The fast and furious final stage of Paris-Nice, just 110km and if Egan Bernal looks likely to win this afternoon, the other places overall are in play. For three years straight this stage has been one of the highlights of the year but it’s likely to be a more subtle contest for the stage win today.
Fiesta Colombiana: Eddy Merckx was on hand for the podium ceremony and the greatest of all time got to meet two future champions in stage winner Daniel Martinez and new race leader Egan Bernal. Martinez won from the breakaway after an intense battle against Miguel Angel Lopez, Simon Yates and Nicolas Edet who proved the best climbers among the giant move of 40 riders that went clear, including Thomas De Gendt who extended his lead in the mountains competition and Philippe Gilbert, the best-placed overall and for a long time virtual race leader. It was only late on the Col de Turini that Sky had to accelerate but this appeared to cost Michał Kwiatkowski who was dropped but it was that or see Gilbert lead. Jack Haig was the last non-Colombian to cope with Sosa’s pace setting and the Queenslander is now fifth overall. Martinez’s win comes a year after he was punched in the face by an angry motorist in Italy, an incident that caused him to black out and forget part of his season last year. Now he’s got plenty to remember and Egan Bernal is on the brink of matching compatriot Carlos Betancur’s 2014 triumph.
The Route: 110km over familiar roads. The once-traditional Col d’Eze time trial conclusion to Paris-Nice has been replaced by a dash into the hills behind Nice. They leave Nice for a long neutral procession up the Var valley, a handy warm-up and then there’s hardly bit of flat road all stage. It’s all on the typical snaking roads of the region which constantly twist and turn their way up valleys and gorges.
With 55km to go the race climbs out of the Paillon valley for the climb to Peille, the Col de St Pancrace to locals and this is the hardest climb of the day. It’s listed as 6.6km at 6.8%, so worthy of a small Alpine pass on these stats alone but it’s the irregularity that makes it hard work with early sections of 9% and even 12% as it winds up a narrow road with so many bends that a rider need only get 50 metres’ lead to be out of sight. It levels out further up and once over the top comes a twisting descent to La Turbie and Eze with the short rise to the Col and then it’s down the Moyenne Corniche to the coast before climbing the Col d’Eze again but not all the way, it’s 5.5km at 5.5% but with a steep start of 7-8% for the first two kilometres. Over the top they repeat the Moyenne Corniche descent.
The Finish: a flat finish line and before that the run off the Corniche and the small rise around the 1km to go point.
The Contenders: it’s hard to pick a winner, today’s route is selective but not Alpine an the descent and flat finish suit someone with a sprint and some race craft. So Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), L-L Sanchez (Astana) and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) are the prototype riders. Team Sky need to crank up the pace on the climb to Peille to eject Philippe Gilbert from the final podium and if a reduced group comes in then Kwiatkowski is handy for the finish while Sanchez and Teuns can take their chances in the final 15km.
Paris-Nice isn’t Romain Bardet‘s race but it’s not over yet and the twisty course suit him, he’s sixth overall but will Ag2r La Mondiale want to risk his GC position and the UCI points. Maybe a late move is safer than a long range “Contador style” move especially as the dry roads don’t help a breakaway.
Others with space to move are Ion Izagirre to salvage something or add to Astana’s streak depending on which way he sees things; Trek-Segafredo’s lively Giulio Ciccone and Groupama-FDJ pairing Rudy Molard and Valentin Madoaus.
|Michał Kwiatkowski, L-L Sanchez|
|Teuns, Bardet, I Izagirre, Ciccone, Molard, Madouas|
Weather: cool and cloudy, early sunshine will lose out to the clouds, a top temperature of 17°C.
TV: the finish is forecast for 4.50pm Euro time. It should be available on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport. If not then cyclingfans and steephill.tv have schedules and streams.