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Paris-Nice Stage 5 Preview

Mont Ventoux dominates the profile and the imagination but it’s very unlikely to pick the winner today. Instead the route gradually levels out and the ensuing climbs are more decisive, including one with a hidden 20% section before the flat and windy run to the finish.

Stage 4 Wrap: four riders never got more than four minutes so keen were the teams to keep their riders in check. Once the early break was reeled in the action ignited. Etixx-Quickstep were working again but Marcel Kittel was dropped later on while Arnaud Démare quit with talk of a sore knee. This left Katusha chasing the breakaways only they had to bring Sylvain Chavanel and Sep Vanmarcke back in the final kilometres, Chavanel is notoriously hard to catch: you can do it but it’ll cost you plenty in watts. The Russian team did the job only to get overtaken by Cofidis. Nacer Bouhanni made the perfect sprint to take what looked like an easy win and he was even smiling with Michael Matthews after the stage despite the best efforts of the media to get him to say the word “revenge”.

The Route: the start in St Paul Trois Chateaux sounds idyllic, a Provence town near the foot of Mont Ventoux. Until you visit and see the giant cooling towers of the nuclear power station (coincidentally today’s Tirreno-Adriatico stage finishes in the charming village of Monalto di Castro only it’s dominated by the nearby power plant, Italy’s largest). The riders speed away towards Mont Ventoux via Maulaucène and Col de la Madeleine, a foothill not to be confused with the higher Alpine homonym. Then it’s into Bédoin and the classic ascent of Mont Ventoux, at last as far as Chalet Reynard. If they don’t go to the summit they still have the tough pine forest section, nine kilometres at over 10% before they turn off to Sault.

The Col du Pointu, “Pointy Pass” is listed as 5.9km at an unpointy 4.1% but it’s really a 10km uphill ride and if the average gradient is low it’s got some 7-8% bits on the way up and a reciprocal descent.

The Côte de la Roque-d’Anthon is one of ASO’s inventions, it’s known as St. Anne to the locals. While the climb is listed as 4.2km at 5.5% it packs a surprise with a nasty “wall” finish over the top complete with 20% gradients and tight bends. To make it harder it’s a narrow road with a rough surface. As tough as this is there’s 36km to go and given Ventoux is on the menu everyone should have climbing gears on. It’s straight down into Lambesc and then back up the same mountain via the Col de Séze, this time a more regular climb. There’s now 28.5km down to the finish.

From here’s it’s flat but the crucial part is the direction because after heading south for a lot of the day the race heads west. This means the tailwind becomes a crosswind. The forecast is uncertain but if the Mistral wind picks up then there’s a late chance of a crosswind fiesta.

The Finish: a flat run through the town of Salon-de-Provence. The final kilometre has a criterium touch with two 90° left bends in the finish but they’re regular corners. Then there’s a 400 finishing straight that dips slightly before rising to the line.

The Contenders: a sprint or breakaway? Mont Ventoux features but it’s early and there’s time for the race to regroup. Two sprinters who can cope with a climb or two are Michael Matthews and Nacer Bouhanni so they’re the default picks but as we saw yesterday the race is becoming harder to control and there’s a good chance a move sticks so nobody gets three chainrings.

Alexander Kristoff is still in with a chance and the team can back him in full given Simon Špilak is 135th overall. Trek-Segafredo’s Niccolò Bonifazio is fast on a hilly day too and Team Sky’s Ben Swift has been running close too.

Otherwise we can look to a few names for a breakaway but it’s not obvious who is languishing on GC because they’re out of form and who has decided to retreat in order to better advance. Alexis Gougeard is looking active as usual, ditto Thomas de Gendt, BMC’s Ben Hermans is a strong rider, Andrew Talansky‘s chances for overall glory are gone, Cofidis’s Julien Simon is a Plan-B on a hilly day, Lotto-Jumbo’s George Bennett climbs well and Jose Herrada is a strong, versatile rider but these names are random picks among those well down on GC who might have their chances.

Nacer Bouhanni, Michael Matthews
Kristoff, Bonifazio, Swift, de Gendt, Herrada, Bevin, Felline

Weather: sunshine and a top temperature of 15°C. The Mistral wind could get with a 20km/h NW wind in the final which could gust to 40km/h. That’s mild for this area but enough to split up the race. Mont Ventoux will be cold and there’s snow around Chalet Reynard but it’ll be sunny and the roads are dry.

Eric Caritoux

Local rider: the piece on Roger Walkowiak earlier this week proved a popular read so let’s go back in time and cite another surprise grand tour winner: Eric Caritoux. He had few victories during his career but managed to land a big one. Caritoux won the 1984 Vuelta a España by chance. Back then the race started in late April and Caritoux rode for the Skil team with Sean Kelly. But at the last minute Kelly didn’t want to ride the Vuelta and so the team were going to pull out. However the Vuelta organisers threatened to lodge a claim for compensation with the team for this last minute withdrawal. So the team manager De Gribaldy decided to send a team for the sake of it and Caritoux got a late call to fill Kelly’s slot and hurriedly packed his bags.

The race started with Franceso Moser taking the prologue win and holding the lead until a young Pedro Delgado took over. Come the Lagos de Covadonga summit finish and Caritoux took over the race lead. In a time trial Caritoux lost time and went into the final week with a six second margin. He and his team were attacked and even had offers to sell the race. Skil refused the payoff and then the offers started going privately to Caritoux’s team mates to see if they could be quietly bought off one by one. They stayed together and Caritoux won by six seconds, to this day the smallest winning margin for any grand Tour. He won the French national road race title twice but little else and was often a valuable mountain domestique and lieutenant.

There’s a lot of similarities between the work of a wine grower and a racing cyclist. In 15 minutes you can lose everything. Like Froome on a cobbled stage when months of preparation are ruined by a crash. A hailstorm can ravage months of work. In the vines, like when you’re training on the bike, you’re alone. You work alone. You’re outside, facing the the varied weather.”
– Eric Caritoux, Le Figaro 2014

After retiring he took up winemaking and produces rosé wine and grapes for eating in Flassan, on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.

TV: coverage starts at 3.00pm Euro time and the finish is forecast for 4.30pm. It’s on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport. If not then cyclingfans.com, cyclinghub.tv and steephill.tv all offer alternative feeds. Tirreno-Adriatico’s finish, a likely sprint finish, is planned for 4.15pm so be prepared to channel hop to catch the action.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • MattF Friday, 11 March 2016, 7:12 am

    No mention of Felline and Bevin in the text inrng but they get a ring. I presume you rate both of them as all rounders capable of surviving a hilly stage and sprinting from a reduced group? That would be quite a coup for the neo pro kiwi, in particular.

  • Lee Friday, 11 March 2016, 7:59 am

    Interesting that on their profiles of Mont Ventoux for P-N and the TdF, ASO have chosen to mark the start of the climb as the beginning of the forest section at St Esteve, rather than Bedoin.

  • Bill Hostile Friday, 11 March 2016, 8:23 am

    Nice titbit on Eric Caritoux, thanks. Always enjoy reading about result negotiations between teams and riders.

  • DJW Friday, 11 March 2016, 8:30 am

    I think – and hope – that the stage, including the hardest part of the hardest ascent of the Ventoux, gives more potential for a group of teams with climbers to organise and surprise than you imagine. It seems made for, say, Bardet who can climb and descend, subject to agreeing the strategy not only within a team but probably across a few teams. Interesting, and it’s not only the Ventoux which is hard as the route stays hard and technical to, at least, Lourmarin.

  • Lanterne Verte Friday, 11 March 2016, 9:55 am

    This stage reminds me a little of Eros Poli’s epic victory in 1994, a 180cm, 78kg rouleur breaking away and gaining a twenty minute lead on the flatlands early in the stage, reaching the summit of Ventoux four minutes ahead of Pantani and crossing the finish line in Carpentras alone, still over three minutes clear. A result that is probably impossible now with radios and arguably tarnished by the nature of that era, but remarkable nonetheless.

    • Pierre-Jean Friday, 11 March 2016, 10:10 am

      Poli was much taller than that.

      • Lanterne Verte Friday, 11 March 2016, 10:16 am

        true, I was thinking six foot but 180 is only 5’10”. Rouleur magazine has him at 194cm which is 6’4”. He was a big rider!

        • Grandeg Friday, 11 March 2016, 10:33 am

          Met Mr Poli in Bedoin a couple of years back in Bedoin where he leads riders up the climb and local roads. He is indeed a tall man! Still fit as a flea too.

    • ZigaK Friday, 11 March 2016, 11:37 am

      I remember that, he had a really hard time on the last bend, before the summit.

    • Larry T. Friday, 11 March 2016, 12:08 pm

      I was there back then…we thought Poli had zero chance of holding on but were delighted when he did. Met him much later and noted then he didn’t seem all that tall…same with Indurain. Photos make these guys truly look bigger-than-life I guess?

      • Christopher N Friday, 11 March 2016, 2:29 pm

        I’m 6’5″ (198?) and had the pleasure of meeting Miguel Indurain in Boulder. He was looking me square in the eyes. He is almost exactly as tall as me.

        • ZigaK Friday, 11 March 2016, 2:52 pm

          Indurain is 188cm (according to wikipedia page)

          • gabriele Friday, 11 March 2016, 2:58 pm

            Maybe he was just wearing high heels, that day in Boulder.

          • Christopher N Friday, 11 March 2016, 3:17 pm

            He was 50 feet tall if he stood an inch. Broad as a barn and breathing fire. Terrifying. No. But he was pretty close to my height. Maybe Gabriele’s right, heels. Ever the chance for some calf work.

        • Larry T. Friday, 11 March 2016, 6:34 pm

          I’m with Gabriele on this one, at the Interbike show a few years back BigMig was wandering around and he looked a lot shorter than 6’5″ to this 5’8″ fat guy. Same with Poli when I met him in Cervinia at the Giro a few years ago. Some of these published “stats” are questionable I think?
          I can still remember taking a new-to-cycling friend to the World’s in Colorado back in 1986. He’d seen “The Badger” only in photos and refused to believe the tiny guy I pointed out as Hinault was really the guy who looked so big and mean in those photos!

    • ZigaK Friday, 11 March 2016, 12:26 pm
  • GeorgeY Friday, 11 March 2016, 11:44 am

    Sorry for nitpicking but 5’10” is 177cm and 6’4” is 193cm. An inch is exactly 2,54cm, so you can do conversions pretty easily (with the help of a calculator).

    • Lanterne Verte Friday, 11 March 2016, 2:30 pm

      Glad to see I’m not the only enthusiastic weights and measures pedant commenting on this blog. I’m very sorry but its a sunny friday and I’m in a silly mood so I will have to see your nitpick and raise you a pernickety….5’10” is 177.8cm so should be rounded to 178, not 177!

  • Richard S Friday, 11 March 2016, 11:52 am

    Surely today is too hilly even for Matthews and Bouhanni. A day I think for Ardennes style classic specialists and GC contenders. I fancy Gallopin.

    • StevhanTI Friday, 11 March 2016, 12:02 pm

      Or his team mate Wellens! A perfect day for some serious one-two attacking, watch for Thomas De Gendt taking of somewhere after the Ventoux, that will be the prelude…

      Talking of Thomas’es, maybe Sky would like to peruse the final hills to separate the pretenders from the contenders?

  • J Evans Friday, 11 March 2016, 12:39 pm

    Isn’t going up 1,400m a bit risky snow-wise?
    Have ASO come up with an alternative route for the day?

    • Anonymous Friday, 11 March 2016, 12:55 pm

      Posted as they’re actually climbing the thing, with no problems. But, as ever, don’t let the facts get in the way of a bit of chirping.

      • J Evans Friday, 11 March 2016, 2:20 pm

        I apologise for not paying attention to where the race was and posting my question a bit late.
        However, there was no ‘chirping’ just a straight-forward question.

  • Ak Friday, 11 March 2016, 1:07 pm

    Is Bakelants riding heere or in the Tirreno? Seems like the type of stage he could excel in.

    • gabriele Friday, 11 March 2016, 1:34 pm

      He’s riding the Tirreno: yesterday I had the impression that the team was riding for him and maybe he even showed up on the front (I couldn’t watch the race with the due attention), but eventually he ended up at the bottom of the first group.
      The Tirreno has got several stages which could really be fine for him, the question mark is about his form… and, moreover, if he can presently cope with such a high-level field.

  • DMC Friday, 11 March 2016, 3:36 pm

    I’m going with Michael Matthews for the win – he’s climbing well right now

  • Cormac Friday, 11 March 2016, 3:48 pm

    How come we get previews of P-N but not T-A? Is it a purely resource driven decision or is INRNG a secret francophile?

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 11 March 2016, 3:52 pm

      Of all the blog posts here it’s the race previews that take the most work by far. So doing two per day is too much. In the past I’ve had a handshake deal with Mikkel Condé where he did Tirreno and I did Paris-Nice so as to assure coverage of both races but he’s stopped doing his previews now.

  • Anonymous Friday, 11 March 2016, 4:10 pm

    Was up at Chalet Reynard today. Cold but some sunshine. There has been relatively little snow on Ventoux this year, with only a couple of days of skiing from Mont Serrein. The descent down to Sault has snow on the side of the road at the top but the road has a beautiful surface and is dry. The peleton was quite strung out as they went through with about a 20 minute split from front to back. A good atmosphere and certainly less frenetic than the Tour and July. Well worth the ride up.

  • Kevin Gunning Friday, 11 March 2016, 4:12 pm

    Sorry did not mean to leave an anonymous post.

  • Anonymous Saturday, 12 March 2016, 3:41 am

    25 riders (including Boonen and Kristoff) failed to sign in prior to the stage.
    Any idea why only a 100CHF fine rather than a DQ as per rules?