new plan for the emergency services, it gets too complicated to change these things at the last minute.

      Besides there was no quick way around the Beaujolais hills, it would be a huge detour via the Rhone valley, three sides of a rectangle and passing via larger population areas, thousands of junctions to secure for the race to ride past with an hour or two’s notice. So a “Plan B” is a nice idea but a logistical and practical impossibility today. But you can change some routes, for example skipping a mountain pass in the Alps to use the valley instead could be feasible depending on the road.

    • We can always count on the riders and teams to damage the sport. If it isn’t doping, it is the now constant complaining about everything on Twitter and the likes. They should support races and work together with them and not fight them. It’s no fun to be a cycling fan outside of the actual races, if the races get raced at all.

      • That’s a bit harsh. Ridiculous actually. Riders love to race and I imagine only neutralise when things are definitely too hairy, like this instance. There’s really little harm in a stage race cancelling a day due weather, things may have been different in a classic but that’s not the case here. There’s a duty of care associated here, back in the day that sort of thing wasn’t a factor, but today all over the world sports are forced (rightly) to think about the safety of their participants. We might miss a day’s action, but I’d happily do that knowing that riders are being put in harms way.

    • Well, there’s often a plan B in the form of the shortening of a stage/omission of a high pass to avoid the worst of the weather/likelihood of the home favourite losing. So perhaps some of the riders, who as you say, are unlikely to have much understanding of the logistical side of a race, are used to one existing and think they’re quite straightforward.

      Tricky, though, to see how it could be implemented for a circuit that loops over a pass then back up it to finish.

    • Agreed – rider comments on having a plan b are a little ridiculous. There’s so many potential problems with having a plan B that it isn’t even worth the thought to start planning it on a regular basis!

      “Do these people ever wonder why the organizers, UCI, etc. are so often not interested in their suggestions or opinions?” ~~~~ EXACTLY

  13. Most whinging cyclists have NEVER organised a race even at club level so have ZERO knowledge of what goes into it. Now that most riders belong to “Racing teams” I doubt they ever will.

Comments are closed.