Paris-Nice Preview

Where to begin? Just outside Paris but with the spread of the coronavirus, one question is whether the race will reach Nice next weekend is as valid as who will win.

The sporting aspect is interesting with a revised startsheet, fewer of the large teams to control the race and the weather forecast says it’ll be windy for the opening stages.

As of Friday there were 3,858 reported cases of the virus in Italy and 423 in France, and important regional differences within countries, which partly explains why different countries are taking different measures in different time. But these numbers rise inexorably and who knows where things are next week? The upshot is Paris-Nice goes ahead but several teams have announced they won’t be racing anywhere in the coming weeks. Other squads have come in at the last minute to race Paris-Nice and teams can field eight riders, one more than the regulation seven, both to make the field bigger but also to allow more riders to race given the entire Italian calendar has been binned.

Some riders slated for Tirreno-Adriatico have switched to Paris-Nice and teams juggle stage racing ambitions this week with the need to ensure their classics contenders get a week’s workout in their legs too. It all makes for a strange week ahead and that’s before we get to the hygiene measures where riders are encouraged not to pose for selfies with spectators, to shake hands with each other, there will be no pre-stage interviews on the podium, no post stage chats with journalists and the organisers have laid on an extra ambulance to follow the race in case anyone has feverish symptoms.

The Route:

  • The first three stages are for the sprinters and classics contenders and the weather could stir things up with gusting winds forecast.
  • Stage 4 is a 15km time trial, short but long enough to prise apart the overall contenders, lose 20 seconds here and it’ll be hard to take back later.
  • Stage 5 is probably for the sprinters again, while Stage 6 could see a breakaway contest the stage win.
  • Stage 7 is the set-piece summit finish to La Colmiane: 16km at 6%, a long climb where the action will probably come close to the top.
  • Stage 8 is the traditional Nice-Nice stage of sorts, it’s not as hard as the previous version so should be easier to control. In summary the time trial and Colmiane should decide but there are fewer of the big squads to lock the race down so there could be openings anywhere including the opening days in the crosswinds.
  • There are time bonuses of 10-6-4 seconds to the first three on each stage and 3-2-1 seconds for each intermediate sprint.

The Contenders

Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) is the obvious pick. He’s been in great form, his win on Mont Ventoux last month was notable for the time he put into everyone else. Similarly he was strong again on the Col d’Eze a week later where again he just rode away from everyone. Now he finds a course with a short time trial and a big summit finish on the kind of long, grinding climb that suits him. Still his new team is untested for the flat stages and half the squad is for Nacer Bouhanni and the sprint stages plus the worry is his form might start to wane. Warren Barguil is coming into good form too.

Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling) is a form pick for the way he won the Tour Colombia but it’s one thing to win in front of a home crowd in the middle of the Colombian summer, another to do it on a wet Wednesday in Saint-Amond. Coming down from altitude isn’t easy for some, nor is adjusting to cold temperatures but Dani Martinez managed it last year. Higuita is useful for the time trial and climbs well, plus he can mop up time bonuses too with his punchy finishes. Michael Woods and Tejay van Garderen bring support and are outsiders too.

Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-McLaren) isn’t the world’s best climber nor the best in a time trial but right now he’s on form and can hold his own in both disciplines and he can sprint for stage wins to help score time bonuses.

Trek-Segafredo bring a strong tandem of Richie Porte and Vincenzo Nibali. Nibali was all over the Ardèche and Drôme classics last weekend, launching moves like a junior who’d downed their first caffeine gel and the racing was all the better for it. He might be more measured here but the course isn’t one he’d draw, there are few ambush points and descents to scare rivals. Instead Porte looks more suited to the route, the time trial and steady combo is made for him and his performance on Mont Faron last month suggests he’s in shape, but he loses a chainring in the ratings below for the risks that the wheels come off before he gets to the time trial, indeed the team say Porte will be targeting stage wins.

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) could win Paris-Nice one day but he’s been short of form and on antibiotics recently so even a “home” time trial in Saint-Amond (the town where he was born but he grew up elsewhere and lives in Andorra) might provide plenty of motivation only for him to find the legs are not there.

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) has been on the receiving end so far this season and while the early season races were not big goals and there’s been time to hone form since it doesn’t bode so well. Still the terrain suits and he gets a team of bodyguards for the flat stages.

Bora-Hansgrohe have a trio in Max Schachmann, Felix Großschartner and Patrick Konrad but how to win a big stage race? Schachmann is the punchiest of the trio and should be worth watching but might find the long climb to La Colmiane too long.

Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale, pictured at France Culture for a 51 minute exploration of what being a champion means with philosopher Alain Finkielkraut) has never got on well in this race and became a father the other day so he and his press officers are downplaying his chances but he looked strong last week in the Drôme where he was working for team mates. Team mate Pierre Latour can be an exciting rider on a good day and if the race is hard to control he could surprise but a World Tour stage race is a big ask.

Among the outsiders Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) is a punchy climber but allergic to time trials, Ben O’Connor (NTT) has found winning ways after a blank year but hard to see him win overall. Sunweb’s Tiesj Benoot will probably find La Colmiane too much.

Nairo Quintana
Sergio Higuita, Dylan Teuns
Richie Porte, Vincenzo Nibali, Romain Bardet
Thibaut Pinot, Max Schachmann, Julian Alaphilippe
Latour, van Garderen

25 thoughts on “Paris-Nice Preview”

  1. It’s hard not to wonder about the wisdom of running a race that finishes in Nice, which is actually closer to the major outbreak in Italy versus Follonica, the starting point of the cancelled Tirreno-Adriatico, especially when France has supposedly banned gatherings of more than 5000 people.
    Paris-Nice should be rescheduled rather than increase the risk of spreading infections. The smarter teams who are now sitting everything out should ask the UCI not to award WT points if they run this race.

    • Currently, Nice has only been lightly affected (16 cases), compared to across the border. That is a surprise to me, and could, of course, change in the coming week. If the race was Nice-Paris rather than Paris-Nice, then the weekend’s stages would surely go ahead. However, it’s predicted that the French government will raise the level of *national* alert within the next few days. That would include powers to close schools and universities (as has happened in Italy) and cancel events of all types.
      Therefore, I think the biggest danger to the race is this risk of not reaching Nice.

      • “Therefore, I think the biggest danger to the race is this risk of not reaching Nice.”
        Another reason to reconsider starting this race so the UAE fiasco is the only one this season. Makes it clear that ASO has much more influence on the French authorities than RCS has on Italy’s, IMHO.

        • I’m quite certain that neither RCS nor ASO has any influence with either respective Govt. over Coronavirus Larry, and why would they?

        • I don’t believe that ASO has any influence on the government. When it comes to powerbrokers and lobbyists, others may have much more of a say on shutting down a country than a cycling race organiser. This is ludicrous IMO.

          It’s very possible indeed that France will adopt the same drastic measures as northern Italy did a couple weeks ago, and the race might not make it to the end… Or that they adapt the start/finish areas to avoid spectators en masse.

          However, what might be changing is the strategy to fight the virus, going from containment (limiting travel, quarantine for regions affected, cancelling events that could attract crowds) to management of the disease (providing good medical care to all people affected, in a time wherr public hospitals have seen their resources stretched thin pretty much everywhere over the last 2 decades).

          I think authorities everywhere are seriously considering that containment is failing and that quarantines, isolation, border tests, etc.. will soon become useless.

          That would be bad news for humanity (another deadly disease out there for the foreseeable future) but hey, there won’t be a reason to cancel cycling races then, so all will be right in the end.

          As for the teams that choose not to participate, I understand it, if nothing else for logistical reasons. Even without the medical risk, it’s hard to make plans for the rest of the season when you don’t know what race will be cancelled, what travel restrictions will be enforced, or whether you could be trapped in quarantine (without your bike or turbo trainer and with only fast food to eat, like in UAE…). Many teams will find it safer to get a solid training camp schedule set up, and make sure they can prepare the bigger races in good conditions.

    • I’d have a lot more sympathy for Larry’s argument if I knew that it definitely wasn’t motivated primarily by butthurt and spite over Italy currently being the fall-guy.

    • And the uci should say you withdrew from a official sanctioned wt race, allowed by a national government, the points will be awarded as per the rules.

  2. It must be on everyone’s mind that every stage could end up being the last if the race is cancelled part way through. It will be interesteing to see if that has any discernible effect on how it is raced.

      • There’s been no announcement of how the qualification system for WorldTeam licences beyond 2022 is going to work yet, so points really only matter this year for ProTeams wanting to qualify for next year’s WT race invites.

        I say let them go for it and watch the ProTeams make the race.

        • I was thinking more about the overrall GC, we might see an unususal winner as per GVA winning TA if the race ends early, that must be on riders’ minds

  3. I give one chainring to Peter Sagan. I see him doing well in the first three stages, with enough time bonuses to keep him up there with the GC leaders in the stage 4 time trial. He’ll pull out all the stops on stage 5, sneak into the GC lead, and that evening the race will be stopped before stage 6.

    It’s a long shot, but it’ll make watching the first few stages extra interesting. 😉

    • It’s not a bad option. I don’t want to make gambling tips here but there might be cases of sprinters being 1000-1 to win Paris-Nice because they’re set to lose 25 minutes on La Colmiane… but if the race was stopped midway and the result stood like it did in the UAE Tour then your scenario could work.

  4. “a wet wednesday in St Amond” ? You invent new towns now, Inrng ? The middle part is not useful, anyway…

    I hope the race will take place to the end, and not been blocked by a vulgar flu. Thank you for the preview !

  5. This is a great sentence

    “Nibali was all over the Ardèche and Drôme classics last weekend, launching moves like a junior who’d downed their first caffeine gel and the racing was all the better for it.”

    • Pulled out: 7/19 WorldTour teams (Astana, CCC, Ineos, Mitchelton-Scott, UAE, Movistar, Jumbo-Visma)

      12 WT teams
      Total Direct Energie (2019 ProTour leader)
      Team Arkéa-Samsic, Nippo Delko Provence (wild card teams, announced earlier in January)
      B&B Hotels-Vital Concept, Circus-Wanty Gobert (last minute reinforcements, sort of)

  6. So good to see Nairoman back with five INRNG chainrings! Wasn’t many who would of picked Arkéa to have the momentum they seem to have.

    Also good seeing EF having got their s#%t together over the last couple of years and being up there as contenders and with a strong team.

    That said… TJ with a chainring? But I haven’t followed his form at all and must have had some good rides…?

    • I agree with all that. EF has really turned it around and now have multiple potential winners in most races. And TJ seems to have refashioned himself into more of a high-level support rider who will occasionally take his shots, which hopefully will relieve him of the pressure to score big wins. He doesn’t seem to do well with heavy expectations, and he’s been riding effectively so far this spring.

      It’s been fun watching both Quintana (and Bouhanni) having success and a measure of redemption. A lot of fun. A few times during their races I’ve had to stifle cheering outloud (I watch the races at work with headphones on). Speaking of Bouhanni, I’ve been thinking about the contrast between how the peloton and their teams have responded to Bouhanni’s and Moscone’s bad behavior of the last few years. Bouhanni was vilified by fellow riders (mostly justified as far as I can tell) but also shabbily treated by his team, which included some shameful behavior. And from that he appears to have made positive changes, kept his nose clean, and seems to be a team player now — easier when you’re winning, of course, but still encouraging.

      Looking forward to seeing what EF and Arkéa do in the TdF, assuming the summer quiets down COVID-19 as expected.

      Moscone, by contrast, has been protected and even coddled by his team while expressing few apologies and an aggressively defiant attitude.

  7. Where else could you read poignant observations about Paris-Nice and reference to Finkielkraut in the same preview!?
    Chapeau encore une fois!!!

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