The route for the 2017 Paris-Nice race has been published today and so here’s a quick take on the eight stages.
As ever it doesn’t actually start in Paris but outside the French capital and Stage 1 is a relatively short 148.5km stage with loops around Bois d’Arcy, a dormitory town outside of Paris and just beyond Versailles that’s probably most famous for its prison.
If you ever want to ride from Paris to Nice one tip is to head south and track the Loire valley. Stage 2 does just this with a likely sprint finish in Amilly and the route looks innocuous on paper but often Paris-Nice delivers crosswind action as the classics teams get to work to exploit the terrain to their advantage. Often there’s action but not always and if the weather’s benign then expect stultifying boredom until 10km to go.
Continuing on if you want to ride yourself then you’d aim pick up the Rhone and Stage 3 does this by taking the riders from Chablis – home of the eponymous wine – to Chalon-sur-Saône and probably via more vineyards as the route crosses the Beaujolais hills
Stage 4 is a tricky time trial. Just 14.5km but with variety along the route. More vineyards feature and this means hills and exposed terrain from the barren monoculture. The opening section will be hard work before the awkward climb of Mont Brouilly. It’s been billed before as having 25% slopes but the max gradient is probably 15% but what makes it so hard is the constantly changing slope, flat one moment and then up the next. Stage 5 is the longest at 199.5km and takes the riders down the Rhone valley to Bourg-de-Péage and a last chance for the sprinters.
Stage 6 looks to have more red dots than a toddler with rubella but before the climbing begins there are some flat roads to traverse in what is often crosswind country if the Mistral wind is up. There’s a finishing circuit around Fayence and its wall and the roads should be familiar to much of the peloton as the finish featured in the 2014 race back in those heady days when a visibly overweight Carlos Betancur still won the stage. It should make for a lively finish on TV.
Stage 7 is the Queen Stage… assuming it goes ahead as planned because the summit finish will be the heighest ever used in Paris-Nice and at 1678m there’s a risk of snow. How much? Of course there’s no percentage but beware of thinking “ski resort = snow” because this calculus is too simple. It’s right by the the Mediterrean end of the Alps and by mid-March it’s skiing here that’s risky as the snow turns to slush. But if it’s raining in the region then it could be snowing at altitude.
The steady climb of the Col St. Martin will be open as the road is a prime access to the Colmiane ski area and a climb known to most of the Monaco/Nice based pros before a 20km descent at 5% to the start of the big summit finish. At over 15km long and 7% this is a big test and longer than the usual climbs that feature at this time of year, a 40 minute effort rather than a 20 minute one. The Couillole is scenic and worth riding as well as racing up.
Stage 8 is a fast 115kkm loop around Nice via the Col d’Eze but won’t finish on the traditional Promenade des Anglais out of respect to the terrorist attack there last summer which is understandable but also debatable as it says life in Nice has yet to return to normality. The brevity of the stage and the constantly changing roads offer final chance to win the race.
Route Summary: the gravel road trial worked well last year but presumably it’s going to be used sparingly. There’s no prologue so it’s up to the sprinters to win and defend the yellow jersey in the opening days where crosswinds often appear. The Mont Brouilly time trial will tease out the real contenders and the finish in Fayence will be fun to watch and will further spice up the GC even if all the contenders will be separated by seconds. Stage 7 will see the GC stretched across minutes with the giant final climb, weather-permitting which is a risk but probably not as high as some think. With luck the contest will be tight and we get plenty of lively racing until the end.
The Contenders: it’s too early to judge form and parse the start list but Richie Porte is down to ride and he’s won the twice race before so is a logical pick. If anything he needs to win the Tour Down Under more as he’s been trying for years and collecting podium positions in Adelaide. Alberto Contador will start and the big summit finish suits him more than Geraint Thomas while Romain Bardet is wants to taste GC success now and this route with its climbing and reduced time trial distance suits him too.