Paris-Nice Stage 7 Preview

Some stage races end with a victory parade. Today’s got a hilly fast stage of just 134km featuring the Côte de Peille that cracked Michał Kwiatkowski last year and then the Col d’Eze. Geraint Thomas leads the race but faces a stressful day in ambush country with 10 riders within a minute of his yellow jersey. Don’t miss the early finish this afternoon.

Stage 6 Wrap: the day’s breakaway contained the likes of Thomas de Gendt who was less than a minute down overall so they were never given much room but it allowed de Gendt and Direct Energie’s Antoine Duchesne to mop up mountain points and the Canadian collected the jersey.

Tinkoff worked hard on the front of the bunch but it meant by the time they got to the final climb that they’d used up all their helpers and were down to Rafał Majka and Alberto Contador as Sky set the pace. Majka might sat higher on GC but set to work for his team leader with a sharp attack and started the first of several accelerations. Outside of Utelle Contador attacked and Sergio Henao towed Geraint Thomas across and soon Richie Porte bridged across then Ilnur Zakarin hauled himself across in his crouched agonised style to make five. Romain Bardet was metres away when Contador danced on the pedals again and could not bridge the final metres. Another Contador attack was closed down in the final metres. It turned out that Contador had mechanical problems and could not shift onto the big ring.

Zakarin’s win was a triumph of efficiency, he rode across to Porte, Henao, Contador and Thomas and then sat tight. While Porte and Contador trade attacks and Thomas tried a late surge, Zakarin was seeking shelter all along. This paid a climb that was not so steep and there wind was up too so Zakarin saved even more energy, just enough to pip Thomas for the stage win. Thomas wanted the win but settling for second still brought him a bonus six seconds. He takes a slender lead in to the final stage with 10 riders with a minute. Michael Matthews finished 63rd at 20 minutes, he loses yellow but just needs to finish to win the green jersey points competition. Finally Sergio Henao came away without much but surely did more work that anyone else on the upper part of the climb.

The Route: a route that’s almost as classic as the Col d’Eze time trial. Today’s course is the standard Nice-Nice clockwise loop that has often featured as the penultimate or last stage in recent years. There’s a series of gentle climbs for the first half of the stage where the main feature is the twisting road, it’s ideal for a break to go clear.

The climb to Peille, better known as the Col de St Pancrace, is the hardest climb of the day. It’s 6.5km at 6.9%, worthy of a small Alpine pass and it’s got a series of hairpin bends as it winds its way up. It’s a difficult climb for the way it rises like a staircase with flat sections and then steeper moments. Over the top is a twisting descent to La Turbie and Eze and then the village of Eze where the race takes the corniche road down to Nice before climbing the Col d’Eze. It’s 10km long at 4.7% average but with some consistent 7-8% ramps for the first quarter of the climb and it almost levels off completely for the last quarter.

The Finish: a downhill run in to Nice. After all the twisty inland roads the descent off the Col d’Eze is wide and regular. It’s not easy for a chasing group to pull back time. That bump on the profile with 1km to go isn’t anything to worry about, it’s a gentle up and down around the sea front.

The Contenders: it’s a bit of a lottery pick today with a good chance of a breakaway going away because it’s hard to control a race on these winding roads, if a move can get away without any GC threats then none of the squads with a GC interest to defend will take up the reins and chase. Think Direct Energie’s veterans Sylvain Chavanel and Thomas Voeckler who can mop up mountain points to protect Duchesne’s jersey or someone like Trek-Segafredo’s Fabio Felline. Otherwise it’s a cagey battle among the GC hopefuls.

If attack is the best form of defence that a late charge by Geraint Thomas will be ideal. He’s got a 15 second buffer on Alberto Contador so can sit tight on his wheel while watching the others and then snipe the stage win in Nice. Sky DS Nico Portal has said they won’t and can’t chase every move and they’ll be helped by others who have interests to defend. For example Katusha have Zakarin in third place with Richie Porte only one second behind so they’ll try to keep a lid on things.

Simon Yates was climbing well very and packs a good sprint if he comes in with the leaders. Maybe Michael Matthews can surprise again although judging by yesterday it looks like the week has got to him.

Romain Bardet can try a late attack, he was angry with the way he rode yesterday, surging too many times but not able to latch on to the lead five. His descending skills and risk-taking are known and he’s climbing well enough to go clear too but it’s tricky with so many riders close on GC. He’s a minute down on GC but with the time bonus he only needs to take 30 seconds on the finish line to take Zakarin’s third place on the podium so he and others won’t be allowed much room.

Tony Gallopin packs a good sprint so he doesn’t have to go on the attack. Last year though he went solo on the road to Peille and took the stage win and yellow jersey but this time nobody is going to let him do this.

L-L Sanchez was caught out by a mechanical yesterday which explains his time loss. If he’s got the legs he can salvage a stage win and has often proved adept at attacking over the top of a climb and using the descent to take the win.

Geraint Thomas, L-L Sanchez, Tony Gallopin
Yates, Bardet, Chavanel, Slagter, Porte, Rui Costa, Feline

Weather: sunshine and clouds with a top temperature of 16°C.

TV: there’s an earlier than usual finish at 2.45pm 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.

76 thoughts on “Paris-Nice Stage 7 Preview”

  1. Inner Ring, many thanks for the usual top write-ups that have accompanied a very enjoyable and incident-packed week!
    I can see why this race is something of a favourite.

    Yesterday’s final surge up La Madone d’Utelle looked like it was done at a pretty brutal pace. Has anyone got any information (I’m not on Strava), times, watts etc, just for interests sake?
    I thought Dumoulin had a bit more climbing protection around him but it unravelled like an old sock.

    ps Have ASO and RCS been collaborating to allow tv coverage without respective schedule clashes?

  2. Ecky, Eurosport have been showing P-N delayed since Tirreno started (straight after Tirreno). The latter’s cancellation doesn’t help today as they were always to be finishing P-N early.

  3. Early season or not, I won’t be putting money on Bertie winning the big French race in his “final” season. His best days are behind him.

  4. I asked yesterday why T-A wasn’t being covered by innerring . I was told that this is an amateur blog (I didn’t know that ). @ vitus suggested that I cover it in my blog – I don’t have a blog nor the ability to provide such fantastic coverage as is provided by Mr. ring.
    Then I had a brainwave – why not get one of your regular posters (Gabriel) to provide this coverage .
    He virtually does it anyway .

    • Nobody would have time to read the 50,000 word piece!! sorry Gabriele only joking! I saw your comment yesterday and yes it is hard to imagine that this is the work of an unpaid enthusiast. I for one would gladly chip into a tips box, if there is a way the money can go direct to INRNG without some third party claiming a percentage.

    • I could give you a preview of today’s T-A stage, but it would be mostly rude words.
      Gabriele’s mini-preview the other day was great.

    • People aren’t here just for coverage. We can get that in a number of different places. They’re here for Mr. Ring’s coverage. No offence meant to Gabs, but what would be the point of an Inrng blog post not written by Inrng?

  5. Judging by Contador’s cadence in the final sprint yesterday, he looked like he was stuck in the big ring.
    Today he’s showing why, despite his past, he’s the favourite rider of so many. What a racer.
    How did Sky let two Tinkoff riders go up the road? Seems like tactical naivety. Especially as Contador has a history of this sort of thing. Mind you, they did well to bring Contador back.

    • I’m watching Eurosport delayed, so I’m a bit behind – I still think Contador can attack on Col d’Eze. This is so much better than the TT final stage we often have.

    • Yeah, especially that guy of them, Gallopin… what I don’t get is why did his jersey look so different?! 😛
      (no problem, it really is the beauty of cycling)

      • I thought it was odd that Gallopin was helping – to save 9th place overall? – one would assume that Wellens would have been furious had they fully caught the front three. But it did work out perfectly for Lotto.

        • Gallopin said if he chased he could then sit on the group and then try the sprint in case Wellens & Co were brought back, obviously he wasn’t going to start pulling on the front. He also says he was happy to help Thomas, they’re friends and message each other about rugby etc, Thomas even invited him to Wales for the rugby world cup last year (Gallopin didn’t go).

          • The latter part is probably the truth, whereas the first doesn’t make very much sense.

            You don’t usually see fast riders pulling a group them themselves when they’ve got a teammate up the road, because “then I’ll sit and then I’ll sprint…”.
            However, no need to go deeper into this, mine was just a light-hearted joke, and according to what you say, Gallopin himself admitted what was actually happening.
            And it’s fine to me, I’m no purist of “abstract competition” in the sport, this is cycling and when it remains within certain limits, it’s totally ok and even fun.

            Great stage, and a real shame that something serious as the Tirreno affair is happening at the same time. *That* is something we should be worried of, not the contribution of a friendly pal to the “snatching” of Pa-Ni (Henao and Roche – I think it was him in an earlier phase – were way more decisive).
            Top level racing by Contador, by the way. And Wellens, too, I love his racing attitude.

      • “what I don’t get is why did his jersey look so different?!”

        Soudal owns a lot of different brands. They raced with the name and colours of one of Soudal’s brands that is better known in France.

        You are allowed to make one design change to your team strip per season. The kit change was approved by UCI etc.

        Can’t remember what the brand is, without looking; something to do with DIY I think.

      • Of course one could argue that Gallopin, in helping drive the pursuit meant that Porte and Contador had to work harder and were cooked for the sprint, setting up Wellens for an easier win.

        • Sheer nonsense. As Wellens himself said, he knew – as everybody else – that both GC contender would go as deep as they could right to the line, it’s not like you say “ehi, we’ve got a margin of 8 secs, we can take it a bit easier”.

          • Haha. Chase hard when your teammate is in the break, so that his fellow breakaway riders get cooked. Not the most popular tactic, I suppose.

            The issue may be that with the teams’ and riders’ more or less rational obsession with points, 8th place overall in Paris-Nice is actually a big deal – perhaps experienced as more important than the stage win of a teammate?

  6. I have to say, it’s been a great start to the season. I have yet to watch a boring race/stage. Omloop, Kuurne, Strade, Samyn, Tirreno and Paris Nice: Fantastic races and very satisfying finishes. Even the bunch sprints seem to just barely catch the break in time. Could it be that radios, are making for more thrilling and down to the wire finishes?

  7. Thomas never has looked like he has the climbing abilities to be a grand tour rider and this race has shown it again: better to focus on the classics.
    Henao looked the stronger rider in this race and, generally, with riders like him and Landa, and maybe even Konig and Poels, there seems to be no justification for Thomas’s elevation. Seems to be all down to nationality, which I always think is a shame.

    • He is still planning to have a go at Flanders and Roubaix. My guess is he is still a bit too heavy to get over the climbs. Plenty of time to shed it once the classics are over.

      • Yeah, *plenty* of time, especially since the scientists over there have started to manage perfectly the art of rapidly losing weight without losing power and fitness, and very often with a weight-loss/time ratio which would pose a problem even for a person with no necessity of protecting his or her lean mass / immune system.
        Less than three months (two if he enters the Dauphinée in GC form) to make a climber out of a Roubaix rider? Gosh.

        • I remember when riders used to “ride” off the weight over several months! isn’t modern science a wonderful thing and especially wonderful how the human body has evolved so rapidly in the last two decades to master this transformation. I jest.

        • While I respect your knowledge of cycling I am not convinced you know much about physiology. Losing, say, 2 kgs. over two months is fairly simple and although overall power may be reduced power to weight ratio would probably increased. Tomorrow, on a real computer, I’ll find you the appropriate references.

          • I admit that most I know about the subject depends on cycling – but that’s what we’re speaking about, after all. However, I’d say that the weight shift needed to make a GC contender out of a Roubaix rider is more than the double of what you’re hinting at. We could give a look at Wiggins’ stats, to start with (and he never was climbing with Contador, nor was he ever able to break a top 5 in Roubaix, I think, said with the huge respect which such an ecletic rider deserves anyway).
            That said, I’d happily read some literature on the subject, I’ve got a question or two I’d hope to find an answer to.

        • Thomas has stated he’s NOT doing PR and he is already lighter than he’d normally be for Flanders.

          Facts hey, such an annoyance when trying to fit a narrative.

          • Are you replying to me or to Tovarishch? I was replying to what he said.
            And to write properly about facts, we’d need, well, *facts*, not generic statements. Like, specific numbers. It’d be great if they were also true.

          • It was in general to the fact that he’s not doing PR and he has stated he’s lighter than normal. I’d prefer to not see conspiracies in everything and take him at his word. If you do that there’s no discussion needed about ‘how is he going to lose wait after PR’.

    • Henao was for sure the stronger climber… but there was the Prologue where G took time on all the stronger climbers… you could say that Henao needs to improve his timetrialling to be a complete rider, just as G needs to improve his climbing.

      It’s a bit disappointing (cyclingnews forums) to see quite a few complain bitterly about Thomas taking the win, but G won for the same reason as above – he took more time out of Contador against the clock, than Bertie could take out of Thomas on the hilly stages.

      • Thomas won it fair and square (I didn’t see any motorbike controversy that Yates has mentioned) – he came back well after the Col d’Eze.
        My point is that he’d have to be a much stronger climber to win a grand tour (and may not even have won this race without the missing stage – but that’s an if/but/maybe).

      • “It’s a bit disappointing (cyclingnews forums) to see quite a few complain bitterly about Thomas taking the win”

        And that’s why you have to stay away from cyclingnews forums. Don’t go there looking for serious discussion, as all you’ll get is sniping about riders they hate and cheering of riders they love. I assume G cheated and Bert was the moral victor? And anyone Colombian was feted as a god.

  8. Well, a win IS a win, but the big climbing stage was neutralized and SKY’s latest attempt at stage-racing robot hangs on to win by just 4 seconds. But it WAS certainly entertaining to watch today.
    Is SKY only a stage-race program that tries to cram everyone into that mold? I rather hate to see Thomas be experimented upon in the Indurain mode (strip down a decent-sized guy with a big heart and lungs who then can mow ’em down in the chrono and hang on in the mountains) but he seems fine with it. Will he still be able to perform in the one-day races? Does that matter?
    Finally, if there’s a moral winner of P-N to me it’s Il Pistolero. The guy never gave up, he raced to win without worrying about losing and darn near won the thing despite being robbed of the stage where he quite likely could have sewn up the race.

    • There’s an old word of wisdom saying that you have to be ready to lose if you want to win. Alberto seems to be one of maybe a handful of riders and DS who actually know this and race accordingly. It’s a shame it didn’t pay of today. But it was still a great show and could have worked out if Alberto had two stronger riders than Kiserlovski and Trofimow to tow him along after he created that 1 minute gap. I still can’t believe that Sky pulled them back.

    • Big climbing stage? Saturday was the Queen stage and I know Inrng said Mt Brouilly is harder than it would seem on paper but it’s still only 3k at 7.7%.

    • Time. As someone asked the same the other day, here’s the same reply…
      “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.”
      It’s good people want more but there’s simply not the time to do more. I haven’t covered the Ronde van Drenthe races either and I’ll preview next weekend’s Milan-Sanremo but can’t do all the other races.

      • makes sense, we appreciate quality not quantity, but there´s some quantity of quality here in general 😉
        keep going making our days, thx!

  9. Wow that was exciting – stunning from Contador and Porte, and amazing heart from Thomas – I can’t imagine how you get the mental fortitude to get dropped by the leading group, not just the 2 leaders, but manage to hang on and come back like that. Henao was incredible, and congrats to the Sky DS for calling him back to dig G out of his hole rather than pushing on for a podium shot. Great ride from Wellens too, and the help to G from Gallopin just shows how important those little alliances within the peloton really are – how many times have we seen that from Contador in the past…

    • It was good, Contador on the attack with 45km to go and the result wasn’t certain until the final metres. Another race where if it was written in a Hollywood script it might sound fanciful but it was all too real and surely candidate, already, for the highlights of 2016.

        • It happened during the TV coverage. While you never saw the Tinkoff guys from the front because the TV moto had to stay behind them you always saw the Sky-led chasing peloton filmed from the front. And during the helicopter shots you could see that the TV moto was maybe 10 meters in front of them.

        • Bertie had a solid draft of one of the bikes on one of his attacks on Col d’Eze. I doubt they’ll cry foul on themselves. Though I suppose nothing became of that attack anyway.

          • There’s a big difference. When a rider attacks, he goes for the motorbike, which usually accelerates to keep the rider in the frame, but the driver just don’t go as soon as possible very far away because the cameraman is also trying to shoot the head of the following group to see if something happens back there (chasers and so). Whereas when you’ve got an established group, the motorbike should just stay at a significant distance.
            In case the group is big enough as it was yesterday the Sky-driven reduced peloton, the camera will correctly cover the front, not the back – still, they should stay a bit further. When you’ve got a very reduced group, you usually stay on the back, that’s what they did with the Tinkoff break, normal.
            All in all, yes, the Sky guys had a little extra help when compared to most similar situations, while the Contador case was less clear, yet things like that usually happen and can be deemed as rather normal.

          • I saw the draft Contador received and found it very short. Going for the bike is the normal rider thing to do. Could be because the pilot was attentive towards other traffic/spectators that he hesitated. He quickly sped up and got out of the way, I think.
            Anyway, I wanted to say something about filming and motorbikes. These are much more annoying for both riders and commissaires than you will ever know. Daily talks about their behaviour is necessary despite meetings and emphasis on the subject from day one.
            The UCI regulations say:
            “2.2.072 Cameramen shall film in profile or 3/4 rear view. They may not film as they overtake the bunch unless the road is wide enough.
            In the mountains and on climbs, filming shall be carried out from behind.”
            Clearly this was violated here. That said, these motorbikes often get caught between groups even though the at this level manouver with great dexterity. During a descent it sometimes is the better option to remain in place instead of stopping and dropping back. I assume it was on the order of the producer that the camerabike stayed in front of the Sky-group. I am quite certain it wasn’t accepted by the commissaires.
            Finally, these incidents unfortunately lay down the “rules” for lower ranking races which makes it increasingly difficult to handle camerabikes during these events. It is one of my pet peeves to rant about this – I know – but it is really frustrating when all you can do as commissaire is watch the local heroboy being dragged partways to the escape that he missed. They know their way around each other; riders and camerabikes/-pilots despite the annoyances the motrbikes can cause.
            The funny thing is that only the camera guy shows up at the meetings and he normally doesn’t commit to the responsibility of directing the bike. By not doing this, the pilot is “free” to drag riders when nobody sees it. And, anyway, the camera man is rarely penalised with expulsion, the pilot can be replaced.
            If the downhill Sky-chase and possible draft change the outcome I don’t know. I have not been able to find a video showing that specific part of the race.

  10. Great weekend’s racing at P-N.

    Henao & Majka were fantastic for their respective team leaders. Bert was the usual ‘try everything to win’ – and almost pulled it off – and Thomas was grinta personified.

  11. It’s been a great season so far. Let’s hope it continues this way. I just wish race organizers would get the message that the recipe for making a good show is not 250km and five HC cols. It’s more like the stage we saw yesterday, shortish and on scenic, hilly roads.

  12. One additional comment, which I don’t think has been mentioned above. A lot of comments above about Thomas not being as strong, and only winning due to Henao / Gallopin etc. We should also consider however that he did beat Contador in the previous day’s racing, (although partly down to a Contador mechanical?), however the argument can be made that they cancelled each other out with 2 second places on the hillier stages, and Thomas was better against the clock.

    I’m a big thomas fan, but feel he’s left it late to be a grand tour contender and there are so many potential opponents (Aru, Majka) let alone Froome, Quintana. However I don’t blame him for giving it a go given the performance in the tour last year.

    • It’s really difficult to see him win one (GT). I don’t like that he’s been given a leadership role at Sky, when they have other, better options, but not from UK. Good tt men/mediocre climber make for a really boring potential winner that gets dragged around Europe by the stronger team. …That occasionally gets challenged by a more classical type of GC/GT rider, like Contador and Nibali that need to come up with something special (not holding onto a car, but rather descending like a mad man, attacking from afar, over cobbles eventually) in order to win.

      And I hate seeing Henao looking behind for G the same way Froome did with Wiggins. Too bad Henao isn’t British, though I remember him getting a chance to lead in Giro, right?

      Could you see Kiri winning PN next year?

      • I had a recollection of Henao being protected in the Giro as well, maybe 2012? However his time trialling I suspect isn’t good enough to warrant being ahead of Thomas?

      • No one is a bigger champion of Sergio Henao (and his cousin Sebastian) than me.

        But Sergio has been given GT leadership chances, and he’s also been given leadership roles in stage races (eg TDU this year, AToC last year) and 1 dayers in the Ardennes (2nd and 7th in F-W, 7th in LBL last year). He’s yet to provide reliable and consistent throughout a 3 week race, his best being the 2012 Giro, when even then he and Uran alternated their good and bad days in the mountains. I could point to say Mikel Nieve in comparison. Look at his Vuelta ride last year – always up there in the mountain stages. Sergio is much more prone to off days when he sheds time.

        • While I share your general POV, I consider it fair to acknowledge that in 2012 and in 2013 he still was a really young rider (24-25 years old!). Then he was undoubtedly affected by a couple of very lenghty stops, the blood troubles and the potentially career-ending injury. Thus, last year was needed to build up again a proper racing constitution, we’ll see this year how things do evolve for him (the typical mediocre season after long stops). He sure started great, I’d expect some good results if he’ll receive some support.
          I’m a big fan of Nieve, too, but, despite the GC results, I’d dare to say that Henao is more incisive. After all, the Colombian has raced way less than the Spaniard, during his overall career up to date, and less often with personal freedom.
          However, for now Nieve has shown himself – you’re totally right – as more consistent, and it’s not accidental that Henao usually performs better in short stage races (or Classics) whereas Nieve tends to be top-ten or thereabouts in GTs.

          • Yes, based on performances to date, Nieve would be your banker for a top 10 in a GT. Don’t get me wrong, I really look forward to Sergio proving that he can sustain consistency at the front of the race over 3 weeks. As I said, I’m a fan.

  13. An impressive performance from Thomas, but I don’t think it proves that he is any closer to being a GT contender. This route suited him and was not very similar to what he would face in a Grand Tour, especially the Vuelta. The only summit finish was a long fairly gentle drag and he was dropped on the Col d’Eze. If the Col d’Eze was a proper Alpine climb in length, and a summit finish, then he would have lost a lot of time. I think the result does show that Thomas is a very accomplished rider who could compete and do well in classics (in theory he could win 4 of the 5 monuments) and week long stage races. I don’t think he should waste that trying to become something he’s not.

    Tim Wellens continues to impress. I think he’s a future mega star in the classics, especially the Ardennes/Italian classics. I know he only outsprinted Porte and Contador yesterday but he did so comprehensively despite having been in the break all day on a stage that was raced fast. Everyone goes on about Benoot, who’s also extremely impressive, but Wellens is only a little older and has already won quite a bit. He reminds me a bit of a young Gilbert.

    • I always think it’s a shame when a team prefers certain riders because of their nationality. Sky seem to have many riders who are at least the equal of Thomas in GT terms (and he should stick to the classics). But it’s so often the way, unfortunately: we saw it last year in the Tour with Movistar favouring Valverde’s bid for 3rd over Quintana’s bid for 1st, and with Aru/Landa in the Giro. You could even argue that it was the case with Wiggins/Froome in the 2012 Tour – Wiggins being considered ‘more British’ by many. But it’s been going on forever. I love it when a rider stands up to this and refuses to buckle to team orders: Roche in the 1987 Giro, as opposed to LeMond in the 1985 Tour.

  14. so…Pierre Rolland – wasn’t JV promising great things now he is training properly …. would have thought he would have wanted to make more of a mark here being French and all…

    • His riding didn’t match the hype. But Rolland is a diesel style of rider who needs longer climbs and two more weeks of racing. We’ll know more by the Tour de France. Arguably Talansky was more disappointing, was never in the mix and ended up in the morning’s breakaway on the last day before crashing out. Luckily he’s ok and we’ll see if his form is rising for next week’s Volta Catalunya.

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