Paris-Nice Stage 1 Preview

The race starts with stormy conditions and high winds, hopefully this means a testing race in crosswinds but it could lead to cross words and the extreme weather protocol being evoked. If all goes well a sprint is in store with an awkward climb just before the finish to stir things up.

The Route: a circuit race with two large laps to do before a turn-off for the finish. The roads will be familiar to thousands of Parisian cyclists.

There’s one marked climb, the Côte de Senlisse and listed as 1.1km at 5.5% and this won’t present an obstacle to anyone hoping for the stage win but it will encourage a breakaway to barge clear in the hope of collecting the 4-2-1 points on offer on each of the two ascensions. A rider who takes the 4 points each time can expect to hold the jersey until Tuesday if not longer.

The climb is a defined feature of the course but there are other climbs, notably the sharp rise out of Dampierre-en-Yvelines which is preceded by a snaking descent, locals claim there are 17 bends but this isn’t Montvernier, the road just bends. There are two other notable aspects to the course. First the Yveslines and Chevreuse area is where Paris meets the countryside and there’s plenty of suburban traffic measures. Second the more rural parts of the course are exposed terrain, think wide open fields with little shelter which matters given the weather today.

The Finish: there’s a climb on the circuit that’s 1km at 5% and covered on the circuit, it’s a wide road but the gradient should be enough to disrupt some sprint trains and there’s a pinchpoint as they cross a bridge over railways lines. The road levels out with 1km to go and with 500m to go they turn off the circuit for a level finishing straight out the local shopping mall.

The Contenders: a sprint finish is the most likely scenario and by some way. If the wind is stiff then there’s only so much room on the road for the bunch but sprinters teams and GC contenders will all be motivated to try and contain things

The small climb to the 1km to go arch shouldn’t see any sprinters dropped but it will edge some towards the red, especially as the road gets narrow. Another factor is the wind, sprinters and there teams will have to be vigilant all day. So who to pick? The field is stacked with sprinters making it hard…

If it wasn’t for that hill Marcel Kittel would be the nailed-on pick. He’s enjoyed four sprint wins already this year. He can handle the crosswinds and so can his team but he tends to excel in fast approaches – including a rise to the line – but less so those with a climb before.

Alexander Kristoff gets the nod as the top pick. He too has collected wins this year, he seems unfazed by bad weather – in fact he should relish the race if this turns into a replica spring classic – and a small hill along the way won’t bother him. One concern is whether he’s over the crash injuries sustained in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, he rode K-B-K the next day but got beaten by a handful of riders in the bunch sprint. Hardly a crushing defeat but maybe a sign he was sore.

André Greipel has enjoyed a solid start to the season and can handle a hill or two as well. He’s got a solid team at Lotto-Soudal and it’ll be interesting to see the interaction with new recruit Moreno Hofland, once a sprinter in his own right but now helping Greipel?

Arnaud Démare’s more than a pure sprinter so the rough conditions and the odd climb won’t get in his way especially as his form is good. His biggest problem is the level of competition here. The same story for John Degenkolb, he could win but there’s a lot of riders to beat, this feels like a sprint you could rerun in a simulator and the outcome would vary.

Michael Matthews won the opening stage last year when it was a prologue and returns to find a suitable course. His problem is the finish isn’t atop the hill so he’ll find the pure sprinters challenging him. If you think the hill will thwart the others he’s your pick.

Nacer Bouhanni’s big goal is Milan-Sanremo so the final climb shouldn’t get in the way but he’s had a quiet start to the season, you’d expect several wins by now so his chances don’t look so high. Anything Bouhanni can do Bryan Coquard can do and Direct Energie’s sprinter weighs under 60kg meaning the hill won’t harm his chances. But can he stay in the right place in the wind? He’s yet to win a World Tour race and his team aren’t as strong as rival outfits so his chances are discounted.

The smokey pick is Sam Bennett of Bora-Hansgrohe. He’s slowly improving as a sprinter and a hill or two seems ok for him. Dylan Groenwegen is quick but still searching for that win and his big gear style could be hampered with the climb. Ben Swift has been close in Paris-Nice but he’s an infrequent winner and the finish doesn’t seem selective enough for him. Magnus Cort Nielsen is quick, copes well with hills and has won already this year but his problem is overcoming the quality of the field.

Alexander Kristoff
André Greipel, Marcel Kittel
Degenkolb, Matthews, Démare, Bouhanni, Coquard, Cort Nielsen, Bennett

Weather: wet and windy with strong winds forecast. The top temperature will be 9°C as a 25km/h breeze blows from the SW with forecast gusts of up to 90km/h. If these gusts are persistent then don’t be surprised to see the race paused or modified.

TV: the finish is forecast for 4.55pm CET. Because of the weather this could be a lively stage if a team or two want to exploit the crosswinds so think of tuning in ahead of the sprint finish.

It’s an ASO race so you should find it on the same channel as you watch the Tour de France. It’s on Eurosport too and if all else fails you can rely on for links to feeds and streams.

Better late than never. Tech problems saw the website provisionally suspended by the web hosting company but the preview above was written in advance of Stage 1 and a copy published on tumblr.

3 thoughts on “Paris-Nice Stage 1 Preview”

  1. Well THAT wasn’t expected. Cracking stage. Opens up the GC too with Porte and Contador now needing to attack …

    Démare must now be a top favourite for MSR: he looked so strong at the end there: very impressive indeed. Seeing Greipel and Kittel drop off towards the end, and Contador unable to keep pace with Porte etc, shows how deep everyone was going in the stage. Loved it.

    Was, rince and repeat tonight?

    Completely unrelated, but I’m not sure if anyone else read the interview with A Yates after his win in Italy where he said “I decided to give it some welly”; a well-known phrase in Northern England, but I had to laugh at what the likely bemused reaction from Italian and other European journalists might have been to such a phrase!

    • Démare’s a pick for Sanremo and he’s surely got it in mind but Roubaix is the big goal. We’ll see if he can hold his form and get lucky then but he’s got the ability to turn on the power for 1-2 minutes and then ease up, then turn it on again and to repeat this. It’s ideal for Roubaix but whether he wins this year or at some point in the next 10 years, we’ll see.

      It was a hard stage and the reports that many in the front group were smiling as they made their way to the team bus were telling, they knew they’d made the race.

  2. Julian Alaphilippe was his usual self, strong but unable to convert his strength into a win. Bryan Coquard, of all people, fell off the tail end on the final climb, but it was probably the windy bits earlier in the race that had worn him down. Romain Bardet, well, a big shame, but as a Frenchman once said (something to the extent that) art consists of knowing how far to go too far,

    A hugely entertaining race – exactly as forecast by the Inner Ring!

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