A near-certain sprint finish. Paris-Nice doesn’t offer the sprinters many chances and today’s stage is their day so all their teams will work for this scenario. We’ll see who is the fastest between Elia Viviani and Dylan Groenewegen and it’s a test for their teams because the finish will see see who can fight for space and the right to position their leader. Will the uphill finish tilt it to Arnaud Démare?
Stage 1 Wrap: a three rider breakaway with Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fortuneo-Samsic) outsprinting World Tour riders Pierre Rolland and Jürgen Roelandts to secure the mountains jersey for a few days, apparently Roelandts agreed not to contest the KoM points if he could take the intermediate sprints.
Mitchelton-Scott tried to split the race in the crosswinds but the wind wasn’t cross enough. One rider who was angry was Tejay van Garderen who crashed as the bunch tensed up and BMC’s leader abandoned the race after crashing into a team vehicle as he tried to ride back. As the race neared the finish there was a crash that brought down several GC outsiders like Ilnur Zakarin and Jacob Fuglsang and because it was an uphill finish there was no 3km rule to save them.
Alexis Vuillermoz tried an attack before the flamme rouge and built up a good lead but the final climb and its cobbles got to him and a quartet of Arnaud Démare, Gorka Izagirre, Tim Wellens and Christophe Laporte sprinted for the line. It took a photofinish and Démare was the least camera-shy. Is Démare a sprinter? The only other habitual sprinter in the top-10 was Matteo Trentin, most other fastmen sat up or sat it out.
The Route: in the words of Jacques Brel, let’s go and see Vierzon. First 187km due south and it’s all flat and exposed as they cross the Loire basin and head south parallel to the autoroute and railway line and as good as cycling is perhaps these alternatives are superior ways to cross this plain terrain, if only to get to closer to better terrain starting tomorrow.
The Finish: if the route is uneventful, the finish isn’t. With under 2km to go they cross the Cher river and then there’s a roundabout to line out the bunch and then ionto a narrow backstreet and then a sharp right-hand bend for the 800m finishing straight. There are two river bridges to cross along the way, nothing steep but a quick dilemma, to change gear or to force through? Then it’s uphill to the line at 4%.
The Contenders: Arnaud Démare again? He’s in form and the uphill finish helps him and if he needs local advice then two of his Groupama-FDJ lead out train team mates come from Vierzon in William Bonnet and Marc Sarreau but he’ll have to call them as they’re not on the race. One problem for FDJ is their sprint train is rather obvious and forceful, they hit the front hard and try to stay there and it allows others to sit behind Démare – who himself likes a long sprint – so they can pop around in the final 50 metres.
We’ll see a contest between Elia Viviani (Quick Step) and Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-Jumbo) but on an uphill finish when both would prefer a flatter run.
Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates) can do uphill finishes and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) can do them even better while Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Phil Bauhaus (Team Sunweb) are two more to watch. Nacer Bouhanni opted out of yesterday’s sprint completely, spending the stage wrapped up like a toddler and barely peeling off a layer for the finish but should be Cofidis’s point man today.
|Alexander Kristoff, André Greipel, Dylan Groenewegen
Weather: dry, no wind and a top temperature of 13°C, mild given what’s gone on across Europe for the last two weeks.
TV: You should find it on the same channel as you watch the Tour de France. It’s on Eurosport and you can rely on Cyclingfans and steephill.tv for links to feeds and streams. The finish is forecast for 4.30pm CET.