Paris-Nice Stage 1 Preview

A series of loops in the countryside including a narrow cobbled climb, the opening stage is more than a dash to the finish line for a bunch sprint.

The Route: 154km with loops in the countryside west of Paris starting and finishing in a town called Plaisir, “pleasure”. The profile says plenty, it’s not hilly but there are a few sharp climbs along the way and plenty of narrow roads and pinch-points, the kind of course where it pays to be near the front to avoid the constant concertina effect on the peloton. The early climb to Mesnuls allows a breakaway to aim for the mountains jersey, especially if they can stay away for the climb into Neauphle-le-Château. This one is climbed twice and the hardest part of the course, a reported 1.4km at 7.8% (versus a measured 6.7%) but either way it’s cobbled with 400m at 9%. The pavé is ok – think Nokereberg – but it’s narrow.

The Finish: they tackle the climb to Neauphle-le-Château a second time and positioning is all-important as it’s only 5km from the climb to the finish and a narrow climb. Once out of Neauphle it’s a wider road gradually downhill before a sharp turn with 500m to go that doubles back.

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The Contenders: tough circuits, difficult conditions and a sprint at the end? Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is the obvious pick only he’s not won anything yet this year. If he does win it’d be a return to his career debut in 2010 when he took his first pro win on a stage of Paris-Nice to Aurillac.

Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) can do a lot of what Sagan does and arguably climbs and time trials better but in crosswinds and a bunch sprint the Slovak has the edge. Plus this is Matthews’ season debut, while Cees Bol is an option for the sprint too.

Sam Bennett is Deceuninck-Quickstep’s sprinter but seems a touch hesitant with his new team, still he’s versatile and can cope with crosswinds and sharp climbs too. Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) has reputation that often precedes him but he’s more than a dragstrip sprinter. A similar story for Elia Viviani (Cofidis) too.

Lotto-Soudal bring Caleb Ewan, John Degenkolb and Philippe Gilbert and so have several bases covered as long as they can cooperate.

Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT) is in form, he lost out in the GP Samyn perhaps because he was making too many moves while Hugo Hofstetter (Israel) sat tight to play the sprint card. Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) is in good shape but is in his seventh season and still to win at World Tour level.

Otherwise take your pick from the cobbled classics contenders in the field, several names have a chance if they and their teams can enliven the race towards the finish or crack the sprint trains on the final climb. The problem here is the final climb is narrow but it’s not steep at 9%, it’ll be hard to get a good enough gap to stay clear but hopefully it’s enough to make plenty try.

Peter Sagan
Caleb Ewan, Sam Bennett
Viviani, Bouhanni, Matthews, Nizzolo


Weather: grey, overcast and a chance of rain, a top temperature of 15°C. The wind will blow from the west at 15km/h which isn’t strong enough to cut up the peloton but means a tailwind over the final climb to the finish.

TV: the finish is forecast for 2.55pm Euro time. It should be available on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport.

9 thoughts on “Paris-Nice Stage 1 Preview”

  1. Hofstetter’s rode a very smart race at GP Samyn – I had to replay the last couple of kms to appreciate where he came from. Seeing how well he finished at KBK should have been a signal, but as Hofstetter said himself, he’s not usually a winner. His sobbing for joy after the finish was touching.

    From earlier races it appears that Ewan and Bennett are the most on-from riders who can sprint and handle some hills. The weather may tip things back towards Sagan, but as you say, who knows where his form is. He definitely didn’t have much ‘pop’ at San Juan. Love seeing the old photo of him. Look at that chubby face!

  2. The podium ceremony for P-N was as expected in the time of COVID-19 – no kissing, no hugging, no handshakes, everyone staying a meter away from everyone else. There was one point where Schachmann was coming down the stage stairs (for I think the third time) and he touched the railing, then pulled his hand away like it was too hot to touch. Then he wiped his potentially contaminated fingers on the back of his shorts. At one point he pantomimed touching elbows with someone on the podium, then kind of shook his head as if to say, “we can’t even do that.”

    Meanwhile, at the end of the GP Jean-Pierre Monseré, Jakobsen was shaking hands with other riders, taking selfies with fans, and lots of people were patting on the back, head, and shoulders. One older man put both his hands on Jakobsen’s cheeks and leaned in like he was going to give him a kiss. I’m really surprised that all the teams, and race organizers haven’t put the word out about very basic and easy ways to avoid spreading viruses.

    Overall things don’t bode well for the spring races. Disappointing, though in the grand scheme of things not that huge a deal.

    • There’s a whole protocol in place, the UCI has issued guidelines and the French “Ligue”, the body behind French pro teams/racers has issued more on top and ASO seems to have got extras as well. People were mocking the UCI suggestions on social media during the week but they’re useful for small races that don’t have immunologists and public health experts on standby for advice and races like the GP Monseré should be downloading and implementing them, maybe it was too soon for Monseré but others in the coming days and weeks – if they go ahead – would do well to take note of them.

      • I was most surprised by Jakobsen – he seemed oblivious to the possibility that there is any danger. Maybe that’s not so surprising since I’m fairly surrounded by people at work in the Netherlands who still have the idea that since they’re relatively young and lacking pre-existing conditions they have no reason to worry. I expect that the team would really be clear with their riders what their precautions should be, and the team staff to enforce that as soon as the race if over. I expect fans to be stupid, but the team structure at QS clearly didn’t care.

        • @KevinK
          Each year, up to 2000 deceases in the Netherlands due to influenza. The same in Belgium. And then, nobody takes care of hugging, kissing, talking to people, meeting etc.
          At this time one or to persons died in the Netherlands due to the coronavirus. In Belgium nobody. So, what are you talking about. Fortunately, most people in the Netherlands and Belgium have common sense. In contrast to the southern people.

          • If people don’t take measures Jean, then the virus will spread and cause problems like overloaded hospitals.

            Anyway this is a cycling blog and not the place to host people’s pet opinions on virology, epidemiology etc. I’ll zap arguments about this and refer people to their national or regional public health agencies.

          • Jean, I’m a former physician – I know the data extremely well. The usual influenza death rate is 0.04-0.08, and the vast majority of those are young children or elderly patients. The hospitalization rate is typically 1%, and again skewed towards the very young, the very old or those with pre-existing conditions. The statistics are far worse for COVID-19, including for the young and healthy. We are seeing hospitalization rates of 10-15%, and the hospitalizations include many young and middle-aged people.

            During cold and flu season, what I described at the end of the GP Jean-Pierre Monseré was grossly irresponsible for both fans and professional athletes. With COVID-19 on the scene, it’s ridiculous.

            To our kind and gracious host, I hope this does not come off as being argumentative. I find it frustrating that so many people with little information and a poor understanding of what’s happening are quick to make strong, contemptuous pronouncements.

            And to Jean, I live and work in Amsterdam. I am well aware of the Dutch attitude about this situation. It’s a great attitude most of the time. In the last few weeks, though, I’ve had to explain to more than a few coworkers that being prepared, taking precautions, and developing contingency plans are not the same as panic.

  3. Thanks for the write-up (although I’m late to the party here). All that was needed is a small change in wind conditions and a couple teams willing to animate the race, and suddenly we have a nail-biter of a stage! Hopefully it sets the tone for the rest of the race.

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